Blue – Joni Mitchell


After a succession of hits from previous albums, being labeled as a spokeswoman for a generation, and becoming fairly famous Joni was in the odd position of having relative creative freedom to record whatever she wanted but feeling the pressure of a celebrity status she didn’t want. Following a number of low points involving broken relationships and putting a child up for adoption it was clear that her next album wasn’t going to be a dainty jaunt through a forest of hippy ideals. The real world was presenting some hard truths for her and for her countrymen, and songs about imagined journeys and pastoral pleasantries did not seem to fit. Ever the honest artist, Joni set about recording her most personal work which would go on to become her most famous, her most loved, and arguably best album.
`All I Want’ in familiar enough fashion with Joni’s unusual guitar style before her voice starts. The first thing to notice is that all her trademarks are here- soaring vocals, interesting and multi melodies, thoughtful, honest lyrics. She weaves a love story about falling for someone and eventually falling apart and searching again. The arrangement is as sparse as most of early songs are, mostly just her and guitar, yet she makes it sound dense and full of depth.
`My Old Man’ opens with the equally familiar piano tone from her previous album and sings again of love. The lyrics are joyful- the sort of song everyone wishes someone would write for them. There is a darker side to the song which permeates the whole album, speaking of how she feels when her loved one is gone- the emptiness and anguish, and of her fear of his absence. These messages are universal and Joni writes and performs them in such a way that they sound utterly personal to each individual listener. Both the verse and minor chorus melodies are among the most beautiful and catchy she has ever written, and the staccato style ending adds a nice twist.
`Little Green’ is among the most sweet songs ever written, by Joni or anyone else. The sad, touching lyrics fit exquisitely with a soft melody and light guitar as Joni sings about the child she gave up for adoption when she was younger. The song is tinged with both sadness and hope, regret and the knowledge that what she did was for the best. She sings for her daughter in the hope she has a happy ending and imagines a better life for her with all the joys a childhood should be full of. She sings both to her daughter and the new parents, but mostly for herself. It is almost like a letter for her daughter to read when she is older, telling of her father, explaining her reasons, and telling her of all the good and bad things she may experience in her life.
`Carey’ is a lighter, more up-tempo song speaking of Joni’s travels through Europe, particularly Crete in the early 70s where she went on a pseudo- hippy trip to escape her growing fame and fortune in America. She sings fondly of meeting a man and having an affair with him which she knew would not last so lives each minute like it was her last. The song is mostly fun with nice lyrics and memorable melodies reminiscent of Big Yellow Taxi.
`Blue’ is the title track and probably the biggest downer on the album, musically at least with its shadowy tone, creeping pianos, and doleful, lonely vocals. She dedicates the song possibly to someone she knew, possibly to an emotion, singing about exploration, wallowing in depression, struggling to get back to `lots of laughs’. The piano intro sets a dark tone, and Joni’s low and lonely vocals add to the shades. Thankfully the song is perfectly timed meaning it doesn’t become over long and downbeat.
`California’ brightens things up with a lighter song speaking of Joni’s love for California and desire to come home after months in the wilderness. Joni fills the song with dreamy lyrics, bright melodies, and high notes ensuring that the listener is lifted. It gives another glimpse of the early 70s to the modern listener, nice to not similarities and differences between the hippy of then and the middle class back-packer of now.
`This Flight Tonight’ continues the more upbeat feel with a highly melodic and quicker guitar based song where Joni sings of her regret of leaving a lover behind. It is probably the least memorable song on the album for me, but remains a great song and I enjoy the mocking `they’re playing’ section.
`River’ and the following song are possibly the two best songs that Joni would write. From the Jingle Bells intro merging into Joni’s heart wrenching vocals are longing lyrics, the intertwining melodies, the moments of high sorrow, love, and regret which we all know all too well, it is emotional song writing at its finest. A great break-up song, a great song to chill you by the fire, a song to turn any listener into a Joni fan.
`A Case Of You’ is lyrically and musically one of Joni’s best songs- melodic, emotional, honest, inventive. One of the best love songs of all time it caters for all types of romantics- the bedroom bohemian, to the school yard gazer, from wife to husband, to first time lovers. The lyrics of course equate love with wine, intoxication, desire with addiction, of everlasting devotion.
`Last Time I Saw Richard’ closes the album in a darker, more downbeat fashion in a mournful, regretful way. The extended piano intro is unusual for the album, the lyrics depicting the last meeting with a lost lover. The lyrics stand out, original yet familiar, imaginative and poetic displaying a certain bitterness, teaching all dreamers a valuable lesson. It is one of the songs I don’t listen to as much as others on the album as it lacks the melodies of other songs, but makes up for it by being possibly the most emotional. Angry, sad, let down Joni lets the song fade out like a candle in a dark café. Blue is album of various musical styles each drenched with a multitude of emotions, the overriding feeling being of the blues. From the agony depicted on the cover to the dark and honest nature of the lyrics you would be forgiven for thinking it is a depressing affair. However there are many wonderful light moments, showing that there are many shades of blue just as there are many shades of life. Like the lyrics of Little Green say, there will be good times mixed with bad and even in the darkest moments on the album there is so much to adore. Rarely does an artist paint so vivid and universal a picture, yet make it personal and entirely her own. From a songwriting perspective each piece is perfect, packed full of ideas, memorable melodies, good playing, and of course the peerless singing we would expect. Possibly the best album of 1971 remains one of the best ever.

2 thoughts on “Blue – Joni Mitchell

  1. John S May 11, 2012 / 11:59 pm

    Great review of a great album.

    • carlosnightman May 12, 2012 / 9:42 am

      Thanks, her first 4 albums are classics, although you have to be a more dedicated fan to appreciate the directions she would take afterwards

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