Joni Mitchell: Her Ten Best Albums
Joni Mitchell's ten best albums - my favorite Joni albums and it's been a difficult choice to narrow it down to a top ten.
From my teenage years, when I first heard Clouds and her most famous album, the classic "Blue" I have loved Joni Mitchell's songs - lyrics, music, delivery, all are incredible. Then I bought Ladies Of The Canyon and I was completely hooked for life. Joni Mitchell's best albums show her moving over the years from folk to jazz styles, with African influences on some records, her classical piano training adorning others. Whatever the style she delivers beautiful music. She's remained one of my favourite artists and here I list my ten favourite Joni Mitchell albums.
As a young woman Joni moved from Canada to New York, then Los Angeles, becoming part of the scene that included David Crosby, Jackson Browne and a host of now famous names from that golden era. Her background was the Canadian folk circuit but despite her lack of experience she wowed anyone who heard her: she's been doing it ever since. Here's my selection of Joni Mitchell's ten best albums: They include some of her greatest hits as well as a couple of less famous albums. I hope they become your favourites as much as they are mine.
Over 100 Joni Mitchell songs to enjoy -- track listings are now linked to Youtube clips. Click any song on track listings to bring up a Youtube clip. Some are straight from the albums but I've tried to find live performances from the right era where available - check out Little Green, for instance.
Album covers courtesy of Amazon
Joni in Hospital: Latest News
Leslie Morris, Joni's conservator, has approved the following statement to be made through JoniMitchell.com: "Joni did in fact suffer an aneurysm. However, details that have emerged in the past few days are mostly speculative. The truth is that Joni is speaking, and she's speaking well. She is not walking yet, but she will be in the near future as she is undergoing daily therapies. She is resting comfortably in her own home and she's getting better each day. A full recovery is expected."
Joni Mitchell Songs: Lyrics And Music
The only place to get lyrics legally is the official site - it's a great resource so hop on over after you've been through this page:
Song To A Seagull - Joni Mitchell best albums #1
Song To A Seagull
Joni Mitchell best albums #1
Released in 1968 when she was 25, her first album is a haunting collection of songs, performed perfectly against her classical-pianist-influenced melodies and arrangements.
As you can see from the song listing below, Joni thought of this as a two-part collection. The first part is melancholy (post-marriage collapse), the second deals with freedom and the sea.
Produced by David Crosby of CSN&Y fame.
Side 1: "I Came to the City"
1.I Had a King - 3:37
2.Michael from Mountains - 3:41
3.Night in the City - 2:30
4.Marcie - 4:35
5.Nathan La Franeer - 3:18
Side 2: "Out of the City and Down to the Seaside"
1.Sisotowbell Lane - 4:05
2.The Dawntreader - 5:04
3.The Pirate Of Penance - 2:44
4.Song to a Seagull - 3:51
5.Cactus Tree - 4:35
Clouds - Joni Mitchell best albums #2
Joni Mitchell best albums #2
Joni's second album: very lightly arranged, which lets us appreciate her amazing voice and guitar work, Other artists had recorded "From Both Sides Now" but here she records it herself for the first time -- and it's majestic. Clouds won a Grammy for Best Folk Album 1969, was one of her greatest hits on the US charts and went gold, having sold over 500,000 copies in the US..
The Youtube clip linked on the pic below is "Songs To Aging Children Come" - I've actually chosen someone else's version because this is from the film "Alice's Restaurant" and shows the burial of Woodie Guthrie. The link in the track listing is to Joni's original.
1.Tin Angel - 4:09
Does the moon play only silver
When it strums the galaxy
Dying roses will they will their
Perfumed rhapsodies to me
Songs to aging children come
This is one
Songs To Aging Children Come
Ladies Of The Canyon - Joni Mitchell best albums #3
Ladies of the Canyon
Joni Mitchell best albums #3
1970 saw Joni's third album released and I have to say it's one of my favourites - partly because of the time in my life that it coincided with but mainly because of the beauty of the lyrics. I've often thought that she doesn't write songs, she writes poetry set to music, and some of the tracks here are glorious,.
Most of you will have heard of Big Yellow Taxi, Woodstock and The Circle Game - three songs off one album that have crossed musical barriers and become standards.
2.For Free - 4:31
Joni versus Joan, Mitchell v Baez
Blue - Joni Mitchell best albums #4
Joni Mitchell best albums #4
The monster album, perhaps her most famous and the one that still has people raving to this day. Teenagers and solitary souls of the era ranked this with Leonard Cohen's Songs From A Room - it was so powerful in its lyrics. Many who heard this first rank it as the best Joni Mitchell album, a favorite to listen to year after year,
The songs were written in several locations as Joni travelled after she and Graham Nash had broken up. They are raw with emotion, sad, and will strike a chord with anyone today. Do not however let the sadness and pain behind them put you off - this is a truly amazing set of songs.
In 1979 Mitchell reflected to Rolling Stone, "The Blue album, there's hardly a dishonest note in the vocals. At that period of my life, I had no personal defenses. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world and I couldn't pretend in my life to be strong. Or to be happy. But the advantage of it in the music was that there were no defenses there either".
Forty years after Blue's release, the track River was performed by Lea Michele in the Glee 2011 Christmas special. Not bad, but not Joni.
There's a good piece on some of the things that led up to Blue on The Flower And The Vine blog.
My Old Man: Live BBC performance
For The Roses - Joni Mitchell best albums #5
For The Roses
Joni Mitchell best albums #5
A slightly odd album in some ways, Roses sees Joni moving away from the folk roots and incorporating jazz themes for the first time. It's not a smooth transition as she was undergoing some turmoil in her private life at the time of recording - indeed the title track presaged her breaking from performing for twelve months:
Remember the days when you used to sit
And make up your tunes for love
And pour your simple sorrow
To the soundhole and your knee
And now you're seen
On giant screens
And at parties for the press
And for people who have slices of you
From the company
They toss around your latest golden egg
Speculation-well, who's to know
If the next one in the nest
Will glitter for them so
Quibbles aside, there are several excellent tracks - the rest are merely very good!
For The Roses: Title Track LIve
Court And Spark - Joni Mitchell best albums #6
Court And Spark
Joni Mitchell best albums #6
Back recording, Joni moves strongly into the jazz world with Court And Spark. The folk/rock/jazz mix proved surprisingly popular and this was Joni's most successful album commercially, reaching number 2 in the BIllboard chart. As cited on Wikipedia: "The album was kept from the top spot by three #1 albums-in order Bob Dylan's Planet Waves, Barbra Streisand's The Way We Were and John Denver's Greatest Hits". Not sure about John Denver but can't complain about the other two!
The album also featured her only top ten single: Help Me.
Other point: it was the first time she'd released an album where she didn't write all the songs -- the last track "Twisted" isn't hers.
6.Car on a Hill - 3:02
Hissing Of Summer Lawns - Joni Mitchell best albums #7
The Hissing of Summer Lawns
Joni Mitchell best albums #7
1975 saw the release of "Summer Lawns". Musical influences range from jazz to orchestral to African drumming to folk rock -- and yet it's a wonderfully coherent set of songs. As ever, the lyrics are beautiful and float on the arrangements, whether they be full orchestra or just Joni's guitar. One of my absolute favourite Joni Mitchell albums.
This was slated by various critics, which only goes to show that major media critics should be shot. Unles this lens becomes a massive hit, of course, we have to be reasonable!
7.The Hissing of Summer Lawns - 3:01 (Joni Mitchell, John Guerin)
Don't Interrupt The Sorrow
Joni: Folk versus Jazz
Hejira - Joni Mitchell best albums #8
Joni Mitchell best albums #8
Another album where the songs were written while she was travelling, (hence the title), and still jazz-inspired, though perhaps more accessible than some of her other jazz works. Musically and lyrically it works perfectly and is another of my absolute favourites.
The album was liked by the critics but failed to appeal to commercial radio. Germany's Spex magazine rated this its 55th best album of the century and I might well agree with them, (top list on that link),
Hejira: Title Track LIve
Shadows And Light - Joni Mitchell best albums #9
Shadows And Light
Joni Mitchell best albums #9
The first eight albums I've chosen have all been studio recordings; Shadows is a live double CD from a concert, at the Santa Barbara County Bowl, September 1979, with Jaco Pastorius, Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays. If you've listened to any of the tracks above you'll know what a great live performer Joni has been and this is her at her best. There aren't many artistes who transfer lush and complex studio arrangements so successfully to live performances - she does.
There are a few great concerts I can almost literally say I'd kill to have been there -- this is one of them, along with Woodstock and a certain Captain Beefheart night where bad things were thrown to the audience. Seriously, glorious music.
8. Pat's Solo
1. Black Crow
2. Don's Solo Paco
5. Band Introduction
Shadows And Light: Live
Shine - Joni Mitchell best albums #10
Joni Mitchell best albums #10
Back in the studio after years away, A sticker on my CD says "The radiant return of one of the greatest singer/songwriters of our time". I don't think I'd ever use the word radiant unless I was reviewing gas fires but I can understand and forgive whoever wrote that - decades after her first songs and she's still producing some beauties. To illustrate her quality, the first track "One Week Last Summer" won the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.
The voice isn't quite what it was, sadly, and the songs are often harsher, reflecting the events that helped make her come back to speak out against "warmongering politicos and environmental myopia" (Paul Sullivan). Nonetheless, 99% of all known musicians must listen to this and weep.
The last track "If" is based on Rudyard Kipling's poem.
10.If - 5:32
If I Had A Heart
Joni's Own Site
Joni Mitchell - her official site. Masses of stuff, info, lyrics, video -- explore it for hours. I've barely touched here on her music the lens would have been fifty times as long if I'd explored that in any greater detail, never mind her interests in photography, dance, philosophy.
Wilson And Allroy's Joni Mitchell Reviews
One of the more outspoken record review sites, they do a full breakdown of Joni's albums. At times you'll scream at them but it's interesting stuff.
Joni Mitchell On The Dick Cavett Show
The day after Woodstock, 19th August 1969
The day after Woodstock, Joni did three songs on the Dick Cavett show. Also appearing, stars of the festival Jefferson Airplane, David Crosby and Stephen Stills. The clip is divided into six parts - all are recommended.
Great Live Music On DVD
Joni Mitchell's Greatest Hits
Chart hits for Joni
Joni Mitchell's greatest hits came in the Seventies: Court and Spark reached number 2 in the US in 1974. In the same year, the live album Miles of Aisles also reached number two. Her biggest hit in the UK was Blue which reached number three in the albums chart. Yes, never a number one album!
Singles-wise, Joni's greatest hit was Help Me off the Court And Spark album - that reached #7 on the Billboard Hot 100. Another song from that album, Free Man in Paris, reached #22 in the same year. Even in her native Canada, her best placed single was You Turn Me On I'm a Radio -- number 3 in the Canadian charts.
Joni Mitchell Greatest Song
From Both Sides Now
Joni has never had much chart success, mainly because she has always done her own thing and pushed the boundaries as she explored new musical directions. That huge variety also makes it harder to pick her greatest song. However, I'm going to go for one of her earlier songs, written in 1967 and included on Clouds - the song is From Both Sides Now.
At the last count, From Both Sides Now had been covered by nearly 850 artists - a phenomenal number. Everyone from Neil Diamond to Natalie Cole has recorded it and it still stops people in their tracks when that simple acoustic riff is heard. Joni herself has reinvented it, with that now husky voice running through it against a jazz orchestra. The words will never change though, nor their meaning to anyone who's ever heard it.
Joni Before She Was Joni Mitchell
The freshness and sometimes innocence of the likes of Song To A Seagull can make us forget that Joni was actually a seasoned performer when she made the album. As Joni Anderson she'd cut her teeth around the Canadian folk scene, made several TV appearances and already demonstrated her songwriting skills. She'd also married and had a child (a whole story in its own right).
The clip below, and thank you to LiseFunderburg for Tweeting it, is a 1965 clip of Joni Anderson singing "Born To Take The Highway" - a simple but beautiful song and definitely prophetic - travelling to or travelling away from would become a feature of Joni's life.
I was born to take the highway
I was born to chase a dream
Any road at all is my way
Any place is where I've been
Anything is what I've seen
There's another version of Born To Take The Highway and a couple of other songs in some amazing clips from a 1966 Canadian TV Show Mon Pays, Mes Chansons., Unusually, these are colour, rather than b/w.
Joni CD In Love Actually
Both Sides Now
Joni recorded a CD of jazz standards, plus two of her own songs, under the title Both Sides Now. The tracks are ordered to show the course of a love affair from start to sad finish.
In the film Love Actually Emma Thompson knows her husband has bought an expensive necklace. When she opens her Christmas present to find the Both Sides Now CD instead, she realises that husband Alan Rickman is having an affair, the jewelry destined for his lover.