Joni Mitchell – The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975)

The Hissing of Summer Lawns is the seventh studio album by Canadian singer–songwriter Joni Mitchell, released in 1975 on Asylum. The album continues the jazz-folk fusion of her prior album (Court and Spark) and retains L.A. Express as her backing band along with eight additional guests.

Joni’s Summer Lawns lyrics cover topics like Fifties nostalgia (“In France They Kiss on Main Street”), mobster romance (“Edith and the Kingpin”), and bohemian conceits (“The Boho Dance”). Select numbers profile women who range from the head-strong wanderer of “Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow” to the vintage-obsessed eccentric in “Shades of Scarlett Conquering” and the kept wife in the title track.

Musically, Summer Lawns mixes folk and balladry with jazz-infused numbers like “Edith and the Kingpin” and the lengthy “Harry’s House,” which interpolates the Fifties jazz-standard “Centerpiece.” She takes an experimental approach on the Burundi drum-looped “The Jungle Line” (a proto-worldbeat study on modern life through Impressionism) and the synthesized closing chant “Shadows and Light.”

The Hissing of Summer Lawns features Joni on her usual instruments (acoustic guitar, piano) with an added array of keyboards (Farfisa organ, Moog and ARP synthesizers). She’s backed on most tracks by the L.A. Express rhythm section: bassist Max Bennett and drummer John Guerin, her on-off boyfriend at the time of these sessions. Their current guitarist, Robben Ford (who joined in time for Joni’s Miles of Aisles tour), plays on three tracks (Dobro on “Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow”). Current L.A. Express keyboardist Victor Feldman plays on four tracks.

Select tracks feature L.A. Express alumni (and returning Court sessionists) Larry Carlton (guitar on six tracks) and Joe Sample (keyboards on two). Their Crusaders bandmate, bassist Wilton Felder, deputizes Bennett on “Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow” and “Edith and the Kingpin.” The latter song (along with “Harry’s House” and the title track) feature horn players Bud Shank and Chuck Findley. “In France They Kiss on Main Street” features Steely Dan guitarist Jeff Baxter and backing vocals by prior guests (and former suitors) James Taylor, David Crosby, and Graham Nash.


A1. “In France They Kiss on Main Street”

3:17 | folk-rock | harmonies, nostalgic

Acoustic guitar – Joni Mitchell
Electric guitar – Robben Ford and Jeff Baxter
Electric piano – Victor Feldman
Drums – John Guerin
Bass – Max Bennett
Background voices – G. Nash, D. Crosby, J. Taylor, and Joni Mitchell

Downtown
My darling dime store thief
In the War of Independence
Rock ‘n’ roll rang sweet as victory
Under neon signs
A girl was in bloom
And a woman was fading
In a suburban room
I said take me to the dance
Do you want to dance?
I love to dance
And I told him They don’t take chances
They seem so removed from romance
They’ve been broken in churches and schools
And molded to middle class circumstance
And we were rolling rolling rock ‘n’ rolling

Downtown
The dance halls and cafes
Feel so wild you could break somebody’s heart
Just doing the latest dance craze
Gail and Louise
In those push-up brassieres
Tight dresses and rhinestone rings
Drinking up the band’s beers
Young love was kissing under bridges
Kissing in cars kissing in cafes
And we were walking down Main Street
Kisses like bright flags hung on holidays
In France they kiss on Main Street
Amour, mama, not cheap display
And we were rolling, rolling, rock ‘n’ rolling

Downtown
In the pinball arcade
With his head full of pool hall pitches
And songs from the hit parade
He’d be singing “Bye Bye Love”
While he’s racking up his free play
Let those rock ‘n’ roll choir boys
Come and carry us away
Sometimes Chickie had the car
Or Ron had a car
Or Lead Foot Melvin with his hot-wire head
We’d all go looking for a party
Looking to raise Jesus up from the dead
And I’d be kissing in the back seat
Thrilling to the Brando-like things that he said
And we’d be rolling rolling rock ‘n’ rolling


A2. “The Jungle Line”

4:20 | Burundi beat | experimental, dark, world beat

Moog and acoustic guitar – Joni Mitchell
and the warrior drums of Burundi

Rousseau walks on trumpet paths
Safaris to the heart of all that jazz
Through I-bars and girders, through wires and pipes
The mathematic circuits of the modern nights
Through huts through Harlem through jails and gospel pews
Through the class on Park and the trash on Vine
Through Europe and the deep deep heart of Dixie blue
Through savage progress cuts the jungle line

In a low-cut blouse she brings the beer
Rousseau paints a jungle flower behind her ear
Those cannibals of shuck and jive
They’ll eat a working girl like her alive
With his hard-edged eye and his steady hand
He paints the cellar full of ferns and orchid vines
And he hangs a moon above a five-piece band
He hangs it up above the jungle line

The jungle line the jungle line
Screaming in a ritual of sound and time
Floating, drifting on the air conditioned wind
And drooling for a taste of something smuggled in
Pretty women funneled through valves and smoke
Coy and bitchy wild and fine
And charging elephants and chanting slaving boats
Charging chanting down the jungle line

There’s a poppy wreath on a soldier’s tomb
There’s a poppy snake in a dressing room
Poppy poison poppy tourniquet
It slithers away on brass like mouthpiece spit
And metal skin and ivory birds
Go steaming up to Rousseau’s vines
They go steaming up to Brooklyn Bridge
Steaming, steaming, steaming up the jungle line


A3. “Edith and the Kingpin”

3:35 | jazz-pop ballad | minor key, counterpoint

Electric piano – Joe Sample
Electric guitar – Larry Carlton
Acoustic guitar – Joni Mitchell
Bass – Wilton Felder
Drums – John Guerin
Horn – Chuck Findley
Sax and flute – Bud Shank

The big man arrives
Disco dancers greet him
Plainclothes cops greet him
Small town, big man, fresh lipstick glistening
Sophomore jive
From victims of typewriters
The band sounds like typewriters
The big man he’s not listening
His eyes hold Edith
His left hand holds his right
What does that hand desire
That he grips it so tight

Edith in the ring
The passed over girls are conferring
The man with the diamond ring is purring
All claws for now withdrawn
One by one they bring
His renegade stories to her
His crimes and his glories to her
In challenge they look on
Women he has taken grow old too soon
He tilts their tired faces
Gently to the spoon

Edith in his bed
A plane in the rain is humming
The wires in the walls are humming
Some song some mysterious song
Bars in her head
Beating frantic and snowblind
Romantic and snowblind
She says his crime belongs
Edith and the Kingpin
Each with charm to sway
Are staring eye to eye
They dare not look away
You know they dare not look away


A4. “Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow”

4:04 | folk | subdued

Acoustic guitars – Joni Mitchell
Electric guitars – Larry Carlton
Dobro – Robben Ford
Bass – Wilton Felder
Drums – John Guerin
Congas – Victor Feldman

Concerns a modern woman and her determination to roam free of religious oppression, regardless of church and public sanctimony.

Don’t interrupt the sorrow
Darn right

Don’t free people from religious shame (says the preacher)

In flames our prophet witches

Heathens burned at the stake in ancient times

Be polite
A room full of glasses

The glass house of sexual propriety

He says “Your notches, liberation doll”

Condemnation of sexual freedom

And he chains me with that serpent

Terror as punishment for joy

To that Ethiopian wall

Enslavement as a penalty for freedom

Anima rising*

A woman’s emotional conscience

Queen of Queens

The essence of womanhood

Wash my guilt of Eden
Wash and balance me

Atonement for sin; a religious purity cleanse

Anima rising
Uprising in me tonight

The narrator embraces her individual conscience (true nature)

She’s a vengeful little goddess
With an ancient crown to fight

She frees herself, determined to redefine womanhood and conquer theistic sexual repression

Truth goes up in vapors

Religious dogma loses its hold

The steeples lean
Winds of change patriarchs
Snug in your bible belt dreams
God goes up the chimney
Like childhood Santa Claus

Joni and her ilk (free-spirited boomers) reject the theistic hegemony of pre-Sixties America

The good slaves love the good book

Simpletons cling to simple concepts (faith); simple made-up answers for the unexplainable

A rebel loves a cause

Beliefs based on empirical truths; institutions to overthrow

I’m leaving on the 1:15
You’re darn right
Since I was seventeen
I’ve had no one over me

Joni (now at the center of the narrative) asserts her independence, regardless of old religious norms

He says “Anima rising
So what
Petrified wood process
Tall timber down to rock”

Don’t interrupt the sorrow
Darn right
He says “We walked on the moon
You be polite”

The preacher credits God for the marvels of human ingenuity, like space travel

Don’t let up the sorrow
Death and birth and death and birth
He says “Bring that bottle kindly
And I’ll pad your purse

His conviction breaks; he makes an indecent proposal

I’ve got a head full of quandary
And a mighty mighty thirst

Human nature conquers piety

Seventeen glasses
Rhine wine
Milk of the Madonna
Clandestine

The preacher gives into his own temptation, despite his sanctimony

He don’t let up the sorrow
He lies and he cheats

He’s not the pillar of virtue that his sermons implied

It takes a heart like Mary’s these days
When your man gets weak

Indicates that Joni dealt with a torn fundamentalist / heathen

*In historical terms, anima is the irrational, emotional part of the mind, as opposed to the rational, thinking side. In Jungian psychology, anima is the feminine side of a man (i.e. his emotional subconscious). For Joni (and all women), anima could be her feminine side, as opposed to her thinking (masculine) side, or animus. The preacher in this case is using his animus to exert religious ideology over human sexual nature. His failure is therefore a testament to anima rising.


A5. “Shades of Scarlett Conquering”

4:57 | ballad | hazy, shimmery, orchestral, atmospheric

Piano – Joni Mitchell
Electric piano and vibes – Victor Feldman
Electric guitar – Larry Carlton
Bass – Max Bennett
Drums – John Guerin
String arrangement – Dale Oehler

Concerns a contemporary woman (1970s) who immerses herself in the style and mannerisms of vintage Hollywood sirens. Her dedication and single-mindedness makes it difficult for others to relate to her.

Out of the fire like Catholic saints
Comes Scarlett and her deep complaint

A commanding woman with the vintage style and grace of Scarlett O’Hara

Mimicking tenderness she sees
In sentimental movies

Obsessed with Classic Hollywood; recreates old movie vignettes in real life

A celluloid rider comes to town
Cinematic lovers sway

Romanticism for the leading men of classic films

Plantations and sweeping ballroom gowns
Take her breath away

References the Antebellum setting of Gone With the Wind

Out in the wind in crinolines
Chasing the ghosts of Gable and Flynn

Longing for the rare man who shares her dedication to the old Hollywood archetypes

Through stand-in boys and extra players
Magnolias hopeful in her auburn hair

Annoyed with half-hearted ‘poseurs’ at vintage community events

She comes from a school of southern charm
She likes to have things her way

Her dedication to authenticity

Any man in the world holding out his arm
Would soon be made to pay

No modern man is in her league

Friends have told her ‘not so proud’
Neighbors trying to sleep and yelling ‘not so loud’

People close to her think she’s getting carried away; find her unrelatable

Lovers in anger ‘Block of Ice’
Harder and harder just to be nice

Men she’s dated consider her lost in her vintage world; out of touch with modern values

Given in the night to dark dreams
From the dark things she feels

She’s unable to reconcile sexual desire because it’s not portrayed in vintage films

She covers her eyes in the x-rated scenes
Running from the reels

In her filmic mind, the act of sex seems like pornography (a phenomenon that post-dates her vintage world).

Beauty and madness to be praised

Classic Hollywood maximized glamour. On some level (possibly unintentional), Hollywood glorified madness: a character trope of early films that fueled suspense and fascination. Select members of the (Seventies era) vintage community possibly conflated madness and glamor.

‘Cause it is not easy to be brave

Outre style choices (vintage or otherwise) take courage. High-glam elegance (rare among the general public, even during the vintage Hollywood era of the 1920s–50s) requires confidence.

To walk around in so much need

Obsession with an “authenticity” that’s costly and hard to maintain

To carry the weight of all that greed

“Greed,” perhaps the judgement by those averse to the trappings of glamour (expensive jewelry, shoes, coats, etc.)

Dressed in stolen clothes she stands

“Stolen,” as in “taken” from another era (recreated from old designs; purchased second-hand)

Cast iron and frail

A reference to the waif-like stature of the typical vintage purveyor

With her impossibly gentle hands

The exceptional litheness of a woman whose studied the moves and mannerisms of vintage sirens

And her blood-red fingernails

Red-polished manicure

Out of the fire and still smoldering
She says “A woman must have everything”

The subject conjures the spirit of the divine feminine

Shades of Scarlett Conquering
She says “A woman must have everything”

Avows her dedication to the Scarlett archetype


B1. “The Hissing of Summer Lawns”

3:00 | folk ballad | dark, muted, paintive

Written by Joni Mitchell and John Guerin

Keyboard and percussion – Victor Feldman
Trumpet – Chuck Findley
Sax and Flute – Bud Shank
Guitar – James Taylor
Bass – Max Benett
Arrangement – drums – Moog – John Guerin


B2. “The Boho Dance”

3:56 | cabaret ballad | subtle, humble

Keyboards – Joni Mitchell
Bass – Max Bennett
Drums – John Guerin
Flugle horn – Chuck Findley
Bass flute – Bud Shank

Joni visits a hipster dive similar to the bars she once frequented in her pre-fame teens and twenties.

Down in the cellar in the Boho zone
I went looking for some sweet inspiration, oh well

Joni enters an urban hipster rock joint

Just another hard time band
With Negro affectations

She watches the set of a new R&B–rock band

I was a hopeful in rooms like this
When I was working cheap

It reminds her of when she started out

It’s an old romance the Boho dance
It hasn’t gone to sleep

The rite of passage for the starving artist

But even on the scuffle
The cleaner’s press was in my jeans
And any eye for detail
Caught a little lace along the seams

She was always relatively clean for a bohemian

And you were in the parking lot
Subterranean by your own design

She encounters a rebel without a cause; an existentialist for the sake of it

The virtue of your style inscribed
On your contempt for mine

Someone obsessed with renegade identity who looks down on those outside the movement

Jesus was a beggar, he was rich in grace
And Solomon kept his head in all his glory

A metaphor for “integrity is a greater value than wealth”

It’s just that some steps outside the Boho dance
Have a fascination for me

She likes a mix of underground and popular mainstream music

A camera pans the cocktail hour
Behind a blind of potted palms
And finds a lady in a Paris dress
With runs in her nylons

Joni depicts the dive bar scenery and a regular with scruffy vintage style

You read those books where luxury
Comes as a guest to take a slave

Where people become “slaves” to the almighty dollar

Books where artists in noble poverty
Go like virgins to the grave

The headstrong artists who never compromise

Don’t you get sensitive on me
‘Cause I know you’re just too proud

She encounters this headstrong attitude in the starving artist

You couldn’t step outside the Boho dance now
Even if good fortune allowed

She entertains the notion that he’s serious; that he wouldn’t “sell out” if given the opportunity

Like a priest with a pornographic watch
Looking and longing on the sly

At the same time, she doubts his integrity

Sure it’s stricken from your uniform
But you can’t get it out of your eyes

Despite his unpolished exterior, his eyes betray a hunger for the good life

Nothing is capsulized in me
On either side of town

His hipster conceits don’t intimidate her because she wasn’t trying to join this boho dance

The streets were never really mine
Not mine these glamour gowns

She admits that she was never a hardcore subterranean; nor does she identify with Hollywood glitz


B3. “Harry’s House / Centerpiece”

6:52 | jazz-pop / blues-jazz medley| layered, hazy

Written by Joni Mitchell; Jon Hendricks, Harry Edison

Keyboards – Joe Sample
Guitar – Robben Ford
Trumpets – Chuck Findley
Drums – John Guerin
Bass – Max Bennett

Joni depicts a mundane day in the life of a traveling businessman and his lonely wife back at home.

Heatwaves on the runway
As the wheels set down

Joni conjures the the blurry imagery of a plane landing

He takes his baggage off the carousel
He takes a taxi into town
Yellow schools of taxi fishes

The hectic pace of a businessman who travels city-to-city for meetings

Jonah in a ticking whale
Caught up at the light in the fishnet windows
Of Bloomingdale’s

Meanwhile, his wife shops away the loneliness…

Watching those high fashion girls
Skinny black models with raveen curls

…enthralled by the clothing displays…

Beauty parlor blondes with credit card eyes
Looking for the chic and the fancy to buy

… and tempted by the hair care and beauty products

He opens up his suitcase
In the continental suite
And people thirty stories down
Colored currents in the street

Ordinary people seem like tiny specs on the ground from the window of a skyscraper

A helicopter lands on the Pan Am roof
Like a dragonfly on a tomb
And business men in button downs
Press into conference rooms

More men arrive for the meeting at hand

Battalions of paper minded males
Talking commodities and sales

Faceless businessmen with cold, robotic talk of stats and numbers

While at home their paper wives
And paper kids
Paper the walls to keep their gut reactions hid

Families cope with the father’s absence

Yellow checkers for the kitchen
Climbing ivy for the bath
She is lost in House and Gardens

Ornate Seventies interior decor, dictated by the wife, who oversees the house while…

He’s caught up in Chief of Staff
He drifts off into the memory
Of the way she looked in school
With her body oiled and shining
At the public swimming pool

…her workaholic outbound husband regresses to a time before she became a matriarch…

Shining hair and shining skin
Shining as she reeled him in

…when she was more attractive and less demanding…

To tell him like she did today
Just what he could do with Harry’s House
And Harry’s take home pay

…unlike now, where she shames him for being a rung below Harry


B4. “Sweet Bird”

4:10 | folk ballad | minimal, subdued

Piano and acoustic guitars – Joni Mitchell
Electric guitars – Larry Carlton

Joni contrasts her current state with the carefree nature of birds

Out on some borderline
Some mark of inbetween

At 32, she’s entered a new phase between youth and middle age

I lay down golden in time
And woke up vanishing

It makes her feel old, as if the end was nearer than ever before

Sweet bird you are
Briefer than a falling star

She envies birds, which live short lives with no sense of mortality 

All these vain promises on beauty jars

Contrasted with birds, which humans see as beautiful creatures in their natural state

Somewhere with your wings on time
You must be laughing

If birds understood human logic, what would they think of our vanity and fear of death?

Behind our eyes
Calendars of our lives

Circled with compromise

Human life, when reduced to vanity and mortality, pales next to bird life

Sweet bird of time and change
You must be laughing
Up on your feathers laughing

Maybe birds do comprehend human vanity and laugh it off?

Golden in time
Cities under the sand
Power ideals and beauty
Fading in everyone’s hand

In contrast to the bird’s simplicity, humans idealize youth, wealth, and marvels of engineering (cities), yet nothing lasts forever. Even the grandest skyscrapers and bridges could all be gone in a few thousand years, yet birds will thrive the same as they do now.

Give me some time
I feel like I’m losing mine

She wants more time on Earth yet envies how birds lack any sense of time

Out here on this horizon line
With the earth spinning
And the sky forever rushing
No one knows
They can never get that close
Guesses at most
Guesses based on what each set of time and change is touching

Each day is one day closer to death, yet no one knows what happens beyond life. Birds lack such concerns.


B5. “Shadows and Light”

4:15 | a cappella | minimal, analogue synth

Arp-Farfisa and voices – Joni Mitchell

Every picture has its shadows
And it has some source of light
Blindness blindness and sight
The perils of benefactors
The blessings of parasites
Blindness blindness and sight
Threatened by all things
Devil of cruelty
Drawn to all things
Devil of delight
Mythical devil of the ever-present laws
Governing blindness blindness and sight

Suntans in reservation dining rooms
Pale miners in their lantern rays
Night night and day
Hostage smile on presidents
Freedom scribbled in the subway
It’s like night night and day
Threatened by all things
God of cruelty
Drawn to all things
God of delight
Mythical god of the everlasting laws
Governing day day and night

Critics of all expression
Judges in black and white
Saying it’s wrong saying it’s right
Compelled by prescribed standards
Or some ideals we fight
For wrong wrong and right
Threatened by all things
Man of cruelty-mark of Cain
Drawn to all things
Man of delight-born again born again
Man of the laws the ever-broken laws
Governing wrong wrong and right
Governing wrong wrong and right
Wrong and right


Tracklist

A1. “In France They Kiss on Main Street” (3:17)
A2. “The Jungle Line” (4:20)
A3. “Edith and the Kingpin” (3:35)
A4. “Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow” (4:04)
A5. “Shades of Scarlett Conquering” (4:57)
B1. “The Hissing of Summer Lawns” (3:00)
B2. “The Boho Dance” (3:56)
B3. “Harry’s House / Centerpiece” (6:52)
B4. “Sweet Bird” (4:10)
B5. “Shadows and Light” (4:15)

Credits

Joni Mitchell – vocals, acoustic guitar (A1–4, B4), Moog (A2), piano (A5, B4), keyboards (B2), ARP and Farfisa (B5)
Victor Feldman – electric piano (A1, A5), congas (A4), vibes (A5), keyboards and percussion (B1)
Joe Sample – electric piano (A3), keyboards (B3)
Larry Carlton – electric guitar (A3–5, B4)
Robben Ford – electric guitar (A1), Dobro (A4), guitar (B3)
Jeff Baxter – electric guitar (A1)
James Taylor – background vocals (A1), guitar (B1)
David Crosby and Graham Nash – background vocals (A1)
Max Bennett – bass (A1, A5–B3)
Wilton Felder – bass (A3, A4)
John Guerin – drums (except A2), Moog and arrangement (B1)
The Warrior Drums of Burundi (A2)
Chuck Findley – horn (A3), trumpet (B1, B3), flugelhorn (B2)
Bud Shank – saxophone and flute (A3, B1), bass flute (B2)
Dale Oehler – string arrangement (A5)

Henry Lewy — engineer, mixer
Ellis Sorkin — assistant engineer
Bernie Grundman — mastering
Norman Seeff — photography


Sources:

Artist/Album Pages:

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