I had Blue in my possession for a number of years, before I truly recognized its true beauty. The story of Blue, an album that’s held in high esteem by many musicians.
On November 7th, 1943, Roberta Joan Anderson was born in Fort Macleod, Alberta, Canada. When she turned 20 she told her parents she wanted to be a folk singer in Toronto and left home. By the end of 1964 she became pregnant and in February 1965 she gave birth to her daughter. Because her boyfriend had vanished and Mitchell wasn’t able to raise a child by herself, she gave her daughter up for adoption. It took decades before Mitchell would see her daughter again: 1997.
In June 1965 she married Chuck Mitchell, whose surname she would take on as her artist name. The marriage was over in the beginning of 1967. One evening Mitchell played at a local club in Florida, US, where David Crosby saw her and was impressed. Together they went to Los Angeles, where Crosby introduced her to everyone he met. It didn’t take long to land her a record deal with Reprise, leading to her debut album in March 1968: Song To A Seagull. In April 1969 Clouds was released, landing her a Grammy Award for Best Folk Performance in 1970. The next album Ladies Of The Canyon saw Mitchell expanding her musical pallet beyond the folk she was known for. The album contained her version of her self-written Woodstock, which had been released by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young on their Déjà Vu album. Ladies Of The Canyon sold very well, it was Mitchell’s first golden record.
In 1968 Joni had begun a relationship with Graham Nash, which had hit rock bottom by 1970. Mitchell went on holiday to Europe, where she wrote many songs. After returning home the relationship with Nash was definitely over and she met James Taylor, with whom a relationship ensued during the summer of 1970. Inspiration struck once again!
Blue, the fourth Joni Mitchell album, is released on June 22nd, 1971, and is characterized by enchanting and predominantly acoustic music, combined with startling candor and honesty in the lyrics, in which Mitchell spares no-one, least of all herself. The lyrics are about relationships, giving up her daughter, but also about social subjects like the Vietnam war.
The album immediately starts off beautifully with All I Want, in which she goes into detail about a relationship that isn’t really working out anymore, while “All I really, really want our love to do / Is to bring out the best in me and in you too”. The next song My Old Man is about Mitchell’s longing for her lover whenever he’s not around.
The third song is the downright stunning Little Green, a song dedicated to the daughter she gave up in 1965. She also addresses the role the father played: “He went to California / Hearing that everything’s warmer there / So you write him a letter and say ‘Her eyes are blue’ / He sends you a poem and she’s lost to you / Little green, he’s a non-conformer”. The emotion is palpable in every phrase and guitar-strum. One of the most beautiful songs I know.
Carey is the first song on the album that’s richer orchestrated, also released as a single. Blue gives substance to ‘feeling blue’. A nice subdued song.
California tells tales about her time in Europe and the way of the world. “Sitting in a park in Paris, France / Reading the news and it sure looks bad / They won’t give peace a chance / That was just a dream some of us had”. The dream the 1960s and the hippie movement seemed to entail, is shattered to pieces.
This Flight Tonight finds Mitchell on the road, away from her lover. She doesn’t want to go: “Turn this crazy bird around / I shouldn’t have got on this flight tonight”.
Next up is River, the second astounding song on Blue. The song’s melody starts off with a Jingle Bells coda and describes Christmas time, being together and realizing that you’d rather be anywhere else: “I wish I had a river I could skate away on”. Mitchell also addresses her role in the dissolution of a relationship: “I’m so hard to handle / I’m selfish and I’m sad / Now I’ve gone and lost the best baby / That I ever had”. A sure tear jerker.
A Case Of You is probably the best known song on Blue, a beautiful love song, with Mitchell falling for someone who’s not good for her. She uses the image of wine to sketch her rapture: “Oh, you are in my blood like holy wine / You taste so bitter and so sweet / Oh, I could drink a case of you, darling / And I would still be on my feet / Oh, I would still be on my feet”. Beautiful, once again.
The closing The Last Time I Saw Richard is a magnificent story about love, romance, its withering, the rut, loneliness and melancholy and the missing of times gone by, even if they weren’t always pleasant.
The Blue album was a huge success and sold very well and even turned platinum. The album ensured Mitchell’s name was known to a growing audience. The critics all loved the album and almost simultaneously elevated to masterpiece status. To this day the album’s initial status remains intact.
Even though these kind of albums are generally not my cup of tea, Blue truly is rare and stunning in its beauty. It contains three of my all-time favorite songs. Realizing that the other songs are not far removed from matching those three, means that Blue is an album with a huge impact. It had (and still has) on me. The music is beautiful, the vocals are intimate and the lyrics are honest, sincere, abrasive , yet always deeply humane and compassionate.
In short, Blue is a must have for every serious music lover!
All songs written by Joni Mitchell.
- All I Want
- My Old Man
- Little Green
- This Flight Tonight
- A Case Of You
- The Last Time I Saw Richard
- Joni Mitchell – dulcimer, guitar, piano, vocals
- James Taylor – guitar on All I Want, California and A Case Of You
- Russ Kunkel – drums on Carey, California and A Case Of You
- Stephen Stills – bass, guitar on Carey
- Sneaky Pete Kleinow – pedal steel on California and This Flight Tonight
After Blue‘s success Mitchell went out on tour, introducing new songs, which would be released on her 1972 album For The Roses. Early 1974 she released Court And Spark, which showed her experimenting with jazz and fusion. Mitchell grew ever more popular, the album sold very well, and the accompanying singles became hits. The Court And Spark tour was recorded and was released on the live album Miles Of Aisles at the end of 1974.
Late 1975 The Hissing Of Summer Lawns saw the light of day. In 1976 Mitchell released Hejira, which was built on experimentation. Remarkably, the album was certified gold after only three weeks. In December 1977 Mitchell released a double album, entitled Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, an album that delved even further into jazz and fusion. Despite the ‘difficult’ music this album was also certified gold, with three months.
Jazz giant Charles Mingus contacted Mitchell and proposed they work together. Unfortunately Mingus died in 1979, before the project was finished. Mitchell finished the songs by herself and released them in 1979 using the moniker Mingus. Both fans and press were not impressed. The following tour was filmed and in 1980 released as Shadows And Light, a movie and double album.
In 1982 Mitchell released Wild Things Run Fast, on which Mitchell essentially said goodbye to jazz. In 1985 Dog Eat Dog was released, which wasn’t successful. In 1988 she released Chalk Mark In A Rain Storm, an album filled with synthesizers and drum computers and many guest appearances.
In 1991 Night Ride Home was released, in 1994 followed by Turbulent Indigo, which garnered some well-earned attention and even yielded two Grammy Awards. Following the release of 1998’s Taming The Tiger she released Both Sides Now in 2000, an album with covers and re-recorded songs from her back catalog. After Travelogue it seemed like Mitchell had definitely said goodbye to her musical career . Some compilations were released, but nothing new was heard from her.
But, 2007 saw the release of a new album, her first since Taming The Tiger to contain new songs: Shine. Nothing much was heard from her after that. In 2015 she suffered a brain hemorrhage and reports were grim, but she survived. Nowadays she is busy with archival projects. It yields a steady flow of albums, movies and books.
Joni Mitchell has been enormously important, if alone by the fact she’s named by literally hundreds of artists as a main influence. I first came into contact with Joni Mitchell’s music through my love for Prince, who told time and again that Joni Mitchell had learned him about “color and sound”. He often name checked her on his album covers, in songs and released a cover of Mitchell’s A Case Of You on his 2002 album One Nite Alone. They have frequently met each other and had a mutual respect and admiration.
In October 1996 Mitchell was interviewed by Morrissey and answered his question if she ever hears music that’s a “direct lift” from her own music, as follows:
People tell me all the time that that is, but I don’t really – I don’t really hear it. I mean, I’ll hear a thing here and there – even Prince, you know, like who’s an interesting hybrid who’s taken some things from me, or so he claims, but his influences are me and Sly. Now you take me and Sly and hybrid that, you’re going to get something unique because he played back, I think it was “Paisley Park,” I went to a playback here. And there was a harmonic passage in one of the songs that really interested me, and I said to him, “Oh, you know, where’s that coming from?” Because it sounded fresh to me, you know, and he said, “You,” you know, and I couldn’t hear it. But time went by and I heard something and it was – the reason I couldn’t hear it was because it was something that Larry Carlton played against my architecture which I’m very familiar with and I’m familiar with what I added also, but – yeah, he’d taken something between those two things. You know what I’m saying?
But Prince was not the only one who got inspired by her, the list is long, very long. A selection: Taylor Swift, Björk, David Gilmour, Steve Hogarth, Fish, Madonna, Judy Collins, Hole, Counting Crows, Janet Jackson, Kanye West, Annie Lennox, George Michael, James Taylor, Sarah McLachlan, Cat Power, Eva Cassidy, Tori Amos, Diana Krall, k.d. lang, Emmylou Harris, Sufjan Stevens, Robert Plant and Alanis Morissette.
Besides her musicality and the quality of her songs, many are fans for her own distinct way of playing, harmonies, tuning of her instruments, unique chord changes, self-will, courage and open mind to try and not be afraid.
What do you think of Joni Mitchell and Blue in particular? Let me know!
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Joni Mitchell impresses deeply with Blue. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.
Joni Mitchell 1970 image: morrisonhotelgallery.com
Joni Mitchell – Blue image: spotify.com
Joni Mitchell plays a dulcimer image: wsj.com
Joni Mitchell – Reprise poster 1971 image: recordmecca.com
Prince visits Joni Mitchell 2012 image: pinterest.com