Images © Joni Mitchell.
I’m not sure when I first heard Joni Mitchell’s songs, at least knowingly. By the end of the 1960s I was listening to WNEW-FM radio out of New York City, and I’m sure they played her music there, but I probably heard her songs “Both Sides Now” and “Urge for Going” performed first by Judy Collins and Tom Rush respectively. I think “Clouds” was the first Mitchell album I bought, and I loved it, so soon after bought her first album, “Song To A Seagull,” and loved that as well.
By the time her third album, “Ladies of the Canyon” came out in 1970, I have to admit I had a bit of a crush on Joni. Her voice was so clear and pure, almost piercing at times, but always with an emotional edge that moved me. I played her first three albums constantly in the early seventies, and I still love them, though maybe not quite as much. Back then the thread of sadness and melancholy that runs through her work appealed to me more than it does now (though there’s plenty of other aspects to it that I still like). More than a singer, Joni is an amazingly talented songwriter, and as I was trying to do that too, I was drawn to her poetic words and phrases as much as her tunes. All the songs from Joni’s first three are on my iPod.
In Joni’s fourth album, “Blue,” the dark, sad thread was stronger, and I didn’t like it as much, but still played it a lot, and it’s grown on me over time. “For the Roses,” her fifth album put Joni back in my favorite female singer/songwriter spot. Lots of great songs, including some rockers like “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio,” and “Electricity.” Still some melancholy, but not as much as “Blue.” I have all the tracks from those albums on my iPod as well.
The sixth album, “Court and Spark” was another winner, with lots of great songs, in a variety of styles, including rock, folk and jazz. Joni was continuing to grow as a performer and a writer. All these are on my iPod, too.
After that, Joni and I began to part ways. I continued to buy her albums (still do) but found less on them that I loved. “The Hissing of Summer Lawns,” for instance, has not one song I wanted on my iPod, nor does “Hejira.” While I appreciate the art in those albums, the songs just don’t appeal to me that much. The dark thread is deeper, and the move further and further into jazz, and away from folk left me behind somewhat, not being a huge jazz fan myself.
Perhaps my least favorite album is “Mingus,” but I also have a reason to like it. Thanks to a radio contest, I won two tickets to see Joni live in Forest Hills, NY while on tour supporting this album, and she was wonderful. Even some of the songs from “Mingus” were much better live than on the album, and she did many of her past hits too.
Of Joni’s later work, I have four tracks from “Night Ride Home” and two from “Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm” on my iPod, and that’s all for now. I may reconsider some of the others and put them on later, but that brings the total to 72 tracks on my iPod. Joni’s earliest work is still my favorite, even some of the darker ones. If I’m not feeling too good myself, I tend to skip past those, though.