You've probably never heard of her.
But, ironically enough, you've almost certainly heard her.
And you've probably heard at least one of the songs she wrote, again without knowing it. Both Joni Mitchell and Sandy Denny share the somewhat dubious distinction of writing songs ("Clouds" and "Who Knows Where The Time Goes", respectively) Judy Collins made into hits. (But Sandy's several recordings of her own work make Collins' cover version sound almost sterile in comparison.)
And just where exactly did you actually hear her? Three female guest vocal appearances on albums by some of rock's greatest bands of the early 1970's come to mind: Mary Clayton's incredible shriek on the Stones' "Gimmie Shelter"; Clare Tory's unbelievable wordless solo on Pink Floyd's "Dark Side Of The Moon"; and Sandy Denny's jaw-dropping duet with Robert Plant on Led Zep's "The Battle Of Evermore".
Yeah, she's that singer.
As far as I know, Mary and Clare were never heard of again. For most people, at least here in the States, Sandy might just as well have dropped totally out of sight too, except for a handful of devoted followers, though in Britain she was a queen. Her untimely and tragic death, coming at a lull in her career, prevented her from ever reaching the level of recognition here she deserved. I can remember still how downhearted I was when I heard a radio DJ say: "And the last selection was by Sandy Denny ... or should I say, the late Sandy Denny?" Only John Lennon's death saddened me more. Had she not died, I'm sure Sandy would have rebounded from that lull and her personal problems and become the superstar she ought to have been.
But beware--listen to this collection only when you really want to feel something, something strong. Sandy's voice was like a strong drink, perhaps the most emotionally evocative voice of her generation, and her songs were given to strong emotions, introspection, and melancholia. Along with her remarkable emotional range, her dynamic range was simply astonishing, ranging from a breathy, delicate whisper to a full-throated roar (all the more impressive coming from such a diminutive woman) in a single breath, with perfect control. Her live work, especially where she's accompanied only by a simple piano or guitar, displays her true vocal power, clearly demonstrating she often didn't need a band behind her at all--one of the contradictions of her life and career was her lack of self-confidence often required a supporting cast and often led to producers over-adorning her songs needlessly.
This is by no means a perfect anthology but it is certainly a great start. Hoepfully someday the legendary BBC Sessions, which were withdrawn immediately after they were released, will be officially re-released; those recordings and the live "Gold Dust" concert would round out this collection nicely.