Joni Mitchell is 76 years old. Any time her name trends on Twitter, I gird myself for the worst, but she always rallies. She’s a tough woman whose main vice is nicotine. Her fans wish she’d quit smoking, but Joni was born out of fucks to give.
In addition to her voice, lyrics, and unique guitar playing, I’ve always loved her artwork. She’s done many of her own album covers over the years, which makes her records even more personal. I am the album cover art guy even when it’s not Wednesdays, after all.
I have an admission. I’m not crazy about Joni’s early stuff. I realize that not adoring Blue makes me a heretic in the church of Joni. I guess I should say a dozen Hail Jonis in penance.
This heretic became more interested when she expanded her sound on For The Roses and Court and Spark. Hejira sealed the deal. It remains my favorite Joni Mitchell album.
In the mid to late Seventies, Joni started recording with some of the finest jazz musicians of the day: Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius, and Pat Metheny, among others. I saw a show on the Shadows and Lights tour. It remains one of my favorite live music memories. Glory days weren’t just for The Boss
Speaking of live performances, I recall seeing Joni sing The Thrill Is Gone with BB King and taming a Jazz Fest audience in 1995. She played what she wanted and won the audience over without wooing them. Repeat after me: Joni Mitchell was born out of fucks to give.
I mentioned not loving Joni’s first few albums. I’m omitting three of her biggest radio hits: Both Sides Now, Big Yellow Taxi, and Help Me. They’re fine but I’d rather make room for some underrated gems from the Night Ride Home album, which is another of my favorites.
Let’s get on with the music. The list is in chronological order and reflects my own taste.
We begin with Chelsea Morning, which was the first Joni song I recall hearing. It woke me right up.
You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio is a bit of whimsy that still makes me chuckle and titter. It does not, however, make me cackle.
Free Man In Paris is the song that turned me into a fan. I’m particularly fond of this live version:
Edith and the Kingpin has great imagery and still makes me want to hiss on a summer lawn or some such shit.
No regrets, Coyote. Say no more.
Furry Sings The Blues was inspired by a meeting between Joni and blues man Furry Lewis. Furry was not amused that she used his name in a song title. Repeat after me: Joni Mitchell was born out of fucks to give.
Talk To Me is a whimsical song from her most experimental album, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter. Great title but perhaps the worst cover of her career.
Mingus was an important album for me. I’d heard of Charlie Mingus and Lester Young, but it inspired me to explore that era of music which led me to Billie Holiday and eventually the Friday Cocktail Hour. That’s right, Joni and Charlie inspired a First Draft regular feature. Thanks, y’all.
The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines features a sinuous bass line by bass God Jaco Pastorius as well as sinuous lyrics by Joni Mitchell and sinuous music by Charles Mingus. Who knew that Des Monies could be sinuous?
Joni reworked one of Charlie’s most famous songs and became co-owner of Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.
Joni Mitchell seemed a bit flummoxed by the changes in the music business in the MTV era. Dog Eat Dog is one of her better songs from that period.
Night Ride Home is a stone cold classic that I used as a Saturday Odds & Sods theme song earlier this year.
Cherokee Louise features some swell sax by former Weather Reporter Wayne Shorter. It always makes me think of my late “outlaw” Louise Allen Cobb Couvillion. I played it once for her and she didn’t hate it. Louise was a tough room.
This week’s lagniappe comes from Joni’s Grammy winning 2000 album Both Sides Now. It’s her smoky rendition of one of my favorite Rodgers and Hart songs:
Repeat after me: Joni Mitchell was born out of fucks to give.