Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell is a Canadian singer–songwriter who released nineteen studio albums between 1968 and 2007.

She emerged with the Sixties North American folk revival that included singers Tom Rush, Judy Collins, and Buffy Sainte-Marie, who recorded Joni’s songs in advance of her debut album, Song to a Seagull. Her 1969–70 albums Clouds and Ladies of the Canyon house the much-covered songs “Both Sides Now,” “Big Yellow Taxi,” and “Woodstock,” a hit for Crosby Stills Nash & Young.

Joni embraced confessionals on her acclaimed 1971 release Blue and charted with “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio,” a country-field song on her 1972 album For the Roses. She switched to a jazz-tinged group sound on her 1974 album Court and Spark and the live double-LP Miles of Aisles, both performed with L.A. Express, whose members appear on her experimental 1975–77 albums The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Hejira, and Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter along with Crusaders and Weather Report personnel. Her collaboration with contrabass legend Charles Mingus produced the 1979 album Mingus, released five months after his death.

In 1982, Joni married bassist Larry Klein, who appears on her eleventh studio album, Wild Things Run Fast. She embraced a high-tech sound on her 1985 Geffen release Dog Eat Dog and employed multiple guests stars on 1988’s Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm. After her 1991 disc Night Ride Home, she released three more albums of original material (Turbulent Indigo, Taming the Tiger, Shine) and the covers|remakes albums Both Sides Now and Travelogue.

This page is currently in development and will undergo heavy editing and have added contents in the coming months (April 2024)


Early Life

Mitchell was born Roberta Joan Anderson in Fort Macleod, Alberta, on November 7, 1943. As a child, she painted and briefly studied classical piano. At age 11, her family settled in Saskatoon. Despite her dislike of school curriculum, she was inspired by one of her teachers, Arthur Kratzmann (future Dean of Education at the University of Victoria) to take up poetry, as doing so would engage her free mind.

Her musical interests stemmed from her time on the Saskatoon folk scene, which she frequented after leaving school half way through her senior year. She first acquired an ukulele, then an acoustic guitar. She learned the instrument in an alternate tuning to accommodate her left hand, which had been weakened during a childhood bout of polio. Her nonstandard tuning would factor into the harmony and structure of her compositions.

She first sang and played among friends at Waskesiu Lake bonfires. At age 18, she started gigging the Saskatoon folk circuit. She also took to jazz, mastering every note on the album The Hottest New Group in Jazz by Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.

After moving east to Toronto, she began writing her own songs. She bore a child out of wedlock at age 21 but, unable to care for the baby, gave it up for adoption. This experience would factor into various lyrics in her repertoire.

In April 1965, she met American folk singer Charles Scott “Chuck” Mitchell and together they traveled stateside and married. They performed as a duo at coffee houses and universities in the northeast US. After their divorce in 1967, she kept his surname.

Mitchell made an early impression on folk singer Tom Rush, who recorded three of her songs (“Urge for Going,” “Tin Angel,” “The Circle Game”) for his 1968 album The Circle Game. Other singers who covered Mitchell at the time included Buffy Sainte-Marie (“The Circle Game”), Dave Van Ronk (“Both Sides Now”), and Judy Collins (“Both Sides Now,” “Michael from Mountains,” “Chelsea Morning”).

During a show in Coconut Grove, Fla., Mitchell was spotted by David Crosby, who took her to Los Angeles and introduced her music to his friends on the Laurel Canyon scene. At the urging of Buffy Sainte-Marie, Mitchell was taken under the managerial wing of music exec Elliot Roberts. In 1968, she signed to Warner-subsidiary Reprise.


Song to a Seagull

Joni Mitchell released her debut album, Song to a Seagull, on March 23, 1968, on Reprise. The album splits into sub-titled sides: I Came to the City (A) and Out of the City and Down to the Seaside (B).

Seagull contain ten originals with delicate guitar–vocal arrangements. Joni self-performs each song, which emphasize plucked acoustic guitar and fluttering multi-octave vocals. Mood-wise, the songs range from haunted (“I Had a King,” “Nathan La Franeer”) to plaintive (“Sisotowbell Lane,” “The Dawntreader”) with piquant moments (“The Pirate of Penance,” “Cactus Tree”).

Stephen Stills guests on bass for “Night in the City,” a barroom-tinged number with Joni on piano. On “Nathan La Franeer,” Joni and associate Lee Keefer produce banshee wails.

A1. “I Had a King” (3:37) is a sparse acoustic ballad with plucked guitar (in open A) and fluttered high-register vocals. Joni laments faded “kings” in the realms of war, romance, and theatre (“an actor who fears for the laughter’s sting”). Their crestfallen state reflects in their surroundings: the actor’s “tenement castle” with “pastel walls brown” and “curtains down”… the suitor (traitor) in a “salt-rusted carriage.” She reconciles her lost admiration (“my thoughts don’t fit the man”). Covered by Swedish folk singer Turid on her 1973 album Bilder.

A2. “Michael from Mountains” (3:41) has finger-picked guitar (double-tracked, in F) with fluttering high-octave vocals. She imagines a carefree mountain man who makes artwork of random things (“oil on the puddles in taffeta patterns”); who appears as a friend in the park when it’s dark. She would join his world but it’s all imaginary (“his mountains have called so you never do”). Covered by Libby Titus.

A3. “Night in the City” (2:30) is a buoyant number (in G7) with saloon piano, strummed guitar, and multi-tracked vocals. She urges her partner to “chase off those stay-at-home blues” and join her outside in the night time, the “city light time” when “music comes spilling out into the street.” Inspired by the beatnick scene on Yorkville Ave, Toronto. Covered in 1969–71 by The Avengers, Bridget St. John, Marie Celeste, The Pipe Dream, The Road (Kama Sutra), and Three Dog Night.

A4. “Marcie” (4:35) is a bare acoustic–vocal number built on a chromatic pattern (B♭→G). Marcia waits through summer and winter for the reappearance of her man, or at least a letter. Red and green define binary states, options, and emotions (sweet|sour; autumn|summer; stop|go; anger|jealousy). Exasperated, she heads out West with no parting words.

A5. “Nathan La Franeer” (3:18) is a dark number with muted plucking (in G minor) and vocals that soar then retract amid ebbing banshee wails. She takes a coach to the airport and asks the driver (Nathan) to hurry. They rush past beautiful and ugly sites on the route: the “burglar bells and the wishing wells”… “city grated thru chrome-plate”… “symphonies and dirty trees.” Nathan “hated everyone who paid to ride” and curses her once they arrive. Still, the “sky goes on forever” regardless of meter maids, “peace parades,” and personal woes. Covered by Noel Harrison and Mary McCaslin.

B1. “Sisotowbell Lane” (4:05) is a plaintive ballad with double-tracked acoustic guitar (in D). “Sisotowbell” is an acronym for “Somehow, in spite of trouble, ours will be ever lasting love.” She references natural continuity (“a rocking chair”) and human productivity (“each of us rocks his share”) and the changing seasons through the “woodlands and the grasslands and the badlands ‘cross the river,” as seen through a window.

B2. “The Dawntreader” (5:04) has subdued vocals and muted guitar (in open D). The narrator (the dawntreader, a spiritual guide) gives hope to three characters that face the odds: the captain with a sunken treasure (“somewhere in the sea”); the woman who flees civilization for nomadic pursuits; and the seabird that makes “circles in the air” over human strife, waste, and carnage.

B3. “The Pirate of Penance” (2:44) has a dark, muted arrangement with urgent vocals and a jumbled chorus. A pirate comes to port and spends the night with a cabaret lady, who awakes forlorn in his absence and shares details with Penance Crane. They break the fourth wall, each in denial as rumors emerge about the pirate’s conduct.

B4. “Song to a Seagull” (3:51) features baroque acoustic plucking (in C) and soaring vocals. Joni envies the seabird for its simple, intuitive life; it’s lack of human problems (“No dreams can possess you, no voices can blame you”). She contrasts seagull life with her “island of noise in a cobblestone sea” (the city). While she envies the seagull’s habitat and feeding traits (“dives to the waters and catches his silver-fine, dinner alone”), she admits that it’s out of reach due to human nature (“humans are hungry for worlds they can’t share”). In 1978, jazz-rock guitarist Don Mock made an instrumental version.

B5. “Cactus Tree” (4:35) is a relatively upbeat song with double-tracked plucking (in G) and restrained vocals. There’s “a lady in the city” who’s “busy being free.” She leaves a trail of lovesick men: the sailor who “treats her like a queen”; the mountain climber who calls from “three thousand miles”; the businessman with “her name on all his papers”; the soldier who “sends her medals.”

Joni Mitchell recorded these songs in early 1968 at Sunset Sound Recorders studio in Hollywood, where David Crosby produced the album. Song to a Seagull was engineered by Art Crist, a jazz pianist with numerous early Sixties credits on Directional Sound and UA Ultra Audio titles (known for their polka dot graphics).

Joni illustrated the gatefold cover: an abstract neo-nouveau floral motif with a London streetside photo of the singer (on back). The album’s name appears in seagull swarms on the front-right, a scalloped detail on early copies.


Clouds

Joni Mitchell released her second album, Clouds, on May 1, 1969, on Reprise. It follows the style of its predecessor with ten self-performed originals.

Clouds features Joni’s versions of songs first recorded by Tom Rush (“Tin Angel”) and Fairport Convention (“I Don’t Know Where I Stand”).

The album’s title derives from the closing track, “Both Sides Now,” her most covered song.

A1. “Tin Angel” (4:09) is a slow, desolate guitar–voice sketch (in E). Joni lets go of a prior love “from across the seas” embodied in “maple leaves” (Canadian reference), “varnished weeds” and “tarnished beads.” Today, she’s found a new love in a Bleecker St. cafe (Los Angeles). He’s tender, shy, and sensitive (“sorrow in his eyes, like the angel made of tin”). She intends to enter his life and “place another heart in him.”

A2. “Chelsea Morning” (2:35) is a brisk strummalong with double-tracked chords (in F) and jovial vocals (and later overdubbed vocables). On a beautiful Chelsea (NYC) morning, a new song comes “ringing up like Christmas bells” in Joni’s mind. She takes inspiration from the sound (“the traffic wrote the words”) and color (“the sun through yellow curtains and a rainbow on the wall”) of the experience and how the sun enriches breakfast (“poured in like butterscotch”). She wants to clothe herself in the experience; to “put on the day and… wear it ’till the night comes.” Covered by Green Lyte Sunday.

A3. “I Don’t Know Where I Stand” (3:13) is a faint, sparse number with high-register vocal delivery. On tour, Joni feels passionate for a new lover back home but resists writing “I love you” in her letter because she doesn’t know where she stands. (Despite the line “All alone in California and talking to you,” she wrote this song in North Carolina). Recorded beforehand by Fairport Convention on their June 1968 debut album.

A4. “That Song About the Midway” (4:38) is a finger-picked tune (in E2) with rising vocal arcs on the bridge descent (in B). She addresses a wing-costumed carny who she spotted the year prior at a fair. He doubled as a horse gambler but disappeared after a losing bet. As she sinks into apparent gambling addiction (“I’m still at these races with my ticket stubs and my blues”), she envies “the valley that [he’s] found.” References to two-timing (“cheating”) allude to her breakup with Crosby. The line “like a ruby in a black man’s ear” derives from “rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear” in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Covered in 1974 by Bonnie Raitt.

A5. “Roses Blue” (3:52) follows a baroque minor-key pattern (primarily Gm7) with faint autoharp and sorrowful vocals on the high end. Joni voices concern for a friend named Rose, who’s recently immersed herself in astrology, tarot cards, and occultism. Rose is “laying her religion on her friends,” who “come to ask her for their future.” Joni exposes the emotional grip that Rose wields on the people who take her readings at face value. Rose preys on the vulnerable (“In sorrow she can lure you… inside your own self-pity… her voice still haunts you”). Joni likens rain to blue roses (metaphors of Rose’s state). To those in search of “the solitary truth” (would-be clients), Joni advises against asking “the priestess how to think.”

B1. “The Gallery” (4:12) is a genial ballad with double-tracked fingerpicking (in G), self-harmonized in the upper-register. The narrator addresses a painter and onetime cohabitant who “went west for pleasure” but underwent a religious conversion. She tends his house and fields letters from his many admirers (“mail comes here from everywhere, the writing looks like ladies”). She recalls when she was the muse of his gallery (“you began to hang up me, you studied to portray me”).

B2. “I Think I Understand” (4:28) is a barren guitar–vocal piece with descending acoustic filigree (rooted in F), angelic vocals with elongated words. Joni embarks on intrepid travels and takes fear by the horn (“I am not prey to dark uncertainty… I’ve robbed its blackness blind and tasted sunlight…”). She’s courageous yet vigilant (“Forgetting fear but never disregarding her”). In troubled moments, she takes solace in good memories (“forests rise to block the light… I’ll challenge them with flashes from a brighter time”). Inspired by The Hobbit, the 1937 fantasy novel by J. R. R. Tolkien in which the “wilderland” is the dark, dangerous stretch of the journey (hence “Fear is like a wilderland”).

B3. “Songs to Aging Children Come” (3:10) opens with classical guitar plucking (in B); drops into chromatic verses with wavering soprano self-harmonies. Joni sings of the childlike wonder (“the throbbing light machine”) that lingers in people throughout life. Like a child she takes awe in random sounds (“the chiming and the clicking… ravens whistling… strings of crying”). Covered by Tír na nÓg.

B4. “The Fiddle and the Drum” (2:50) is a poignant a cappella number. Joni pleads with Johnny, a now-radicalized member of her circle. Johnny has traded “the fiddle for the drum” and “the handshake for the fist.” He finds himself at odds with many people, including old friends (“You say I have turned, like the enemies you’ve earned”). She uses this as a metaphor for US warmongering (“America my friend… you are fighting us all… you raise your sticks and cry and we fall”).

B5. “Both Sides, Now” (4:32) has crisp, strummed cords (G, dominant 3rd) with picked refrains and subdued vocals that soar on the pre-chorus. Joni uses “ice cream castles in the air” (clouds — specifically the new human experience of air travel over clouds — “looked at clouds from both sides now”) as a metaphor for dual perspectives in day-to-day life concerns, such as love (“every fairy tale comes real… now it’s just another show”) and friendship (“Dreams and schemes and circus crowds… now old friends are acting strange”).

Joni self-produced Clouds apart from “Tin Angel,” produced by Doors soundman Paul A. Rothchild, who also worked on recent titles by Ars Nova, Clear Light, Love, and Rhinoceros. She performs everything (guitar, keyboards) with select input on guitar and bass by Stephen Stills, the current bandmate of her former producer and personal partner, David Crosby.

A&M engineer Henry Lewy worked on Clouds in sequence with 1969 titles by The Churls, Joe Cocker, Procol Harum, Seatrain, and the Flying Burrito Brothers.

Joni painted the album’s watercolor gatefold: a self-portrait from a hill overlooking a river. She holds the prairie lily, the provincial flower of Saskatchewan.

“Songs to Aging Children Come” appears in the funeral scene of the 1969 dramedy Alice’s Restaurant, starring folk singer Arlo Guthrie. The song is performed by the otherwise unrecorded Tigger Outlaw, the wife of co-star Geoff Outlaw, who plays Arlo’s friend Roger Crowther.

As of March 2024, “Both Sides, Now” has inspired more than 1668 cover versions.


Ladies of the Canyon

Joni Mitchell released her third album, Ladies of the Canyon, in April 1970 on Reprise. The title refers to Laurel Canyon, a then-counterculture enclave in the Hollywood Hills where Joni resided at 8217 Lookout Mountain Avenue, the residence of her then-partner, Graham Nash.

Side B contains three of Joni’s most revered songs: “Big Yellow Taxi” (her third-most covered song), “Woodstock” (popularized by CSNY), and “The Circle Game,” an early original (published 1966) covered in 1967–68 by Buffy Sainte-Marie, Ian & Sylvia, and Tom Rush (as the title track to his sixth album).

Joni enhances her use of musical textures on Ladies of the Canyon, her first album with multiple backing players, including veteran jazz sessionists Paul Horn (clarinet, flute), Jim Horn (no relation; alto saxophone), and percussionist Milt Holland. Cellist Teresa Adams (a subsequent Grootna auxiliary and Van Morrison sidewoman) plays on “For Free,” “Rainy Night House” and “The Priest.”

A1. “Morning Morgantown” (3:13) has a double-tracked, descending acoustic pattern (D→A) and a piano-laden chorus (in E). Joni ushers a new morning in Morgantown: a simple, low-cost community (in West Virginia) where you can “Buy your dreams a dollar down.” She enjoys Morgantown’s quaint eateries (“table in the shade… sip our tea and lemonade”), colorful people (“ladies in their rainbow fashions”), friendly vibe (“wink at total strangers passing”), specialty shops (“window full of colored rings”), and novel merchandise (“wooden bird with painted wings”).

A2. “For Free” (4:31) is a piano–vocal ballad (in C) with elongated rhymes, subtle chamber arrangements, and a clarinet outro. Joni observes an unknown yet determined street musician. She contrasts his act with her position as an established recording artist who plays “for fortunes” and rides in “a black limousine.” Even through the locals “passed his music by” (in all likelihood due to his obscurity: “They knew he had never been on their T.V.”), she acknowledges “He was playing real good for free.” He possibly reminds her of when she was a starving folkie. Covered 1972–77 by Petula Clark, Marie Little, Julie Mairs & Chris Stowell, and Terea.

A3. “Conversation” (4:27) has crisp chordal strum (in G) and soaring vocals with shaker percussion and a crunchy sax outro. Joni consoles a male friend stuck in a loveless marriage. She sees him “in cafes” where he brings her “songs to play.” Despite his over-reliance on her emotional support (“Comfort and consultation… he’ll speak his sorrow endlessly”), she struggles with feelings for him (“I… turn away before his lady knows how much I want to see him”). Written in 1967.

A4. “Ladies of the Canyon” (3:32) has a layered, plucked acoustic arrangement (in E♭) with angelic vocals and self-harmonized vocables. Joni sings of three Laurel Canyon women: Trina, a self-styled illustrator and decorator (“Sewing lace on widows’ weeds… filigree on leaf and vine”); Annie, a housewife, cat lover, brownie baker, and community hostess; and Estrella, a circus gypsy songstress (“Pouring music down the canyon, coloring the sunshine hours”). Based on three real women: Trina Robbins (an underground cartoonist who ran Broccoli, an East Village hippie boutique), Annie Burden, and Estrella Berosini.

A5. “Willy” (3:00) is a piano ballad with tender multi-octave vocals. Joni sings of a man who arouses maternal instincts (“Willy is my child”) yet also seems like a father figure (“he is my father”). She was smitten (“I gave my heart too soon”) but something kept them apart (“He says he’d love to live with me but for an ancient injury”). The events coincided with the Apollo moon landing (“He stood looking thru the lace at the face on the conquered moon”). Purportedly about Graham Nash, whose middle name is William.

A6. “The Arrangement” (3:34) is a slow, minimal number that opens with sparse piano; sung with poignant held notes. Joni addresses a married businessman who “could have been more than a name on the door on the thirty-third floor” of an office building. His wife is “pleased to be a part of the arrangement” (swelling vocal emphasis) because she enjoys his “credit card [and] swimming pool in the backyard.” Joni portrays his mistress. Written for the 1969 film adaptation of The Arrangement, the 1967 autobiographical novel by film director Elia Kazan.

B1. “Rainy Night House” (3:24) has a mid-paced, minor-key piano arrangement (Dm→B♭→Am) with a long intro and faint, droning cello. Joni accompanies a man to his vacated mother’s home but focuses on their differences. She’s a Sunday school choral soprano; he’s a “holy man on the F.M. radio” and a “refugee from a wealthy family.” Inspired by her 1967 relationship with fellow Canadian singer–songwriter Leonard Cohen, who she met at the 1967 Newport Folk Festival.

B2. “The Priest” (3:41) is an English-style folk ballad with a fingerpicked acoustic arrangement (in G minor) and wavering vocals. Joni locks eyes with a priest at an airport bar. He advises against her vocation (“You wouldn’t like it here… it’s no place you should share”) and performs an impromptu ritual (“took his contradictions out and he splashed them on my brow”) that leaves her confused (“When choosing what to vow, should I choose them all; should I make them mine?”) and doubting (“just as one loves more and more, will one love less and less?”).

B3. “Blue Boy” (2:54) is a piano ballad (in Dm) with high-register delivery. A lady calls out to her “blue boy love,” a granite statue in her garden. She prays “aloud for love to waken in his face” and has dreams in which he will “read to her, roll her in his arms and give his seed to her.”

B4. “Big Yellow Taxi” (2:14) is a brisk acoustic strum-along (in F) with bongos, triangles, and light-hearted vocals. Joni laments nature’s loss to development (“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot”). Inspired by her November 1969 trip to Hawaii with references to Honolulu’s Royal Hawaiian (“a pink hotel”) and Foster Botanical Garden (“a tree museum” where “they took all the trees… and they charged the people a dollar and a half just to see ’em”). She assails the use of DDTs (insecticides banned since 1972 for their impact on birds). Joni multi-tracks the vocables under a group moniker (The Saskatunes). This is her second-most covered song (580+ versions as of March 2024) with versions by Aleksander Mežek and BB Gabor.

B5. “Woodstock” (5:29) has a minimal, rhythmless arrangement of voice and electric piano (in E) and an improvised vocable outro. Joni recaps the famous festival and its attendees (“I came upon a child of God… going on down to Yasgur’s farm… to camp out on the land”). She illuminates the collective euphoria (“We are stardust, we are golden”) and the hippie fantasy that peace and love could stop war (“I dreamed I saw the bombers riding shotgun in the sky, and they were turning into butterflies”). Mitchell herself missed the event due to flight holdovers. “Woodstock” became a huge 1970 hit for Crosby Stills Nash & Young (CSN sing backing vocals on Joni’s version as the ‘Lookout Mountain United Downstairs Choir’). Also covered by Matthews Southern Comfort and the Greek trio Αγάπανθος.

B6. “The Circle Game” (4:51) is an acoustic singalong (in B) with baroque twin-guitar (6- and 12-string) and male–female backing vocals. Joni summarizes a young male’s evolving dreams from childhood to age twenty (“on the carousel of time”). At first precocious (“came out to wonder caught a dragonfly inside a jar”) and timid (“fearful when the sky was full of thunder”), he grows more daring (“skated over ten clear frozen streams”). He gains newfound mobility at sixteen when “cartwheels turn to car wheels.” By twenty, he’s disillusioned because “his dreams have lost some grandeur coming true.” Published in March 1966 as a conclusion to Neil Young’s “Sugar Mountain,” a song about pushing twenty.

Joni recorded and self-produced Ladies of the Canyon at A&M Studios, Los Angeles, with Clouds engineer Henry Lewy, who worked on concurrent albums by Ron Nagle (Mystery Trend, Durocs), Raymond Louis Kennedy, and “Gimme Shelter” singer Merry Clayton.

Jim Horn also appears on 1970 albums by the Carpenters, Johnny Rivers, Milt Jackson, Shuggie Otis, and Asylum Choir singer–pianist Marc Benno. Holland appears on concurrent titles by Al Kooper, Beaver & Krause, Randy Newman, and the debut album by Ry Cooder. Teresa’s cello parts were arranged by veteran jazz bandleader Don Bagley, who subsequently assisted Judee Sill on her 1971 debut album.

Joni’s gatefold cover art presents a line-drawn self portrait (half-rendered) in which her hand-held blanket cuts to a colorized depiction of Laurel Canyon. The duck heads that peek over the credits (back cover) reappear on the lyrical inner-gates.

Reprise lifted “Big Yellow Taxi” as a single (b/w “Woodstock”). It reached No. 6 in Australia and went Top 20 in the UK (No. 11), Canada (No. 14), and the Netherlands (No. 19). Ladies of the Canyon reached No. 16 in Canada, No. 8 on the UK Albums Chart, and No. 27 on the Billboard 200.


Blue

Joni Mitchell released her fourth album, Blue, on June 22, 1971, on Reprise. The title refers to her mood at the time of writing the album’s ten songs, five of which contain the word “blue” (or “blues”).

Blue spawned two singles, “Carey” and “California,” both written in the spring of 1970 in Matala, a village on the Greek island of Crete, where she stayed in a hippie commune after her breakup with Graham Nash, a topic referenced in “My Old Man” and “River.” Other songs (“Blue,” “This Flight Tonight”) date from her whirlwind romance with James Taylor, which began that summer and continued through this album’s winter recording sessions. One song (“Little Green”) dates from 1967 and alludes to her daughter.

Joni plays piano, acoustic guitar, and Appalachian dulcimer on Blue, which features backing on three tracks (“Carey,” “California,” “A Case of You”) by Taylor (guitar) and his drummer Russ Kunkel. Taylor plays further guitar on “All I Want.” Additional guests include Stephen Stills (bass and guitar on “Carey”) and Flying Burrito Bros. steel guitarist Sneaky Pete Kleinow (“California,” “This Flight Tonight”).

A1. “All I Want” (3:34) features strummed acoustic guitar (in D), dulcimer, and fluttering high-range vocals. Joni telegraphs mixed feelings about lovers on the road (“I hate you some… I love you when I forget about me”). She wants to bring lasting value to her short-term affairs (“I want to renew you again”’) but can’t let go herself so easily (“I think of your kisses my mind see-saws”). Her latest affair goes nowhere (“the jealousy, the greed is the unraveling… it undoes all the joy that could be”). The melancholy is mutual (“we both get so blue”). Covered 1971–74 by The Supremes, Karin Krog, and (as an instrumental) Keith Jarrett.

A2. “My Old Man” (3:34) is a sparse piano-vocal ballad (rooted in A) with lively multi-octave vocals. Joni’s “old man” (lover) embodies everything to her (“singer in the park… dancer in the dark… fireworks at the end of the day”). He’s her muse (“the warmest chord I ever heard”). When he’s away, “them lonesome blues collide, the bed’s too big, the frying pan’s too wide”). They’re not married but it doesn’t matter (“We don’t need no piece of paper… keeping us tied and true”).

A3. “Little Green” (3:27) is an unaccompanied lament with plucked 12-string acoustic guitar (in B) and voice. Joni makes veiled references to her daughter (Kelly Dale, undisclosed publicly until 1993). She wants to call the child green so “the winters cannot fade her.” The first bridge references the absentee father (Brad MacMath, Mitchell’s onetime boyfriend): “He went to California… so you write him a letter and say Her eyes are blue.” The second bridge alludes to the girl’s adoption (“sign all the papers in the family name, you’re sad and you’re sorry but you’re not ashamed, little green have a happy ending”).

A4. “Carey” (3:02) is a group number with twin-strummed guitar (in D), light percussion, and harmonized vocals. Joni refers to her time (circa 1970) in a hippie commune at Matala on the island of Crete, where she shared a cave with Cary Raditz, an American advertising grad. While she enjoys the carefree nature of the trip (“Let’s have a round for these freaks… another round for the bright red devil”), she also misses civilian luxuries (“I miss my clean white linen and my fancy French cologne”).

A5. “Blue” (3:05) is a barren piano–vocal sketch with held notes and elongated vowels. Joni hands an unfinished song to a man named “Blue” and asks him to fill in the missing words. She encourages him to “keep thinking” through any means (“Acid, booze, and ass, needles, guns, and grass”). Despite her abandon, she rejects existentialism (“Everybody’s saying that hell’s the hippest way to go, well I don’t think so, but I’m gonna take a look around it though”). Purportedly about her current flame, singer–songwriter James Taylor.

B1. “California” (3:51) is a lighthearted number with strummed|plucked guitar (in F) with faint twang and fluttering vocals. In Paris, Joni reads about ongoing US war entanglements and laments the shattered hippie ethos (“They won’t give peace a chance, that was just a dream some of us had”). Still, her heart cries out for California. The second verse refers to the subject of “Carey” (“I met a redneck on a Grecian isle” — Raditz hailed from North Carolina).

B2. “This Flight Tonight” (2:51) features brisk double-tracked strum (in A and D) with soft, high-pitched vocals and a twangy, phoned-in middle. Joni reflects on a recent affair on a flight headed home. She sees a “falling star burn up above the Las Vegas sands” and notes that it’s not a star of good karma, unlike “the early one that you can wish upon… the northern one that guides in the sailors.” She struggles not to think of his “touch so gentle and sweet” and copes with bleakness (“Blackness everywhere and little lights shine… come on light the candle in this poor heart of mine”).

B3. “River” (4:04) is a moderate ballad (in C) with ambidextrous piano and mid-range vocals. As Christmas beacons, Joni laments a lost love (possibly Nash). In California where “it stays pretty green,” she misses the Canadian snow. She insists her vocation is temporary (“I’m going to make a lot of money, then I’m going to quit this crazy scene”). All the while, she wishes for “a river [to] skate away on.” She takes responsibility for her recent breakup (“I’m so hard to handle, I’m selfish and I’m sad”). Covered more than 980 times as of March 2024.

B4. “A Case of You” (4:22) is a slow-paced group number with dulcimer, twin strummed|plucked acoustic guitar (in D), light percussion, and fluttering airy vocals. Joni reflects on a recent love who declared himself “constant as a northern star” (a reference to Canada and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar). “In the blue TV screen light,” she draws Canada on a carton with his face at the center. He arouses vivid emotions (“you’re in my blood like holy wine… I could drink a case of you darling”) and likens love to “touching souls” (her response: “you touched mine ’cause part of you pours out of me”). She meets his prior girlfriend, who says “stay with him if you can, but be prepared to bleed.” Possibly about Nash or Cohen.

B5. “The Last Time I Saw Richard” (4:15) is a two-handed piano ballad (roaming from G) with mid-range vocals that flare upward. Joni recalls Richard, a fellow singer–songwriter who she last saw three years beforehand (“Detroit in ’68”). He had a dim view of their trajectory (“all romantics meet the same fate… cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark café”) and saw her as naive (“you think you’re immune… your eyes, they’re full of moon, you like roses and kisses and pretty men to tell you… pretty lies”). She viewed him as another introspective artist type (“you’re romanticizing some pain that’s in your head, you got tombs in your eyes…”). He eventually marries a figure skater and resigns to seclusion and alcohol. (Not based on anyone, per se, but inspired by a conversation with Irish–American folkie Patrick Sky, a Sixties Vanguard–Verve recording artist.)

Sessions occurred in the winter of 1970–71 at A&M Studios, Hollywood, where Joni self-produced Blue in the company of ongoing soundman Henry Lewy, who engineered the album in sequence with A&M–Reprise titles by Charles Lloyd, Crazy Horse, David Blue, and Lee Michaels.

Taylor participated between his 1970–71 breakthrough albums Sweet Baby James and Mudslide Slim and the Blue Horizon. Kunkel also guested on concurrent albums by Carole King (Music), The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Kate Taylor (James’ sister), and Kingston Trio alumnus John Stewart. Kleinow also played on 1971 titles by Mini Farina, Mother Hen (aka Jane Getz), and the Australian duo Burton & Cunico (pre-Ayers Rock), plus the debut albums by Billy Joel (Cold Spring Harbor), Linda Ronstadt, and Little Feat.

Along with “Little Green,” Joni recorded two additional older songs (“Urge for Going,” “Hunter (The Good Samaritan)”) for inclusion on Blue but dropped them for two songs completed late in the sessions, “All I Want” and “The Last Time I Saw Richard.” The two vaulted songs appear on the fiftieth-anniversary extended-play disc Blue 50 (Demos & Outtakes). “Urge for Going” (first recorded in 1968 by Tom Rush) also became a 1972 b-side.

Blue appeared in an all-blue gatefold with lyrical inner-gates and a plain back. Former child actor Tim Considine photographed the album’s monochrome zoom-shot, which shows a somber, half-shaded Joni looking down at her microphone.

Reprise lifted “Carey” as a single (b/w “This Flight Tonight”), followed by “California” (b/w “A Case of You”). Blue reached No. 15 on the US Billboard 200, No. 9 in Canada, and No. 3 on the UK Albums Chart.


For the Roses

Joni Mitchell released her fifth album, For the Roses, in November 1972 on Asylum. It features a mix of solo piano ballads and group-recorded songs, including the single “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio,” a country-folk tune with Graham Nash on harmonica.

Joni composed most of For the Roses on piano at her new 40-acre property in the Sunshine Coast District of British Columbia, where she moved after the Blue tour and her breakup with James Taylor. The album’s title references the Race of Roses (aka the “Run for the Roses”), the nickname for the Kentucky Derby, where the winning thoroughbred horse receives a blanket of 564 red roses.>

For the Roses contains three self-recorded piano–vocal numbers (“Banquet,” “Lesson in Survival,” “See You Sometime”). Guest musicians include percussionist Bobbye Hall and Crusaders bassist Wilton Felder, both heard on “Electricity,” “Woman of Heart and Mind,” and “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire,” the last of those with multi-reedist Tom Scott, who also plays on “Barangrill” and “Let the Wind Carry Me.” Stephen Stills guests as the ‘rock and roll band’ on “Blonde in the Bleachers.”

A1. “Banquet” (3:01) is a roaming-key piano ballad with airy, fluttering vocals. Joni uses feast and famine metaphors for people’s allotment in life: “Some get the gravy” (wealth)… “some get the gristle [or] the bone marrow” (toil and/or poverty). She sings of people’s various coping mechanisms (religion, drugs) and lifestyles, be they hippie drifters (“Some turn to rambling round, looking for a clean sky and a drinking stream”) or ordinary folks (“Some watch their stocks and bonds, waiting for that big deal American Dream”). She summarized her own vocation as “Yankee yachts and lobster pots and sunshine” (i.e. an au naturel lifestyle on the US West Coast). Covered by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band on their 1986 album Criminal Tango.

A2. “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire” (4:17) is a self-harmonized group number (in G7) with duo strum (sustain|staccato), light percussion|bass, and outro soprano sax. The lyrics concerns a heroin addict (“Cold blue steel”) and his pangs of addiction (“sweet fire”). He keeps “One eye [out] for the beat police” and meets his dealer “Underneath the jungle gym.” His liaison points him “down the dark ladder” where he endures the “Concrete concentration camp” of horrors to get his fix.

A3. “Barangrill” (2:52) is a chipper acoustic number (in E) with mid-range vocals, light flute, and plucked refrains. Joni encounters three gold-digging waitresses and a singing gas attendant on her way to “Barangrill” (an imaginary town; a portmanteau of “bar and grill”). The waitresses wear “Black diamond earrings” and talk of “Singapore slings,” satchels, and a “rented Rolls-Royce.” The gas pumper “makes up his own tune, right on the spot, about whitewalls and windshields and this job he’s got.”

A4. “Lesson in Survival” (3:11) is a sparse, two-hand piano ballad with wide-range vocals. Joni contemplates breaking up with a man due to opposing trajectories (“Black road, double yellow line”). He’s highly social and gregarious (“Friends and kin campers in the kitchen”) while she’s an introvert who needs “more quiet times” and “can’t seem to make it with [him] socially.” She overwhelms a platonic male friend with her private concerns (“I came in as bright as a neon light and I burned out right there before him”). The arrangement carries over to…

A5. “Let the Wind Carry Me” (3:56) a piano ballad with roaming keys, adorned with reeds and double-tracked vocables. Joni sings of her father’s faith in people and her mother’s anal-retentive habits (“she’s always cleaning”). Despite her mother’s misgivings (“She don’t like my eyelids painted green… for that rock ‘n’ roll dancing scene”) her father was more encouraging (“She’s looking like a movie queen”). She takes inspiration from her father (“papa, he blesses me, it’s a rough road to travel”). Though she sometimes yearns for the domestic life (“I get that strong longing and I want to settle”) she acknowledges her free spirit and wanderlust (“a wild seed again, let the wind carry me”).

A6. “For the Roses” (3:48) is a finger-picked folk tune (in B) with lithe upper-range vocals. Joni reflects on her stardom and the distance it puts between her listeners. She misses the intimate audience rapport of her pre-fame days. In “some office,” she observes an unsigned hopeful who “trembles as he sings” and asks the industry reps to “circulate his soul around,” then she imagines his trajectory (“rev of motors… fancy women… up the charts… to the airport… in the news”). She laments how she once wrote for herself, free of press scrutiny, yet notes that her misgivings may “seem ungrateful” given her current good fortune.

B1. “See You Sometime” (2:56) is a roaming mid-paced number with unaccompanied stride piano and arching vocals. Joni calls out to a recent partner; a fellow singer–songwriter who’s achieved his own fame (James Taylor). Though she has her own happiness, vigor, success, and security, she’d still “like to see [him] sometime” and invites him to fly in for a visit. She laments how “We start out so kind and end so heartlessly.”

B2. “Electricity” (3:01) is a twin-strum folk tune (in B) with light percussion|bass and upper-range vocals. Joni references ways in which human technology flies in the face of God (“He talks to the land and the leaves fall”) and Mother Nature (“She don’t [understand] the system Plus… wrong fuses and splices, she’s not going to fix it up”). Joni predicts that too much technology will pose danger, especially if it fails (“the breakdown of this century, they’re not going to fix it up too easy”) and laments a time when “We once loved together” with “Input output electricity.”

B3. “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio” (2:39) is a mid-pace country-folk number (in E) with crisp strum, harmonica (intro|outro), light percussion, airy-yet-prominent vocals, and double-tracked vocables. Joni, as the voice of radio, encourages listeners to “Dial in the number who’s bound to love you,” for music (“I’m a country station”) or talk (“Call me at the station, the lines are open”).

B4. “Blonde in the Bleachers” (2:42) opens with full vocals and muted, roaming piano; joined by secondary voices and a rhythm section; overlaid with reeds on the free-form outro. Joni sings of a blonde fan girl who pursues her musical crush but is unable to tame him because “You can’t hold the hand… or count on your plans… [or] compete with the fans… [of] the rock ‘n’ roll man.”

B5. “Woman of Heart and Mind” (2:38) is a plucked acoustic ballad (in B) with plaintive vocals and light bass|percussion. Joni engages with a younger man. He comes to her “like a little boy” and envisions her in roles that range from familial (mother, sister) to sexual (“the queen of your dreams”). He’s restless and insatiable (“After the rush when you come back down, you’re always disappointed, nothing seems to keep you high”). She questions his purpose (“Don’t it leave you on the empty side”) and states her differences (“I’m looking for affection and respect, a little passion”). He later finds God and over-espouses his newfound piety (“You imitate the best and the rest you memorize”). His try-hard efforts fail to resonate (“the times you impress me most are the times when you don’t try”). Covered by Minnie Riperton.

B6. “Judgement of the Moon and Stars (Ludwig’s Tune)” (5:19) is a sparse, roaming, mid-paced piano ballad with commanding vocals; interjected midway with piping reeds, double-tracked vocables, and strings. Joni urges listeners to exert their talents (“You’ve got to shake your fists at lightning now… roar like forest fire… spread your light like blazes”) and leave their marks on history (“Show ’em you won’t expire… not even when you die”). Inspired by Beethoven: His Spiritual Development, a 1927 psychological study on German classical composer Ludwig van Beethoven by English popular science writer J. W. N. Sullivan.

Sessions occurred in the summer–fall of 1972 at A&M Studios, Hollywood, where Joni self-produced For the Roses with guidance from engineer Henry Lewy, who worked concurrently with Felder on the Blue Note release Ethiopian Knights by jazz-funk trumpeter Donald Byrd.

“Judgement of the Moon and Stars (Ludwig’s Tune)” features string arrangements by former Electric Flagg violinist Bobby Notkoff. Guitarist James Burton of Mike Nesmith’s First National Band plays electric guitar on “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire.” Blue auxiliary drummer Russ Kunkel also reappears.

For the Roses shows Joni groun-seated at a first riverside precipice. The photographer, Joel Bernstein (CSNY, Crazy Horse), took a similar photo of Rita Coolidge for her 1971 debut album. The inner-gates of For the Roses feature lyrics overlaid on a sea-side photo where a distant, disrobed Joni stands back-to-the camera on a rock. Joni first submitted a felt-pen illustration of a rose bouquet stuck in a horse’s posterior.

Asylum marked “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio” as a single backed with Joni’s only non-album b-side, the Blue leftover “Urge for Going.” It reached No. 10 on Canada’s Top Singles Chart and No. 20 on the US Cashbox Top 100. For the Roses reached No. 5 in Canada, No. 11 on the Billboard 200, and No. 19 in Australia.


Court and Spark

Joni Mitchell released her sixth album, Court and Spark, on January 17, 1974, on Asylum. It features ten originals, including the pre-released single “Raised on Robbery,” a retro Fifties rocker with Band guitarist Robbie Robertson. Joni scored her sole US Top 10 hit with the second, “Help Me,” a dreamy ballad recorded with the jazz-funk combo L.A. Express, who also make group appearances on “The Same Situation,” “Down to You,” and “Just Like This Train.”

Court and Spark is Joni’s first album with multiple backing players on each track. L.A. Express keyboardist Joe Sample plays on five tracks and drummer John Guerin plays on everything. Their two bandmates (guitarist Larry Carlton and bassist Max Bennett) appear on all but three songs. They recorded their debut album at the same time with reedist Tom Scott, who plays on “Help Me,” “Free Man in Paris,” “Just Like This Train,” “Down to You,” and “Raised On Robbery.” Additional guests include Spanish guitar star Jose Feliciano (“Free Man In Paris”) and transatlantic session guitarist Wayne Perkins (“Car On the Hill”).

Musically, Court and Spark hears Joni embrace jazz-pop (“Car on a Hill,” “Trouble Child”), country-folk (“People’s Parties”), and lavish orchestration (“Down to You”). She closes the album with her first cover, the Fifties jazz standard “Twisted.”

A1. “Court and Spark” (2:46) is a light piano opener (in E) with restrained mezzo vocals; joined by steady hi-hat (:50-on) and faint band accompaniment for a mid-paced chorus and jerky 3/4 refrain. Joni has an admirer: a street musician who arrives at her door “With a sleeping roll and a madman’s soul.” He played for “passing change” in People’s Park (on the University of Berkeley) but now seeks a woman “to court and spark.” He senses her unease but presents himself as a clean soul (“I cleared myself, I sacrificed my blues”). She takes to him on some level (“the more he talked to me, the more he reached me”).

A2. “Help Me” (3:22) is a ballad with airy self-harmonized vocals, roaming major-seventh chords, backing motifs (piping flute, cocktail guitar fills), and ‘dreamy|misty’ ambience. Joni finder herself falling in love with “a rambler and a gambler… a sweet talking ladies man” who loves his freedom more than he loves “lovin’.” Despite her euphoria, she knows that she’s falling “too fast” because her current beau reminds her of past loves (“I’ve seen some hot hot blazes come down to smoke and ash”). She talks of their special moments and how they flirt but wonders if her love for him is one-sided (“Are you going to let me go there by myself? That’s such a lonely thing to do”).

A3. “Free Man in Paris” (3:02) weaves a three-note panpipe riff around mid-paced verses with commanding mezzo vocals and brisk acoustic-rock backing. Joni sings of a company head and his endless entanglements with current and would-be associates (“There’s a lot of people asking for my time… trying to be a good friend of mine”). On vacation, he feels “unfettered and alive” in the anonymity of Paris. She reveals the dark side of his position as a power broker (“I deal in dreamers and telephone screamers”). The song concerns her friend, Asylum president David Geffen, who stoked “the star maker machinery behind the popular song.”

A4. “People’s Parties” (2:15) features double-tracked lento strum (D-based) with wavering mezzo-soprano vocals. Joni attends a Hollywood party with international guests (“They’ve got stamps of many countries… passport smiles”) who range in vibe and personality (“Some are friendly, some are cutting”). A diva lights up the room, then unravels (“Photo beauty gets attention, then her eye paint’s running down”). Some guests are withdrawn or aloof (“Cry for Eddie in the corner, thinking he’s nobody… and stone-cold Grace behind her fan”). Joni herself feels awkward in her surroundings (“living on nerves and feelings with a weak and a lazy mind… fumbling deaf dumb and blind”).

A5. “The Same Situation” (2:57) is a mid-paced piano–vocal number with wordy verses and sighing refrains; filled with strings and metal percussion. Joni copes with self-doubt in the gaze of a man who’s “had lots of lovely women.” In her ceaseless search for someone who’s “strong and somewhat sincere,” she sends up a prayer wondering if there’s anyone to hear.

B1. “Car on a Hill” (3:02) opens with full brass (in F♭) to a Steely Dan-style arrangement with tender harmonized vocals cut by a droning instrumental break and a harmonic cymbal-laden outro (in compound time). Joni climbed a hill for a planned meetup with a new partner. However, three hours after their intended rendezvous, she’s still “waiting for his car on the hill.” She notes that he’s “a real good talker” who “makes friends easy,” unlike her. Finally, “Fast tires come screaming around the bend,” but it’s not his car. She laments the laughter, spark and “sweetness in the dark” of their earlier encounter. Purportedly about Jackson Browne.

B2. “Down to You” (5:38) fades in with light piano and proceeds as a roaming-key vocal ballad, then welcomes light backing and complex harmonies, which usher a neoclassical section of strings, woodwinds, and harp. Joni concludes that, as an individual, “It all comes down to you” in the end; after the come-and-go partners (“lovers and styles of clothes”) and random encounters with barflies, strangers, and exes. She notes how people lower their standards in certain environments (“down to the pick up station… you settle for less than fascination”), especially after “a few drinks.” Later, she laments how good times beget unforeseen setbacks (“Just when you’re thinking you’ve finally got it made, bad news comes knocking”). Covered by Colosseum II on their 1976 album Strange New Flesh.

B3. “Just Like This Train” (4:24) is an effervescent mid-tempo number (in C) with layered guitar (dobro strum, twangy slide) and vocals (airy mezzo, self-harmonized soprano), framed by a plucked, upward motif. Joni, disillusioned by past romance (“I used to count lovers like railroad cars. Lately I don’t count on nothing, I just let things slide”), boards a train en route to a rendezvous with a new lover (possibly a rebound: “Jealous lovin’ll make you crazy”). She looks for travel company but finds herself too dissimilar to her fellow travelers: the “old man sleeping,” the married women “with that teased up kind of hair,” and the kids with their “cokes and chocolate bars.” She endures the ride with German wine, “Dreaming of the pleasure” she’ll have when she arrives.

B4. “Raised on Robbery” (3:06) opens with Robbie’s dirty wah-wah guitar tone, joined by terse, multi-tracked vocals that herald a brisk, uptempo rock arrangement (in C) with punchy sax and neo-Fifties vibes. A young, free-wheeling Canadian man with a “little money riding on the Maple Leafs” seeks thrills in New York City. While “sitting in the lounge of the Empire Hotel,” he’s approached by a “lady in lacy sleeves” (a prostitute) who claims to be “a pretty good cook.” She hints at her trade (“I’m up after midnight cooking, trying to make my rent”) and talks about her misspent youth when her onetime boyfriend blew a $3,000 government grant on booze and a “’57 Biscayne” (debuted by Chevrolet in 1958). She propositions the young man with no strings attached (“Come home with me honey, I ain’t asking for no full length mink”) but he leaves her alone at the lounge. Covered by Sheena Easton in her early live set.

B5. “Trouble Child” (4:00) has a rising bass intro and fluid arrangement of Fender Rhodes electric piano, laid back vocals, and raw trumpet. Joni sings to an institutionalized teenager whose demons (the “Dragon shining”) overpower his freewill (“Where is the lion in you to defy him”). She challenges him for solutions since the typical coping mechanisms (self-help advice, religion) have no effect. She notes the feckless and detrimental input of acquaintances and counselors (“they talk like they know you, they don’t… they’re friends and they’re foes too”). In the end, she says “you really have no one, only a river of changing faces… they trickle through your leaky plans.”

B6. “Twisted” (2:21) Originated as a 1950 jazz instrumental by the Al Haig Quartet with saxist–composer Wardell Gray. British jazz singer Annie Ross added lyrics to the song, which also inspired 1973–74 covers by Bette Midler and Marlena Shaw.> Joni uses a peppy Forties jazz-pop arrangement with trumpet, walking bass, and “Fever”-style vocals. In “Twisted,” the narrator is an adolescent girl whose analyst declares her insane (“the type… most inclined… to be out of my mind”). She recalls her “crazy” childhood thoughts (“a wizard at three”) but her biggest act of mischief was when she “got into the vodka one night.” She likens herself to once-maligned geniuses (Edison, Einstein) and notes how average people “just couldn’t understand the idiomatic logic.” She claims that she’s “got a thing that’s unique and new” (described as “two heads”) and promises she’ll have the last laugh. The comedy duo Cheech & Chong add vocal bits.

Sessions occurred in the summer–autumn of 1973 at A&M Studios, Hollywood, and ran concurrent with Tom Scott and The L.A. Express, their only album with Sample and Carlton. Henry Lewy engineered Court and Spark in sequence with 1973–74 albums by Batteaux, Barbara Keith, Jimmy Webb, Judee Sill, Patti Dahlstrom, and Paul Horn.

Court and Spark appeared in a textured beige gatefold with a Mitchell cover painting that depicts a twisty fifgure|hill hybrid in a mountain range. The lyrical inner gates feature a monochrome shot of Joni by Norman Seeff, whose photography also appears with 1974 albums by Bill Withers, Electric Light Orchestra, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Puzzle, and Weather Report.

“Raised on Robbery” appeared in December 1973 as the lead single (b/w “Court and Spark”). “Help Me” followed in March 1974 (b/w “Just Like This Train”) and reached No. 6 in Canada, No. 7 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and No. 1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. The third single, “Free Man In Paris” (b/w “People’s Parties”) appeared in July and reached No. 22 on the Hot 100 (No. 2 Adult Contemporary).

Court and Spark reached No. 1 on Canada’s Top Albums and No. 2 on the Billboard 200 in the US, where it later certified double-Platinum.


Miles of Aisles

In November 1974, Joni Mitchell released the live double-album Miles of Aisles. It features eighteen setlist numbers from her spring–summer ’74 tours with her Court and Spark backing band L.A. Express, who receive co-billing on the album cover.

Miles of Aisles features renditions of one song each from Song to a Seagull (“Cactus Tree”), Clouds (“Both Sides Now”), and her most recent album, Court and Spark (“People’s Parties”).

Joni and the band perform three songs from For the Roses (“You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio,” “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire,” “Woman of Heart and Mind”) and five each from Blue (“Blue,” “A Case of You,” “All I Want,” “Carey,” “The Last Time I Saw Richard”) and Ladies of the Canyon: “Big Yellow Taxi,” “Rainy Night House,” “Woodstock,” “Circle Game,” and “For Free” (re-titled “Real Good for Free”).

Side D wraps with two exclusive, unrecorded originals: “Jericho” (later recorded for her 1977 album Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter) and “Love or Money.” Mitchell sourced Miles of Aisles from her August 14–17 stand at L.A.’s Universal Amphitheatre apart from two songs: “Cactus Tree” (March 4, L.A. Music Center) and “Real Good for Free” (March 2, Berkeley Community Center).

L.A. Express opened each show with a set of instrumental jazz-rock. Their lineup featured three Court sessionists (bassist Max Bennett, drummer John Guerin, saxophonist Tom Scott) and two new members: guitarist Robben Ford and pianist Larry Nash, the respective replacements of moonlighting Crusaders (and Court guests) Larry Carlton and Joe Sample. On Miles of Aisles, Joni plays guitar, piano, and dulcimer.

A1. “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio” (3:55)
A2. “Big Yellow Taxi” (3:05)
A3. “Rainy Night House” (4:00)
A4. “Woodstock” (4:25)
B1. “Cactus Tree” (4:50)
B2. “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire” (5:30)
B3. “Woman of Heart and Mind” (3:30)
B4. “A Case of You” (4:18)
B5. “Blue” (2:40)
C1. “Circle Game” (5:20)
C2. “People’s Parties” (2:30)
C3. “All I Want” (3:20)
C4. “Real Good for Free” (4:15)
C5. “Both Sides Now” (4:10)
D1. “Carey” (3:20)
D2. “The Last Time I Saw Richard” (3:45)
D3. “Jericho” (3:30) Joni later
D4. “Love or Money” (4:48)

Miles of Aisles is housed in a tri-fold sleeve with credits-scrawled Amphitheatre pics and the lyrics to Joni’s two new songs, “Jericho” and “Love or Money.” The inner flaps full-scale pics of Joni at her microphone and posed beside her band, all captured by erstwhile folkster Henry Diltz, whose photography also appears on 1974–75 albums by America, Dan Fogelberg, and The Eagles.

Asylum lifted the live version of “Big Yellow Taxi” as a single, which out-charted its studio counterpart (No. 67, 1970) at No. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100. Miles of Aisles reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and No. 12 in Canada.


The Hissing of Summer Lawns

Joni Mitchell released her seventh studio album, The Hissing of Summer Lawns, in November 1975 on Asylum. It retains L.A. Express as her backing band and continues her newfound blend of folk ballads and jazz-infused numbers.

Joni exhibits less introspection on The Hissing of Summer Lawns, which focuses on external subjects like mobsters (“Edith and the Kingpin”), bohemians (“The Boho Dance”), free spirits (“Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow”), and housewives (“Harry’s House,” the title track). She glorifies her Fifties youth on “In France They Kiss on Main Street,” backed by Steely Dan guitarist Jeff Baxter and former flames James Taylor, Graham Nash, and David Crosby.

Joni breaks new ground with the sampled Burundi drum beat of “The Jungle Line” and the synthesized vocal experiment “Shadows and Light.” Overall, she plays piano, acoustic guitar, and assorted keyboards (ARP, Farfisa, Moog). She’s backed on most tracks by the Court and Spark rhythm section (bassist Max Bennett, drummer John Guerin) with select appearances by three returning Crusaders (Larry Carlton, Joe Sample, Wilton Felder) and new L.A. Express members Robben Ford and Victor Feldman.

Side B contains two split songwriting credits: “Centerpiece” (a Fifties jazz standard by Jon Hendricks and Harry Edison; interpolated in “Harry’s House”) and the title track (co-written by Guerin, her then-boyfriend).

A1. “In France They Kiss on Main Street” (3:19) opens with cymbal mist to a mid-tempo strum (in E); layered with buoyant vocals, click-tick percussion, and faint fuzzy guitar fills; capped by a harmonized “rolling rolling” chorus. Joni reminisces about coming of age in Fifties small town North America, where “Rock ‘n’ roll rang sweet as victory” in her generation’s “War of Independence” from their parents.  She uses “France” as a metaphor for the hot spot of town where “Under neon signs a girl was in bloom.” While the square townsfolk didn’t take chances (“broken in churches and schools”), she and her friends (Gail, Louise, Chickie) embraced the “latest dance craze” in their “push-up brassieres, tight dresses and rhinestone rings.” They lit up the town, “kissing in cafes… in the pinball arcade” and in the back seat of their shared car while “looking for a party.” She recalls her main squeeze as a “thrilling… Brando-like” talker.

A2. “The Jungle Line” (4:25) consists of Burundi drums and dark Moog drones (in A minor) with tuba-like refrains. Joni likens complex modern-day infrastructures (“I-bars and girders, through wires and pipes… mathematic circuits”) to the jungle-themed canvasses of French post-Impressionist painter Henri Rousseau (1844–1910). She sees parallels in his deep-forested depictions of wildlife with the headiness of urban development, from the ritzy parts of Manhattan (“class on Park”) to the run-down blocks of LA (“trash on Vine”). She compares a bar tender “in a low-cut blouse” to the lithe female subjects of select Rousseau paintings (The Dream, Woman Walking In an Exotic Forest) who could easily be eaten alive by the “cannibals” (literal and figurative) of their respective environments.*

A3. “Edith and the Kingpin” (3:38) is a ballad (in C minor) with faint musical filigree (flute, bass, Fender Rhodes) and lithe, wavering vocals that belie the subject matter. Joni sings of a mob boss and his latest mole, Edith, who’s drawn by his “renegade stories” and “his crimes and his glories.” Mitchell drops cryptic hints about the kingpin’s fate (“All claws for now withdrawn”) and the destiny of past moles (“Women he has taken grow old too soon”). Later, in a moment of intimacy, Edith and the kingpin tacitly acknowledge the dangers of their lifestyle (“staring eye to eye… they dare not look away”).

A4. “Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow” (4:05) is a subdued medium-slow folk number (in G) with humble vocals, muted strum, and light percussive backing. Concerns a modern woman and her determination to roam free of religious oppression, regardless of public disapproval and preacher sanctimony. She contrasts her secular idealism (“A rebel loves a cause”) with the rabid theism of pre-hippie simpletons (“good slaves love the good book”). Despite the preacher’s piety, his truth “goes up in vapors” as he himself gives into temptation (“Seventeen glasses, Rhine wine… clandestine”).

A5. “Shades of Scarlett Conquering” (4:59) has faint piano|vibe undercurrents with lithe mezzo-soprano vocals and subtle orchestration; its gradual sustain tones meld in a hazy glow. Joni illustrates a Seventies-era woman who’s obsessed with vintage Hollywood sirens and characters, namely Scarlett O’Hara. She longs for a like-minded suitor (“Chasing the ghosts of Gable and Flynn”) but her single-mindedness to vintage authenticity alienates others (“Friends have told her ‘not so proud’”). She molds her ideals on old cinematic narratives: the glorification of beauty and madness and the absence of sex (“She covers her eyes in the x-rated scenes”).

B1. “The Hissing of Summer Lawns” (3:01) is a dark ballad (in B minor) with muted instruments (plucked guitar, percussion) and plaintive vocals, marked with sighing refrains. Joni describes the life of a kept women, who copes with her husband’s “darkness” because he showers her with jewelry (“a diamond for her throat”) and pricey furnishings (“a roomful of Chippendale” — 18th-century wooden furniture) in their “ranch house on a hill,” secured with “a barbed wire fence.”

B2. “The Boho Dance” (3:48) is a cabaret piano ballad that opens slow with humble vocals; soon layered with subtle flute|bass backing. Joni enters a bohemian club and sees a hot new band “With Negro affectations” (i.e. R&B–flavored rock). She encounters a hipster with “us and them” fixations and anti-material conceits (“The virtue of your style inscribed, on your contempt for mine”). While she understands that money often corrupts artistry, she doubts he’d hold his purity if offered gold because artists hunger like holy men lust (“Like a priest with a pornographic watch”).

B3. “Harry’s House” | “Centerpiece” (6:48) fades in on trumpet, signaling a medium-slow folk-jazz number with roaming minor keys and plaintive vocals; interpolated (@ 3:33) with a loungy blues sequence (“Centerpiece”). Joni depicts a distant couple vignette with a traveling husband and a House & Garden wife. He’s constantly ushered with baggage “carousels” and yellow “taxi fishes” to the next “continental suite” with “Battalions of paper minded males” (big men at the table) and “Colored currents in the street” (“little” people outside). Despite the wife’s loneliness in his absence, she wants him to match “Harry’s take home pay” because she wants to live in Harry’s house.

B4. “Sweet Bird” (4:12) is a sparse ballad with sharp down-strokes, ghostly twang, drizzling piano, and restrained vocals. Joni contrasts her current state with the carefree nature of birds. She envies their ageless beauty with no fear of death, despite their short lives (“Sweet bird you are, briefer than a falling star”). Birds lead simple, uniform lives; whereas humans concoct “vain promises on beauty jars.” If birds understood humans, would they laugh at our vanity and obsession with mortality?

B5. “Shadows and Light” (4:19) is an a cappella with multi-tracked call-and-response vocals; joined midway by the stop-start shimmer of an ARP synthesizer (in D).

Joni illustrated the gatefold cover of The Hissing of Summer Lawns, which depicts six dark figures hauling a python across a green field superimposed before the Manhattan skyline with imported Beverly Hills home’s (including Joni’s). Court and Spark photographer Norman Seeff captured the Summer Lawns inner-gate image, which captures the singer floating and bikini-clad.

The Hissing of Summer Lawns reached No. 4 on the Billboard 200, No. 7 in Canada, and No. 14 on the UK Albums Chart. Asylum lifted one single: “In France They Kiss on Main Street” (b/w “The Boho Dance”).


Hejira

Joni Mitchell released her eighth studio album, Hejira, in November 1976 on Asylum. The album’s title (Islamic for “exodus,” or departure), reflects the overall theme of travel, based on her three recent journeys: Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue; her January–February ’76 tour; and her March–April cross-country road trip.

A stop on her tour inspired “Furry Sings the Blues,” about an old bluesman she met in a once-lively part of Memphis. Her experiences on the subsequent road trip provided material for “A Strange Boy” (about a fling), “Song for Sharon” (about a childhood friend), and “Amelia” (in which she likens her journey to the aviation legend).

Due to the album’s roadside origins, Joni forgoes piano and plays acoustic and electric guitar on Hejira, which features returning 1974–75 sidemen John Guerin, Max Bennett, Larry Carlton, and Victor Feldman (vibes on “Amelia”), plus horns on “Refuge of the Roads” by Tom Scott and Chuck Findley. She also welcomes back earlier percussionist Bobbey Hall for three tracks. Additional guests include Neil Young (harmonica on “Furry”) and Weather Report bassist Jaco Pastorius, whose fretless work shapes “Coyote,” “Hejira,” “Black Crow,” and “Refuge of the Roads.”

A1. “Coyote” (5:01) opens with silvery wah-wah guitar (in C), layered with percussion, harmonic fretless bass notes, and buoyant vocals amid strummed, shifting key centers (F→G). Joni relates her experiences on Bob Dylan’s recent Rolling Thunder Revue tour; namely her encounters with playwright Sam Shepard, who she nicknames “Coyote” due to his sly yet aggressive manner. She notes their different lifestyles and his three-timing (“he’s got a woman at home [and] another woman down the hall [but] seems to want me anyway”).

A2. “Amelia” (6:01) has a desolate, rhythm-less arrangement with plaintive vocals, muted multi-tracked guitar licks, and faint vibes. Joni likens her flights (for travel and escape) to the aviation feats of Amelia Earhart. She beholds “six white vapor trails” line the sky like the strings on her guitar. On tours and trips, she “scrambles time and seasons” due to travel effects (time zones, jet lag). Her frequent flights diminish her sense of place (“spent my whole life in clouds at icy altitudes”).

A3. “Furry Sings the Blues” (5:07) is an acoustic blues ballad with understated guitar (in A minor) and harmonica. Joni retells the legends of Old Beale Street, a once-thriving neighborhood in Memphis, where she stopped in February 1976 during the Summer Lawns tour. She notes the public park statue of local jazz legend W. C. Handy “cast in bronze… with a trumpet in his hand.” She visits the titular subject: aging bluesman Furry Lewis, who performs for her while “Propped up in his bed with his dentures and his leg removed.” As she walks through Beale’s ruins, ghosts of the “Diamond boys and satin dolls” of yore haunt the neighborhood.

A4. “A Strange Boy” (4:15) Joni sings of a recent cross-country affair with a thirtysomething flight attendant who lived with his parents. His mix of adult and child-like traits arouse mixed feelings in Joni, who finds herself lured (momentarily) by his carefree energy. She’s surprised how “Even the war and the navy couldn’t bring him to maturity.” Likewise, he “sees the damage in [her] face” from heartbreaks and constant travel. They made wild love at an old-folks lodge in Maine where a “thousand glass eyes were staring.”

A5. “Hejira” (6:42) Joni recovers from her breakup with John Guerin. In light of their squabbles, she declares herself a “defector from the petty wars.” Alone, she takes “comfort in melancholy” as she reflects on her love life. She travels alone in the cold, “porous with travel fever.” Despite her solitude and introspection (“returning to myself”), she admits that “the slightest touch of a stranger can set up trembling in [her] bones.”

B1. “Song for Sharon” (8:40) Joni visits a mandolin shop on Staten Island and thinks of her childhood friend, Sharon Bell, who wanted to be a singer while Mitchell herself wanted to settle down and marry. She passes a bridal gown window and amuses herself with the imagery (“Some girl’s going to see that dress and crave that day like crazy”). Despite their young wishes, life offered reverse destiny’s for the two former friends: Sharon has “a husband and a family and a farm” while Joni has her wanderlust (“the apple of temptation”) and the means for fancy jewelry (“a diamond snake around my arm”). Joni also alludes to the recent suicide of model Phyllis Major, who married Jackson Browne after his 1973 breakup with Mitchell.

B2. “Black Crow” (4:22) Joni spots a black crow (“diving down to pick up on something shiny”) and relates the bird’s free-flying nature to her own wanderlust (“black as the highway that’s leading me”). She notes the contradictions in her “search of love and music” — the choice between domesticity and travel, as implied in other songs.

B3. “Blue Motel Room” (5:04) Joni stops in Savannah, where she harbors hope of reuniting with Guerin on her return to LA. She wants him to cheekily dismiss his other options (“tell those girls that you’ve got German Measles”) and meet with her for a “peace talk.” She compares their relationship to the cold war between “America and Russia… always keeping score… balancing the power.”

B4. “Refuge of the Roads” (6:42) Joni encounters Chogyam Trungpa, a Buddhist teacher she met for three days on a later trip-stop in Colorado.

Sessions took place in the summer of 1976 at A&M Hollywood, where Joni produced Hejira and co-engineered the album with longtime soundman Henry “Inspirational” Lewy, who worked on concurrent titles by Buffy Sainte-Marie, Keith Carradine, and Stephen Bishop.

Hejira appeared in a monochrome gatefold with surreal portraits and candid shots of Joni by For the Roses photographer Joel Bernstein. The cover shows her on an icy plain with a somber expression, clad in a black beret and thick over-garment (revealed on the inner-gate as a long black gown affixed with crow wings). Her image fades below to a highway (a symbol of the album) while the back cover shows two distant ballet dancers along the ice. On the lyrical inner-gate, she’s seen from behind with spread wings and ice skates. The inner-sleeve shows her crouched with spread wings under night sky.

Hejira reached No. 11 in the UK and No. 13 on the Billboard 200. Asylum lifted “Coyote” as a single (b/w “Blue Motel Room”).


Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter

Joni Mitchell released her ninth album, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, on December 13, 1977, on Asylum.

A1. “Overture / Cotton Avenue” (6:35)
A2. “Talk to Me” (3:40)
A3. “Jericho” (3:25)
B. “Paprika Plains” (16:19)
C1. “Otis and Marlena” (4:05)
C2. “The Tenth World” (6:45)
C3. “Dreamland” (4:37)
D1. “Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter” (6:40)
D2. “Off Night Backstreet” (3:22)
D3. “The Silky Veils of Ardor” (4:02)


Mingus

Joni Mitchell released her tenth album, Mingus, on June 13, 1979, on Asylum.

A1. “Happy Birthday 1975 (Rap)” (0:57)
A2. “God Must Be a Boogie Man” (4:33)
A3. “Funeral (Rap)” (1:07)
A4. “A Chair in the Sky” (6:40)
A5. “The Wolf That Lives In Lindsey” (6:33)
B1. “I’s A Muggin’ (Rap)” (0:07)
B2. “Sweet Sucker Dance” (8:06)
B3. “Coin in the Pocket (Rap)” (0:11)
B4. “The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines” (3:22)
B5. “Lucky (Rap)” (0:03)
B6. “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” (5:41)


Shadows and Light

In September 1980, Joni Mitchell released Shadows and Light, her second live double-album.

A1. “Introduction” (1:51)
A2. “In France They Kiss on Main Street” (4:14)
A3. “Edith and the Kingpin” (4:10)
A4. “Coyote” (4:58)
A5. “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” (6:02)
B1. “The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines” (4:37)
B2. “Amelia” (6:40)
B3. “Pat’s Solo” (3:09)
B4. “Hejira” (7:42)
C1. “Black Crow” (3:52)
C2. “Don’s Solo” (4:04)
C3. “Dreamland” (4:40)
C4. “Free Man in Paris” (3:23)
C5. “Band Introduction” (0:52)
C6. “Furry Sings the Blues” (5:14)
D1. “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” (2:53)
D2. “Shadows and Light” (5:23)
D3. “God Must Be a Boogie Man” (5:02)
D4. “Woodstock” (5:08)


Wild Things Run Fast

Joni Mitchell released her eleventh studio album, Wild Things Run Fast, in October 1982 on Geffen.

A1. “Chinese Cafe / Unchained Melody” (5:17)
A2. “Wild Things Run Fast” (2:12)
A3. “Ladies’ Man” (2:37)
A4. “Moon at the Window” (3:42)
A5. “Solid Love” (2:57)
B1. “Be Cool” (4:12)
B2. “(You’re So Square) Baby, I Don’t Care” (2:36)
B3. “You Dream Flat Tires” (2:50)
B4. “Man to Man” (3:42)
B5. “Underneath the Streetlight” (2:14)
B6. “Love” (3:46)


Dog Eat Dog

Joni Mitchell released her twelfth album, Dog Eat Dog, in October 1985 on Geffen.

A1. “Good Friends” (4:27)
A2. “Fiction” (4:14)
A3. “The Three Great Stimulants” (6:07)
A4. “Tax Free” (4:16)
A5. “Smokin’ (Empty, Try Another)” (1:43)
B1. “Dog Eat Dog” (4:41)
B2. “Shiny Toys” (3:25)
B3. “Ethiopia” (5:51)
B4. “Impossible Dreamer” (4:31)
B5. “Lucky Girl” (3:58)


Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm

Joni Mitchell released her thirteenth album, Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm, on March 23, 1988, on Geffen.

A1. “My Secret Place” (5:01)
A2. “Number One” (3:48)
A3. “Lakota” (6:25)
A4. “The Tea Leaf Prophecy (Lay Down Your Arms)” (4:49)
A5. “Dancin’ Clown” (4:09)
B1. “Cool Water” (5:25)
B2. “The Beat of Black Wings” (5:19)
B3. “Snakes and Ladders” (5:37)
B4. “The Reoccurring Dream” (3:02)
B5. “A Bird That Whistles” (2:38) arrangement of the traditional work “Corrina, Corrina.”


Night Ride Home

Joni Mitchell released her fourteenth album, Night Ride Home, on February 19, 1991, on Geffen.

A1. “Night Ride Home” (3:21)
A2. “Passion Play (When All the Slaves Are Free)” (5:25)
A3. “Cherokee Louise” (4:32)
A4. “The Windfall (Everything for Nothing)” (5:15)
A5. “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” (6:45)
B1. “Come In From the Cold” (7:31)
B2. “Nothing Can Be Done” (4:53)
B3. “The Only Joy In Town” (5:11)
B4. “Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac” (4:33)
B5. “Two Grey Rooms” (3:57)


Discography:


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