Sandy Denny was just another relatively obscure folk singer in London when a song she wrote, “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” showed up on the American pop charts as the title track of a top-30 album in 1968 by singer Judy Collins.
Collins, an astute interpreter who had brought the songs of artists such as Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen to a wider audience when they were still relative unknowns, heard genius in “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” and she wasn’t wrong.
A few months later, Denny – all of 22 years old – would record her own definitive version of the song. It would appear as the centerpiece of Fairport’s third studio album, “Unhalfbricking,” released 50 years ago this month. It inspired countless more covers by a stellar list of artists, from country great Charlie Louvin and Cat Power to Nina Simone and 10,000 Maniacs. But none rival Denny’s version with Fairport, a mix of beauty, sadness and wonder that grows richer with each listen.
The album and the song in particular underlined the artistry of Denny and her bandmates, particularly 20-year-old guitarist Richard Thompson, and sparked a new strain of distinctly British folk-rock that inspired countless bands and artists, including Steeleye Span, Nick Drake and even Led Zeppelin, who recruited Denny to duet with Robert Plant on the distinctly Fairport-like “The Battle of Evermore” in 1971. In later generations, the Fairport sound underlies the work of countless bands, including Mumford & Sons, Fleet Foxes and the Decemberists.