Hello there! In this week’s blog we consider Someday Soon, one of my favorite folk songs from the 60s. We will review the original version by Ian & Sylvia, and a cover of that song by Judy Collins.
Ian & Sylvia and Someday Soon:
We discussed the career of Ian and Sylvia Tyson in our blog post on Four Strong Winds. Here we briefly review their career and individual fortunes.
Ian Tyson came out of British Columbia with the ambition to be a rodeo rider. However, in the mid-50s he sustained a serious injury, and taught himself how to play the guitar while convalescing. While performing at coffeehouses in Toronto, he met the young folksinger Sylvia Fricker. Eventually they began performing as a duet, and in 1962 they moved to New York’s folk music scene. Below is a picture of a young Ian Tyson and Sylvia Fricker.
In New York Ian & Sylvia were discovered by mega-agent Albert Grossman. We have previously encountered Grossman, who at this time was managing Peter, Paul and Mary and shortly would also manage Bob Dylan. Grossman signed on as Ian & Sylvia’s agent and got them a recording contract with Vanguard Records.
Ian & Sylvia produced some lovely and memorable folk songs. The song Four Strong Winds was a gigantic hit in Canada, and in fact a poll taken in 2005 by the CBC ranked this song the best Canadian song of all time. However, many of their best songs became hits when they were covered by other groups. For example, You Were On My Mind and Someday Soon became major hits for We Five and Judy Collins, respectively.
Like many artists in the mid to late 60s, Ian & Sylvia turned to folk-rock music. In 1969 they formed an electric folk-rock band, Great Speckled Bird. Although their work was critically acclaimed, this never turned into the blockbuster hit that they were seeking. This was at least partly due to distribution problems suffered by their record label.
The song Someday Soon, written by Ian Tyson, recounts the story of a young woman waiting for her lover to arrive. The song may contain some autobiographical elements since, like Ian Tyson himself, the young man rides in the rodeo. The young woman is determined to follow her man “down the toughest road I know.”
There’s a young man that I know, his age is twenty-one
Comes from down in southern Colorado
Just out of the service, he’s looking for his fun
Someday soon, going with him, someday soon
However, there is clearly friction between the young woman and her parents over the suitability of her lover. This situation is effectively outlined in the song’s lyrics, where the woman surmises that her father’s disapproval may stem from the fact that her lover closely resembles a younger version of her father.
My parents cannot stand him ’cause he rides the rodeo
My father says that he will leave me crying …
And when he comes to call, my pa ain’t got a good word to say
Guess it’s ’cause he’s just as wild in his younger days
I really enjoy this song. Like so many great folk songs, the story is simple and straightforward yet also effective. The tune is also extremely catchy. The interaction between the young lovers, and the friction they encounter with the parents, is very well described. Also, the singer implies that her lover may be quite a handful, since
he loves his damned old rodeo as much as he loves me.
By 1975, Ian & Sylvia had stopped performing together, and shortly after that they were divorced. Following that, Ian continued a part-time singing career, but also returned to ranching, while Sylvia continued to write and perform.
As we will see, it is the Judy Collins cover of Ian & Sylvia’s song that most people remember. One reason for this may be that Ian & Sylvia’s version was never released as a single. The video clip below includes some interesting comments by Judy Collins, and features beautiful harmonies by the three singers.
Here are Ian & Sylvia performing Someday Soon live with Judy Collins. This is from a 1986 Ian & Sylvia reunion concert that was filmed by the CBC.
Judy Collins and Someday Soon:
Judy Collins has now been a popular singer for over 50 years. Though she is now over 75 years old, her career as a singer and social activist continues to this day.
Collins grew up in Denver, Colorado where she showed considerable promise as a classical pianist. However, her love for folk music eventually led her to Greenwich Village, where she became part of a burgeoning folk scene that included artists like Pete Seeger and Tom Paxton.
Collins was very supportive of young musical talent. She befriended and encouraged people like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen well before they became famous. In addition to her bright, clear voice, Collins was also famous for her striking good looks. Here she is in a photo from the late 60s or early 70s.
Although Judy Collins was very successful as a folksinger, she also branched out performing the music of composers such as Kurt Weill and Stephen Sondheim. For example, Collins had top-20 hits with Sondheim’s Send in the Clowns, and also with the traditional Christian hymn Amazing Grace.
Here is a live video of Judy Collins performing Someday Soon on Graham Nash’s interview show. This is a fascinating clip, as just before Judy performs the song, Nash brings out his Crosby Stills & Nash (CSN) bandmate Stephen Stills. Stills then proceeds to accompany Collins on acoustic guitar on this number. It’s a lovely impromptu performance. Judy Collins’ voice is as clear and vibrant as ever, and the song is a real treat for me.
This performance is particularly interesting for a number of reasons. First off (as you saw in our earlier clip with Ian & Sylvia), Stephen Stills and Judy Collins were an item back in the late 60s. In fact, Stills suggested that Judy record the song in 1968 when they were working on Collins’ album Who Knows Where the Time Goes.
But perhaps more importantly, Judy Collins was the inspiration for the CSN blockbuster hit, Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, which appeared on the group’s eponymous debut album in 1969. As you’ve just seen, Collins and Nash discuss Judy’s feelings about both the musical and personal aspects of that song in the preceding video.
In my opinion, that is one of the great pop songs of the rock era. If there were a decent cover of this song, I would certainly feature it in a separate post. However, I have never found a cover worth reviewing. So in this blog post I will digress briefly to include “bonus audio” of that song from CSN.
Here is a photo of CSN, from left: Stills, Crosby and Nash, performing at Madison Square Garden in Oct. 1975.
When I first heard Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, the tight harmonies of the group and the brilliant conception of Stills’ composition really knocked me out. The title is a play on words for “Sweet Judy Blue Eyes”), and the song actually is a suite of short tunes containing four distinct sections, which I summarize from the Wikipedia entry for the song.
The first section is a traditional pop song, featuring a chorus of “I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are” … the lead vocal is performed by Stills, with Crosby and Nash providing harmonies.
The second section is performed in half time relative to the first section, and features three-part harmony from the band, with Stills performing a brief vocal solo.
The third section is more upbeat and features poetic lyrics (“chestnut brown canary, ruby-throated sparrow”) … Each phrase is initially sung by Stills, with Nash then joining, and finally Crosby rounding out the harmonies. Connecting the phrases are instrumental breaks performed by Stills on acoustic guitar.
The final section (the coda) is sung in Spanish … The “doo-doo-doo-da-doo” backing vocals are the best known segment of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”, with Stills singing Spanish lyrics in the background.
The song depicts Stills’ feelings and frustrations, as he sees his relationship with Judy Collins disintegrating, and is apparently unable to prevent it from collapsing. His feelings are revealed in the first words of the song.
It’s getting to the point where I’m no fun anymore
I am sorry
Sometimes it hurts so badly I must cry out loud
I am lonely
I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are
You make it hard
As the song continues, Stills outlines in poignant details his longing for a past that he sees slipping away. Here is the audio of Crosby, Stills and Nash performing Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.
Geez, what a great song! Everything works to make this a true rock classic: the heart-breaking lyrics; the four distinct sections of the suite; the great CSN harmonies; Stills’ creative and masterful acoustic guitar work; and the climactic ending of the song. In the final section, Stills throws a few nonsense words into his Spanish phrases. Despite the tight musical harmonies from the group, the mood of the song is quite somber.
This song was a highlight on one of the albums that I could play over and over, without getting satiated. And in my opinion, nearly 50 years later the album still sounds as fresh as ever.
OK, now back to Judy Collins. In addition to her musical career, she has been a lifelong social activist. A friend of Yippies Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, she testified on their behalf at the Chicago Seven trial in 1970. When Judy began to sing Where Have All the Flowers Gone, she was rebuked by the toxic federal judge Julius Hoffman. She is currently a representative for UNICEF in attempts to ban landmines.
Collins has suffered from both alcoholism and depression, but she kicked her alcohol dependency after a stint in rehab in 1978. In 1992 her son committed suicide after struggling with both substance abuse and depression. Since that time, Collins has become active in suicide prevention groups.
Judy Collins continues to perform and remains an activist. We wish “Judy Blue Eyes” all the best.