Nightman’s Favourite Songs Of All Time – A Case Of You – Joni Mitchell

Greetings, Glancers! You have been warned. But now it’s too late to turn back, and before you start whacking that back button and trying to get out let me tell you that if you do, there will be an unholy stain on your favourite rug next time you look. You’re stuck with me. Deal with it.

I came around to Joni Mitchell quite late. Late teens. I knew some of her songs when I was a cub – namely Big Yellow Taxi and The Circle Game. One of my best friends was a massive fan and he was living and working in a (basically) psych hospital/home and I would come and stay with him sometimes and get up to all sorts of shenanigans. He essentially had a personnel living quarters/ward to himself which reminded me of the army barracks I used to… well, that’s another story. It had the same feeling – long corridors, common rooms, dimly lit kitchen areas, hefty double doors and fire escapes, and bedrooms which seemed like minor improvements on prison cells. To have all this to yourself was like living in your own castle so naturally we would stay up till dawn watching DVDs, playing guitar, getting drunk, and messing around the halls on the various pieces of cleaning and physical training equipment. I have fond memories of walking around the building at 4.00 am while Fleetwood Mac was blaring through the speakers, before going outside as the sun was coming up and talking to some random ‘inmate’ who happened to be having a smoke (the whole complex was split into different areas from the violent criminally insane section which had its own guards and walls, to the more harmless dementia and addict patients, and many were free to roam as they pleased as far as I could tell).

Back to Joni – my friend would stick on Joni albums and they would be perfect for background chill music, but I’ve never been the sort of person who can ‘tolerate’ music as background sounds. What I mean by that is, if a song is on, I can’t help but listen to it. I focus on it, I zoom in on the instruments and the lyrics and the writing and end up engaging with it more than whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing. Having a similar taste in music to me anyway, and frequently introducing each other to new bands, I latched on to Joni pretty quickly. With songs like A Case Of You – how can you not? It remains one of the most sweet, most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard.

My wife hates it – she doesn’t do high pitched voices and she can’t listen to anything by Joni without cringing. I get it, even in her most commercial songs, I understand why some people won’t like her voice. She hits some incredibly high notes and at times comes close to being shrill, but by contrast that’s what I love in a vocalist. I like a voice to be strained until breaking point – I don’t usually do smooth vocals, listening to someone like Michael Buble is like having an apple pushed into my ear. The thing that is easy to miss when you dislike her voice is just how perfectly controlled it is – remember this song is little more than her vocal and her Dulcimer, but she performs it like a duet, her voice as the lead instrument and the guitar as a backup. Fans will know that she does this on a lot of her albums, but I think she does it best on her first three or four albums. Those little ascending scale runs she does, the personality on certain inflections, the incredible resilient vibrato, it all lends a unique power and quality that I don’t think any other vocalist has ever matched. Joni has always had that power of commanding a song with a vocal performance meaning that her version of whatever song it is invariably sounds the best.

Which brings me to cover versions. According to Wikipedia, the song has had over 300 official cover recordings. I haven’t heard many of those, and the only one which jumps out at me is the one by Tori Amos – another artist who was frequently played during those debauched nights in the halls – but the likes of Prince, KD Lang, and Michelle Branch have covered it too, and a brief search in Youtube will yield hundreds of results by budding and wannabee singers, songwriters, pop stars all bringing their own voice and personality to it. The song has appeared in multiple movies and TV shows over the decades. It’s a song which has clearly spoken on a deeply personal level to millions of people since it’s debut in 1971 on Blue. What is it then which has made it so universally loved for so long? That’s one of the key questions of music, or art as a whole – how and why something endures. At its most simple, it is because the song resonates emotionally, and love and loss are human facets which have always been and will always be.

At a deeper level, that voice is at once haunting, sweet, reminds of what has been seen as a more ideal time, and somehow captures the listener in their own personal point in time. For whatever reason, people find this song exactly when they need to and years later upon hearing the song it transports you back to those days – as exemplified in my writing above. It’s the inherently catchy melody – a simple chorus switched up by the vocals each time, and it’s the timeless writing. You can mash up the song anyway you like, add a bunch of other instruments, soup it up in the studio, but you can’t really strip it down any further than how it is in its original, purest form. It’s like a newborn in its perfection – sure some people are going to be put off by it and not know what to do when handed it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s perfect. The lyrics are poetic without being obtuse, and universal without being cliche ridden – the truest sign of a great songwriter who can relate feelings we’ve all felt in ways and with words we all understand, but which are entirely personal to the person who wrote them.

Between Joni’s soaring highs and James Taylor’s heartbreaking acoustic, the sparse arrangement doesn’t require any embellishing. I love songs which throw everything at the wall and succeed, and I equally love songs which strut up to a stool on a stage, sit down, and just start playing with utmost confidence saying ‘here I am, you’re going to love me’ like A Case Of You does. There isn’t a single millisecond of bullshit in the entire thing, and it lays the performer and the listener bare. Even as simple and sparse as the song is, it still throws in surprises such as the Canadian National Anthem interlude and the interchange between childlike pain and fear and Godly falsetto. The song may not be the most instrumentally complex in the world, but its difficulty comes in playing it without breaking down – it’s a song you can’t restrain your feelings from, those feelings are transported into you fingers and your voice, and it’s very easy to collapse under the emotional weight of it all.

With all of this praise and with its enduring popularity, you would expect the song to have been a hit. The song was never released as a single, its popularity coming from the acclaim and success of the album Blue which went Platinum in the US and double Platinum in the UK. Each new generation of listeners and artists finds the album and finds this song among its many classics, and they share it far and wide, and so the song continues to connect and find new ears and hearts. Have you heard it? If not, there’s no better time like the present. Click any of the links I’ve popped in throughout this post – they all take you to the same album version video on Youtube and if you like what you hear, I highly recommend you buy Blue from wherever you can get it. It’s one of my favourite albums of all time and features a tonne of songs just as beautiful and powerful as A Case Of You. If you don’t like it… you are a very odd person.

Let us know in the comments what you think of A Case Of You!

Fantasy Festival Line Up – Day Three

It’s our last day – lets make it a good one. That stranger you spent the night with… I’m sorry to say that you won’t keep in contact with them, but that’s fine – just let it be a beautiful 24 hour romance and long may it remain in your memory.

10 – 11: John Carpenter

I think this one could be a possibility given John’s recent touring and focus on music. I’d love to see the great man live and while I feel that an indoor, night time setting would suit his music better, there’s no way he’s going to headline here and a morning blast of Halloween or some of his Lost Tracks would be superb.

Number Of Times Seen Live: 0

11 – 12: Lovebites

My favourite recent band, there’s no reason why Lovebites shouldn’t be huge. Well, people are idiots, so that’s the main reason they won’t be as successful as they should be. They are a Japanese metal band, but get this – they’re all girls – shock! And double shock, they’re amazing musicians, playing face-melting power metal! I jest of course, but the focus on the band is usually that they are female. Regardless, this is an injection of pure adrenaline and delight, a throwback to the glory days with a renewed sense of fun and exuberance.

Number Of Times Seen Live: 0

12 – 2: Natalie Imbruglia

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again here – Natalie Imbruglia is the finest pop star of her generation, to the extent that pop star is too cheap a term for her. She has a huge array of hits released and otherwise, and is an intelligent writer and performer who doesn’t get any of the credit she deserves. A sunny lunchtime outdoor gig would be perfect for her blend of angst anthems and melancholic pop.

Number Of Times Seen Live: 0

2 – 4: The Delays

While we’re on the subject of pop perfection, The Delays are another band who came out at the same time as all of the other ‘The’ bands, but surpass them all in terms of sheer melody. The Delays see one of the finest vocalists in the business – Greg Gilbert – lending his incredible falsetto to some of the most infectious hooks you’ll ever hear. Imagine The Beach Boys crossed with Nirvana and you’re somewhere close to the mark. Unfortunately the band hasn’t released anything in 9 years due to family commitments followed by Greg getting cancer. He’s still fighting, and I’m holding out for a glorious return.

Number Of Times Seen Live: 0

4 – 6: Joni Mitchell

Maybe the greatest living singer songwriter, Joni Mitchell has had her (un)fair share of health issues in the last years but in her early years everything she touched was gold. I’m a much bigger fan of her folk stuff than her later jazz and blues stuff, but a late afternoon 2 hour set from this Goddess would strike the hippy chord which all festivals need.

Number Of Times Seen Live: 0

6 – 8: The Gathering

I mentioned Natalie Imbruglia being an underrated pop star – The Gathering are the best unknown band in the world, an incredible collection of artists who change with each release and can variously be called a metal band, an atmospheric rock band, post-prog, shoegaze etc. I’ve reviewed most of their stuff on this blog already and every music fan should definitely check them out. The band has had line-up changes over the years but for the purposes of this festival I’d love to have Anneke Van Giersbergen and Silje Wergeland on stage together like at their 25th anniversary show. They are definitely a band to enjoy in the dark, so this time of the day should suit them perfectly.

Number Of Times Seen Live: 1

8 – 10: The Beatles

What is this? The Beatles, not headlining? Blasphemy! Well, yes, but I rate my headliner higher and would want to see them more than the Fab Four. The Beatles stopped performing live just as they were hitting their peak in musical releases meaning a tonne of their best songs were never performed by the original band together. But this is fantasy, so my show will see The Beatles alive, well, and together, playing songs from their entire catalogue with no technical concerns. Surely that is the Holy Grail of all music fans?

Number Of Times Seen Live: 0

10 – 12: Michael Jackson

There was never going to be anyone else to close my original festival. Jackson is the greatest and to me personally had the biggest impact on me musically. It’s rare a day passes that I don’t either listen to or play one of his songs in my head. He was a born headliner and he was cruelly taken just before what was sure to be a glorious tour. Here he is free to play whatever the hell he wants with as huge a stage show as he wants, and there’s no-one else in the history of music I’d want to see live more.

Number Of Times Seen Live: 0

Let us know in the comments who else you would add to you festival line-up!

Miles Of Aisles – Joni Mitchell

Miles Of Aisles
Miles Of Aisles

Joni’s first live album is quite an epic, a large set featuring songs from her first 5-6 albums which she performs with a backing band. She mostly sticks to crowd pleasers but as she would do throughout her career she changes the tempo, instrumentation, and styles of some of her songs to make them less familiar, giving some of her biggest hits an interesting twist. Some fans may wish for straight down the middle performances but Joni has never been the sort of artist to rest on past laurels. There is a decent amount of banter between tracks as she regales the LA audience with various tales on her writing process and life experiences, and the whole session has an upbeat and easy feel. She has not yet reached the full blown experimentation phase of her career yet so most casual listeners should feel at home, and she doesn’t simply aim for a dark, Blue laden show.

`You Turn Me On I’m A Radio’ opens the gig, one of her more commercial songs where she is accompanied by some country strains. It’s fairly
funky but just misses out on truly getting the listener grooving. The first thing you will notice is that Joni doesn’t sound any different here than she does on record, the sign of a great singer. She moves from sultry tones to trademark highs, singing clearly the clever lyrics and whoops and woos, her voice and the band coming together for the outro.

`Big Yellow Taxi’ may be her most well known song, and one of her most loved but here she adds an unusual honky tonk style to it- grooving in the verse, then messing with the timing for the chorus. It’s great when an artist changes their songs for live performances but this adaption isn’t one of my favourites. Again she sings well and the band are fine, marked by a brass solo but it just doesn’t do it for me like the original does. Of course no amount of tinkering can stop it from being a great song and I’m sure some country lovers will prefer this version.

`Rainy Night House’ here has an intro that always reminds me of The Doors, quite trippy and mysterious. Joni sings with quite a jazzy style
unlike the straight fashion of the original. There are extra instruments and the piano from the original is missing, but there are a few added interludes and bits to spice things up. Like quite a few of the songs here you may not like what she has done to the original but it’s nice to hear this one sped up and given more musical depth. I still prefer the original though.

`Woodstock’ is vastly different from the version most will know, with quite a rockin’ intro shifting into a quicker jazzy verse. The chorus is also quite funky, with different timing and not as quiet as the original. Again this may put off some casual fans but as most Joni fans know she is not one to play the same thing repeatedly and is constantly re-writing and organizing even her biggest songs not only live but re-recording them too. It’s nice to see a different flavour to such a defining song. I find it a bit strange that she takes a break after four songs, probably as the album is really four concerts spliced this was not really the fourth song.

`Cactus Tree’ sticks fairly closely to the original, albeit with a few melodic changes and different guitar. I miss the flute of the original, but this version is sung with more emotion and power. This is a nice inclusion from an early album.

`Cold Blue Steel And Sweet Fire’ is not changed too much from the original, it is mostly Joni with her guitar here, singing with a more jazz style. Horns intrude later in the song, Joni seems to shout the arty lyrics at various points. There is a slight raspy quality to her voice hinting at what she would later sound like. There is an extended guitar and horn battle towards the end mirroring the lyrics before an extended, smooth

`Woman Of Heart And Mind’ begins with the sounds of laughter, so clearly both band an audience were having a good time. This version is fairly minimalist, trademark Joni with guitar. Her voice spits at the correct moments, soothes others, and she shows supreme control. No other band members come in and it ends gently enough before the intro of the next song.

`A Case Of You’ is mostly exactly the same as the version on Blue, a quiet, beautiful, poignant love song. It is Joni alone again, and not a sound can be heard from the audience but in the quiet moments you can almost feel their spines tingling. I think it’s clever that she fills some songs with new parts but for this and a few others she keeps `pure’. Even the little mistake she makes in the middle works well, and if anything this version is softer than Blue’s- it’s just as perfect.

`Blue’ is also almost identical to the original, though with a slight lyrical change and a few different vocal and piano bits. After this we get a slight interlude where we get to see some of Joni’s personality- we see both humour and cynicism and unfortunately most of what she probably said over the four shows she played for this recording is cut.

`The Circle Game’ begins with Joni beckoning the crowd to sing along, out of tune if they can. Everyone seems to sing pretty well, Joni especially and it is a sweet rendition of the sweetest of songs.

`People’s Parties’ is another gentle rendition without much extra input from the band or variation from the original. The way the crowd reacts to this song makes it sound like this was her first song of the night, possible as the album was recorded from four shows.

`All I Want’ is a jangly interpretation of the first song from Blue. Joni sings it well live considering it is such a breathless song, melodies and lyrics heavily loaded and packed into a short song. Without accompaniment it remains faithful to the album version. There is an odd silence between this and the next song, not great production.

`For Free’ is pretty close to the album version, but given a slightly lighter tone by Joni’s lyric change and giggling. It doesn’t become as somber an affair as the original but is just as good.

`Both Sides Now’ is given slight accompaniment by the band with slide guitar and swirly effects and other instruments, Joni sings in typical fashion sometimes shouting for the high notes, sometimes holding back.

`Carey’ is given a much heavier and funkier makeover for the live show with lots of guitar effects and almost reggae feel in parts. This is one of the more fun songs from Blue and you can tell that she has fun performing it here. There is both a keyboard and guitar solo added to the middle section making things even more different.

`The Last Time I Saw Richard’ is also given a more upbeat makeover, with drums etc and some amusing changes from Joni. The song has a jazzy feel towards the end with lots of extra instruments coming in and it has a less sudden conclusion than the album.

`Jericho’ would have been a new song for the audience, a sign of things to come along with the last song. It is unusual to close a concert and a
live album with two, at the time, new and unheard songs. Jericho is still fairly accessible for most audiences considering the direction her next few albums would take, and still features trademark Joni lyrics and vocals.

`Love Or Money’ closes the album, a song which wasn’t released on any other album. Joni sings about an underground artist hoping for fame, about war and pride, love and money, her lyrics are pretty experimental and the song is long for her early period. There is a jazzy influence and the melodies are not as clear and memorable as most from this period. This would go on to mark her next albums, a sign of experimentation yes but for me at least a drop in quality.

Miles Of Aisles is a good live album showcasing the period in which it was recorded and showing Joni at the height of her talents. After this she would become more artistic with more sprawling songs, bigger ideas, leaving folk behind for jazz and into the 80s where she would soon lose interest in music. On record here she is enjoying herself, there are few if any signs of annoyance or fatigue, she is flawless in her singing and playing and the band backing her are ok. Aside from a few production gaps and mistakes this is a must for Joni fans and a good live
album for anyone’s collection.

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.

Joni Mitchell- Ladies Of The Canyon

Ladies Of The Canyon

Joni’s third album is a massive leap forwards in terms of quality, melodically stronger, musically more adventurous, thematically there is a wider range, and it is also lyrically sharper. Blue may be the more critically acclaimed and overshadows much of her other work, but this is equally flawless and indeed contains more famous songs. Her first big hit Big Yellow Taxi is here, as well as one of the defining songs of the Sixties `Woodstock’. With this album Joni became the spokesperson for a generation and every song both sounds eternally rooted in the days they were written, and as fresh and relevant today. Ladies conveys the freedom and ideals of the Hippy movement, but is also full of the darker introspection which would fill her next album. At turns joyous and bleak, and never less than mesmerizing Ladies Of The Canyon is an album which stands high above the singer-songwriter offerings of today and is one which every music lover should hear.

`Morning Morgantown’ opens the album in storybook style with Joni telling us about an idyllic morning in a small town, who she sees and everything that happens. With pleasant melodies, soft guitar accompanied by soothing piano in the chorus it is an elegant opener which has more in common with her previous album.

`For Free’ is my favourite song on the album and the first which is primarily dominated by the piano. Casting many shadows with its atmosphere it speaks of the dark side of fame, causing loss of self, selfishness, guilt. Self-deprecating, ironic, and supremely descriptive the lyrics are among Joni’s best. Avoiding a standard verse chorus convention the song grows in depth as it continues, with subtle strings added in the second half, and the piano melodies varying with each line to avoid repetition. The only part I’m not overly fond of is the horn ending hinting at her growing jazz influences which would become more prevalent after Blue.

`Conversation’ is a more light hearted and upbeat song, even though it deals with unrequited love. The lyrics speak of a woman trying to `free’ a man from what she believes is a one sided, futile relationship. Essentially she is acting as the other woman but you can’t help but side with her with melodies and passion like this. This also features possibly the best vocal vibrato in any song ever with Joni using her voice like an additional instrument more so than anything else she has done. Like `For Free’ it has an unusual expansive ending which adds greater depth and variation, again showing her own growth and experimentation.

`Ladies Of The Canyon’ follows Joni’s usual story telling format, introducing us to a number of characters and providing us with their routines and quirks. The unusual tuning which marks the album stands out here mixed with her finger picking and harmonious `do di dos’. This seems like a sequel to `Morning Morgantown’ and as the title track it contains most of the characteristics of the album as a whole.

`Willy’ is an unashamed song of devotion, without a hint of irony and remains utterly charming and powerful today. Joni’s vocal melodies mixed with those of the piano is one of the most wonderful things to happen in musical history, never more beautiful than here as it builds up to `there are still more reasons why I love him’. As with the rest of the album there is the background hint of darkness due in part to the tone of the piano and a few lyrical flourishes. It is one of the best underrated love songs ever.

`The Arrangement’ brings any hints of darkness from previous songs to the forefront. The soft, unsure, unsteady opening revealing the uncertainties and regrets of the narrator. Speaking of loss, it is quite a quick song but leaves a lasting impression with the fade out vocals of `it could have been more’. For some reason the double notes played frequently throughout the song remind me of the rainy intro to A Link To The Past.

`Rainy Night House’ continues the dark themes, with soft background strings adding to the ominous piano. The almost overlong piano intro is perfect, evoking feelings of gazing out from a window into a rainy night. There are many wonderful vocal moments (`the upstairs choir’) and again everything blends together seamlessly. Again there is a sense of loss and regret, speaking of a past which can never be regained. Again there is an unusual ending, dissect it any way you like.

`The Priest’ brings back Joni’s guitar skills with a tale of freedom, searching, religion, and ever so small hints of a drug infused trip. The rhythm here is interesting, thumping ever onwards giving a sense of an eternal journey. Again it reminds me of other works, in this case the movie version of Stephen King’s The Stand.

`Blue Boy’ is another atmospheric piano led song with Joni’s vocals deliberately almost breaking in parts to give a sense of fragility. As always the lyrics are open for interpretation with suggestions of love of sadness yet yearning for recovery, loss, war, mourning.

`Big Yellow Taxi’ is the song you will probably have heard in some form even if you haven’t heard this album or any other Joni song. I like the way Joni’s voice sounds completely different on this song than any other on the album- she sounds more like a child. The immortal melody is pop brilliance, the lyrics all the more important today, the sound completely joyous and filled with a love for life.

`Woodstock’ is Joni’s song for a generation, speaking not only of the famous festival which she never attended but watched on TV, but of the movement as a whole. Almost every lyric here has been used as the title of another song/movie/biography/documentary about the times, from `We are stardust’ to `Child of God’. Haunting at times, Woodstock is one of the most memorable songs on the album.

`The Circle Game’ closes the album in a suitably cyclical way, sounding at times like Morning Morgantown but having its own wonderful tune. Singing of the life of one man, from birth to death, signifying life as a whole it may be the best song on the record. Everything is perfection; vocals, instruments, lyrics. While some may smirk at the sentiment everything is played straight. Rarely can a song capture a feeling, thought, or idea so well as here.

Overall Ladies Of The Canyon is a must have. Not only is it historically important and endlessly influential, it has some of the best writing and best music ever recorded. This would go on to be the bench mark for all folk music, for all female vocalists, and for all singer songwriters. Blue would follow this, an equally special album and perhaps even better due to the step forward in experimentation and the wider variety of music and influences she would display.

If you enjoyed this review, please check the music section for other Joni reviews!

Joni Mitchell: Song To A Seagull

Song To A Seagull

By 1968 Joni Mitchell had already written hits for other artists but decided that she wanted to write, record, and perform for herself. Song For A Seagull is her debut album and showcases her love of folk, classical, and jazz music. Her first four albums would be similarly influenced before she began to experiment and become alienated by various scenes, but during this stage of her career her music never sounded so pure. The album is mostly just her voice and guitar, the music accompanying parables about love, life, and despair, moving from pastoral fantasies to songs of yearning, from the energy and joy of night life to dreaming of freedom. It neither contains the hits of her next couple of albums, nor the musical variety of Blue and later albums, but remains today a near perfect folk album and a fascinating insight into the Sixties.

`I Had a King’ opens the album with a story of lost love, perhaps relating to her own early failed marriage. It introduces us to four main features of early Joni; sumptuous yet unconventional finger picking; intense, imaginative, introspective lyrics; songs which sound like stories; and of course her soaring voice which is more of an instrument than a backing orchestra of a hundred. Melodically it isn’t overly memorable and musically the tone seems quite dark and atmospheric.
`Michael From Mountains’ immediately sounds softer and lighter, and the song can be read as either a story of lost love, of a man who was everything to the woman; Someone who is giving, but whose mind and inner self will be forever unattainable for you. Alternately it sounds like a song from a mother to her son, the relationship protecting and giving life to both. Lyrically it is very sweet and poetic and can almost be seen as a precursor to Little Green.
`Night In The City’ has a jaunty, saloon like sound. There are interesting melodies and overlapping voices, pianos and strummed chords which give the song a highly energetic feel. It is about her love of night life, and has the sense of exposure to city for first time, being awakened to the sights, sounds, atmosphere for the first time and instantly being part of it all. It is probably the most upbeat song on the album and one which is a joy every listen.
`Marcie’ is my favourite song on the album, lyrically and musically perfect, both sides serving the other flawlessly. It is the soft story of lonely woman, yearning for more. Lyrically it is highly colourful and draws the listener into the very streets that the characters walk upon. Descriptive, not too metaphorical lending a sense of kinship it is one of her best lyrics. The small details of life, trivialities, days passing lift the song to more than mere commercial pop.
`Nathan La Franeer’ is a song retelling a meeting Joni had with a strange Taxi Driver, but made more interesting by showing us all the people and things she saw out the window. The lyrics are quite biting, speaking about anger, greed, and being an alien to a fellow human while sharing a common space. The hope for all people coming together, one love, and other hippy ideals of the time are clearly portrayed, but the other side is also shown. Marked by some odd guitar noises, it is not as memorable musically. It closes the first half of the album, a stepping stone to the more dreamlike second half of escape and freedom.
`Sistowbell Lane’ opens part two, a story of quaint suburbia, soft guitar and voice similar to Morning Morgantown. Again the music is light and dreamy mirroring the idyllic lyrics. It conveys the feeling that country is better, more desirable to a middle class city life with its useless luxuries.
`Dawntreader’ tells of a sea voyage but more widely as escape and freedom. Soft guitar with vocal surges stand out, vocals and guitar getting louder as the character comes closer to leaving. The lyrics are typically idyllic, like a friend whispering her dreams in your ear.
`Pirate Of Penance’ is an interesting song dealing with an unusual theme and featuring strange dueling vocals. It is a story of a pirate who comes to town on certain days, there is a murder, and the aftermath with quizzing between locals, and a Dancer. The vocals are sung quite quickly and frantically, possibly to echo the panic felt by the character and the frenzied nature of a mob. Musically the guitar takes a background seat to the vocals.
`Song To A Seagull’ is a sparse, mellow song to a seagull. The sea theme continues, although she compares features of the sea to features of the city. She sings of the loss of dreams, changing times, dreaming of the unattainable. The song suffers like a few others on the album by not standing out musically whilst having great lyrics.
`Cactus Tree’ closes the album as it opened- soft, melodic, lyrically diverse. The song speaks of men trying to reach the women they love, but they are free and cannot be reached, trapped in relationship. Still others are scared of falling love, scared of compromise, scared of giving up nothing and everything, possibly echoing Joni’s own feelings at the time. It is a good song to finish on and leaves the listener yearning for more.

The main flaw of the album as mentioned is that too many songs lack variation musically. Luckily the music is beautiful enough for this to be overlooked. This only really matters when you take Joni’s next albums into consideration which are just as beautiful, but also have more variation. Over the next few albums Joni would reach a type of perfection before leaving behind her folk roots and embarking on a jazzy, fused, experimental journey which would separate some fans who wished for more of the same as what is on offer here.

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