Hip to be Square
“Big Yellow Taxi”, Joni Mitchell (1970)
I remember listening to “Both Sides Now” coming from the funky little yellow radio my Dad had in the kitchen that he snapped on every morning – which seemed like he had been doing every morning since the dawn of time. I heard a lot of songs on that radio. I had my toast with peanut butter at the arborite table, wondering if I would be on the Green team or the Red team for ‘Sports’ day. Listening to Joni, I made special note to look at the clouds when I sat on the schoolyard waiting my turn for long jump or high jump or whatever else they made us do. It seemed to me I had never really looked at clouds at all.
Canadian-born Joni Mitchell has been described as having the soul of a jazz musician, and has worked with some of the greats. Starting off as a folk singer Joni quickly fled the prairies for Toronto in the early 60’s and then to New York in the mid-sixties where she hit fame first as a song writer with such songs as “Chelsea Morning”, “Woodstock”, and “Both Sides Now”, performed by Judy Collins, and others.
It was David Crosby (of the ‘Byrds’, and ‘Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’ fame) who saw Joni at a Florida nightclub and took her back to Los Angeles and got her a recording contract. She blossomed as a true singer-songwriter from there.
In the early ‘70’s she moved to Laurel Canyon a suburb of Los Angeles that became a bit of a Mecca for what would become a unique sound – a southern California rock which was sort of a pop/country/folk music with such artists as J.D. Souther, The Eagles, Jackson Browne, Jim Morrison, Neil Young, (even Frank Zappa and Alice Cooper) and many others sharing and blending musical tastes.
In 1971 she hit with the album “Blue”, which became a critical and commercial success.Joni always produced albums that painted a picture. As an artist in her own right, she also did her own album art work for the covers. She is correctly viewed as one of the most important singer-song writers of the twentieth century and one of the most influential women in music ever.
Always her own person, she always seemed to adamantly take ‘the road not taken’. As a talented musician, and again with that jazz sensibility, she did songs in many different chords often with interesting effect.
I have always liked the “Court and Spark” album of 1974 that spun off the hits “Free Man in Paris”, “Help Me”, and “Raised on Robbery”. Other great albums include “The Hissing of Summer Lawns” and “Hejira”.
One song she wrote that was surprisingly covered by Nazareth was “This Flight Tonight”. Joni’s version is a lot mellower and at the same time more intense.
Joni Mitchell is more or less retired now, having recently sang “Both Sides Now” at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, but will be remembered always as a singer-songwriter, artist, and musician.
Truly one of the greats!