Sandy Denny and the poetic beauty of “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?”

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It has been more than 50 years since the original recording of “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” Singer/songwriter Sandy Denny wrote the song while performing with the band, The Strawbs. The tune was made more famous when Denny performed it as part of the folk-rock group, Fairport Convention.

“Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” might have been recorded in 1967, but the song wasn’t released until 1973 as part of an album by Sandy Denny and the Strawbs. However, in the interim, Denny had joined Fairport Convention, and it was with that group that the song took on its more rock-oriented feel.

Regardless of which recording of Denny performing “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” a person listens to, the gentle, poignant poetry of the song shines through. It should be noted, too, that the “rock-oriented” version of the song is still quite gentle. There is more guitar and there are drums, unlike when Denny performs the song with just her voice and an acoustic guitar.

The endurance of “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” by Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention

Like a number of classic songs that originated decades ago, “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” exists as part of the American folk-rock soundscape that might not be immediately recognizable.

Roughly a decade ago, a popular coffee shop chain put together a collection of coffeehouse songs, and included “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” This more than likely introduced or re-introduced the song to audiences. It fit the album’s theme, but even more than that was the poetry and ethereal beauty of Denny’s voice.

The instrumentation succeeds in highlighting the song’s lyrics. In three verses, Denny makes clear the reflective nature of the song. Elements of the natural world: birds, evening sky, winter’s fire, are all present in the track. Denny’s voice (at least in this song) is a high, clear soprano. This voice quality lends a wistful quality to the title which comprises the chorus. As in, the chorus is “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” repeated. Denny stretches the syllables, especially in the word “where.” It is at that point that it seems that her voice goes completely stratospheric, yet still light. The result is a folk-rock experience that shines in its beauty.

Sometimes it is not a good idea to use biography to interpret art. Although, it can’t be helped at other times. What has happened in the case of Denny, is that in light of her unexpected death of a brain hemorrhage and fall, in 1978, those who know about it might listen to “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” and in retrospect apply the song’s chorus to the singer’s brief life. Doing so adds a melancholy touch to the song, which does not diminish the song’s value.

While “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” is an important part of Denny’s career, it was not the only thing she was known for. She was twice voted “Best British Female Singer” by readers of Melody Maker magazine, according to bbc.co.uk. She also has the distinction of being the only guest vocalist on a Led Zeppelin album. Denny eventually left Fairport Convention and had started another band at the time of her death. The details of Denny’s personal life and her posthumous fame make for interesting reading, but nothing overshadows the timeless beauty of “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?”

 

 

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