At the end of January, Joni Mitchell joined Neil Young in calling for her music to be removed from Spotify, in protest against Spotify’s role in the spread of covid-19 misinformation by The Joe Rogan Experience Podcast. The streaming platform paid 100 million dollars for the podcast in 2020. Although as a generation we have undoubtedly become over reliant on streaming services, which grant us access to most of the songs ever written for less than the price of the Pret subscription, media availability has contributed to the devaluation of music, which is no longer viewed as something that ought to be paid for but mindlessly consumed. If like me, you haven’t paid for an album since the “Now that’s what I call music” albums were the height of your musical appreciation but can’t face the prospect of no more Joni, here are my top four Joni Mitchell albums that I feel are more than worth your investment. With Joni boasting 19 studio albums, this shortlist was no easy feat but any of these albums are perfect choices if you need a Joni fix but aren’t quite prepared to take out a new mortgage to fund all 19.
First up is Mitchell’s fifth studio album For the Roses, released in 1972, as she was nearing her commercial peak in the mid-70s. It is unfortunately criminally underrated as it is sandwiched between Blue (1971) and Court and Spark (1974), her two most successful albums. No doubt For the Roses is largely famous for the hit ‘You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio’, a sarcastic yet vulnerable response to her label’s demands for a hit song. Mitchell’s unconventional formats, unbound by formal structures, as well as her more literary style often prevented most of her songs from topping the charts, but ‘You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio’ became her first top-forty hit in the United States. My personal highlight of the album is ‘Woman of Heart and Mind’, a blunt, analytical critique of her partner ’s failings in a relationship but which ultimately closes with the admission that she ultimately loves him despite this: “You know the times you impress me the most, are the times when you don’t try”.
Another indispensable Joni album is the 1970 Ladies of the Canyon, in which Mitchell shifts away from her more traditional folk sound to what more closely resembles rock- pop. Unlike much of her discography, its tracks have a lighter, sunnier feel in their portrayal of life in California in the 60s. Much of this record is distinctly existential, brimming with life lessons and wisdom. Whilst ‘The Circle Game’ sounds almost like a lullaby, it borders on nihilistic in lines like “we’re captive on a carousel of time”. Moreover, although Joni Mitchell is most definitely not primarily known for feel-good tunes, there are few songs quite as serotonin-inducing as the eco- conscious anthem ‘Big Yellow Taxi’.
Also, eminently worthy of your hard-earned cash is Mitchell’s most successful album, Court and Spark, which skillfully combines both her pop and folk-rock inclinations, with a more explicitly neo-jazz style. It clearly marks the beginning of her most experimental phase featuring electric guitar, jazz- influenced melodies and arrangements, and more instrumentation than any of her previous work,which on the whole is much more stripped-back. This is definitely reflected in the album’s commercial success, as it is her biggest selling album, going platinum and securing her three Grammy nominations. Court and Spark triumphs in its contrast of musical lightness with emotionally heavy content, joyful sounding but ultimately littered with underlying worries and concerns. ‘People’s Parties’ documents experiences of shallow Hollywood parties and laughing sadness away, as “laughing and crying/You know it’s the same release”.
Finally, we have what is for many the ultimate Joni Mitchell album, Blue (1971), which is Joni at her most direct and vulnerable, a candid confessional record of her despair and loneliness following heartbreak, giving a child up for adoption and struggles with the conflict between art and celebrity. Blue is a relic of raw and unguarded song writing, declared by many as one of the greatest albums of all time. During that period in her life Mitchell “felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes”. It is by no means a jolly listen, but as Mitchell herself noted in her 1976 song ‘Hejira’, “there’s comfort in the melancholy”.
So, Spotify users, I implore you not to cease listening to Joni Mitchell now her entire discography is not readily available, but instead ask you to consider purchasing some of her work, even if it is just one album.