Collins’ latest album, Judy Collins Sings Lennon & McCartney, was released in June on her own Wildflower Records imprint. The album features a dozen songs from The Beatles catalog.

Previously, the only Lennon / McCartney composition the singer ever tackled was “In My Life,” the title song of the 1966 album that marked her departure from singing strictly folk music.

“I never fooled around with them either,” Collins told Pollstar. “I didn’t try to do them.”

So why now? The singer said she thought it was time to revisit the work of what is arguably the most successful pop-music writing team in history.

“I’ve done albums of all Leonard Cohen and all Dylan, and I just decided it was time go back and pick up those two fabulous writers,” she said. “I didn’t do it because of the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love; I didn’t even think of that.

“I just thought it would be a delicious thing to do right now. I sort of needed the fun.”

For most people, the thought of approaching such well-known songs would be a little daunting. Collins said a song’s history is a non-issue for her.

“You know, when I recorded ‘Send in the Clowns,’ 200 people had recorded that, including Frank Sinatra.

“What matters to me is if it’s a song that’s the real deal that I’ve fallen in love with. I only chose songs that I adore and that I’ve always adored. It was just a matter of sort of plucking them out and not doing anything that either of them had written alone, or that George Harrison had written. I just wanted Lennon / McCartney.”

Another thing Collins avoided was seeking guidance from the surviving member of the duo.

“Paul is a friend. I’m crazy about him, but I neither consulted with him nor asked him permission, because I’m relating to the songs.

“Really, in a terribly strange way, that’s what happens when it’s a great song – they don’t have anything to do with him anymore. They live in their own illustrious, memorable manner and they’re a combination of those two people that can never be repeated.”

Lest anyone think that she’s jumping on the cover album / standards trend that seems to be all the rage lately, Collins points out she’s been recording other people’s songs alongside her own for decades.

“It’s always been a combination for me. When I started out, I was, of course, not a songwriter. I started out doing traditional folk songs, although I had been raised on Rogers and Hart, et cetera.

“I just recorded traditional things in the beginning, and then I began to record The City Singers’ songs and those wonderful songs of Tom Paxton, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Dylan. That was my forte, and then I discovered and recorded Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell.

“I started writing in 1967 and this year I will have been writing for 40 years. I can look back now and say that the intermix of my own work with the other writers has always been unique because it’s a certain group of people that I love to sing.”

Nearly half a century is a long time to sing the same songs, especially when performing live, but Collins said she’s found ways to keep them from getting stale.

“If you don’t feel that you’re singing the song for the first time, you miss something. So that’s my approach. I always try to make it fresh. And besides that, I always choose songs that are going to be timeless.

“I don’t choose anything unless I’m really flat-out head over heels about it. And that means that I’ve got to still be head over heels about it. Sometimes I take songs in and out; I won’t play them for a while and then I’ll come back to them. Plus there are always new songs being added. It’s great fun to have these songs to put into the mix – to go from ‘Send in the Clowns’ to ‘Blackbird.'”

With 40 years of her own songs, plus hundreds of songs by other writers in her repertoire, how in the world does Collins narrow it down to a manageable set list?

“That’s a good question. I have a certain group of songs that I rotate pretty regularly. And I try to go into my own catalog and rotate those so that I’m not singing ‘The Blizzard’ every night. I try to mix it up with ‘Trust Your Heart’ and ‘Born to the Breed’ and ‘Song for Duke’ or ‘Singing Lessons,’ which is a more recent song.

“I put a group of those together, but I try to intermingle them so that I don’t get tired of them. Now, of course, we’re doing ‘When I’m Sixty-Four,’ which is such fun! So I’ll come off of a long string of my own songs and then do ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ and it’s a great change of pace.”

For her current tour, Collins is out with only her musical director, but the simplicity of the production doesn’t limit what she’s able to do.

“I play the piano, he plays the piano, I play the guitar, and we have a lot of flexibility within that structure. And nobody’s doing that. I have no fireworks.

“It’s wonderful. We’ve stripped down all the electronics too, so it’s just piano. We don’t have the second keyboard or the third one anymore. We took out all the computers, synthesizers, et cetera.

“It’s really Judy Collins Unplugged, and I’m just crazy about it. It pushes you to other things. I can’t wait to get my new autoharp tuned so I can add that into the mix.”

Collins’ current tour schedule includes dates through next May. The singer laughed as she explained, “That’s just the beginning – I hate to tell you. I’ve always done this. I’ve always done 60 to 80 shows a year.”

Upcoming highlights on the singer’s itinerary include stops at The State Theatre in State College, Pa. (October 11), the Omaha Performing Arts Center in Nebraska (November 2), The Grand 1894 Opera House in Galveston, Texas (November 10), Benaroya Concert Hall in Seattle (December 2), the Schuster Performing Arts Center in Dayton, Ohio (December 7), The Heritage Theatre in Campbell, Calif. (March 15), and the Suffolk Center for the Cultural Arts in Virginia (May 8).