One of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, Joni Mitchell is often remembered as a melancholic mope who lost her vocal range to cigarettes. These songs are a reminder she was a vamp, a comic and a musical genius. So, you're stuck indoors with nothing but a pantry full of pulses and a Spotify membership. I get it. Now is the time, we all say, to really engage with the art we never gave a chance when our lives were busy and mobile. Maybe I'll finally watch The Wire! Learn how to discern the different Renaissance painters! Become a TikTok star!
Mitchell, on the other hand, is serious, listening intently. Her features are obscured in shadow, the clean lines of her long neck and strong chin reinforcing the posture that always makes her seem to be bound skyward, like an egret. When she began her career in the mids as part of the folk revival, rock was a game dominated by roguish white boys competing with each other for girls, glamour, and, eventually, social significance.
Are we rolling? How do you choose the greatest Joni Mitchell song - or even, abandoning the wild goose chase of objectivity, your personal favourite Joni Mitchell song? It's a daunting challenge, and one that not all of the illustrious contributors to this month's cover story would accept. When we asked David Crosby to pick a song, he gave us another one of his delightful pro-Joni and anti-Dylan rants, and scrupulously avoided specifics. There are 30 or 40 best ones. To rank them in any kind of order, though, struck us an excruciating and ultimately pointless procedure; to be honest, we bottled it. On page 30, then, you'll find 30 insightful pieces on 30 exceptional Joni songs, arranged in the order they were released, beginning with Radiohead's Philip Selway on "Both Sides, Now" and ending with the orchestral version of "Amelia," nominated by Robert Plant. I ended up contributing a few over-wrought words about "Song for Sharon" to the piece, and in this issue I also wrote about PJ Harvey's tantalising "Recording In Process" project, and Sam Lee's new album, The Fade in Time, another one of those records I seem to be fixated on at the moment that makes deep, scholarly and emotional connections with old traditions, without being hamstrung by them.
Before Joni Mitchell , singer-songwriters wrote generally about love, politics and the end of the world at the hands of maniacal world leaders who maybe had access to nuclear weapons. After Joni Mitchell, they wrote about themselves — their loves, their lives, how the egg salad sandwich they ate at lunch could affect the rest of their week. At the peak of her commercial and creative success, she turned away from the acoustic guitar-based confessionals she was best known for and toward more jazzy and sophisticated songs and arrangements. Some great work surfaced during this later period, but the bulk of material that makes up our Top 10 Joni Mitchell Songs comes from the half-dozen or so years in the late '60s and early-to-mid '70s where she helped forge the singer-songwriter genre as we know it. Crosby, Stills and Nash recorded the more popular version and had the hit with "Woodstock," but Mitchell's original scaled-down version of her tribute to 's peace, love and music festival takes a more intimate approach to an event that was anything but. Mitchell actually didn't attend the three-day hippie fest, but her boyfriend Graham Nash was there, and she partly based the song on his most likely fuzzy recollections.