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Any Major Joni Mitchell Songbook

November 7th, 2023 Leave a comment Go to comments


On November 7, Joni Mitchell will turn 80 — and after that health scare a couple of years ago, we may be grateful for that.

I discussed Joni (it sounds a bit disrespectful to refer to her by surname only) in the notes for the Blue Recovered mix in 2021. At the time I called her voice “broccoli” — a vegetable I don’t like even as I appreciate its wholesome properties. Writing that prompted me to revisit Joni’s music in a bid to force my ears to eat their broccoli. It was a good detox; I still flinch at the high notes but defended them when Any Major Dudette — the broccoli eater in our house, as it happens — objected to their sound. In any case, as the 1970s went on, Joni’s voice got deeper.

This mix, as did Blue Recovered, highlights the room for interpretation Joni’s songs allow, despite being so personal. Nothing here is quite as reworked as the Nazareth’s The Flight Tonight on Blue Recovered, but the most surprising interpretation here is Neil Diamond’s Free Man In Paris, which moves between rock and Broadway. It’s great.

Diamond reappears in the bonus tracks with his lovely 1969 version of Both Sides Now. In the CD-R playlist that song is covered by the wonderful German singer Katja Ebstein, in whose diction even German sounds beautiful. Her interpretation and the arrangement is gorgeous; Michael Kunze’s lyrics are not a direct translation, but I imagine Joni would approve of them.

Steely Dan also had to tinker with lyrics in their superb take of Carey, in which the protagonist undergoes the necessary gender-swap to become a “Mean Old Mama”. Fagan and Becker recorded the song for a tribute album to Joni, but it wasn’t used. It was “rediscovered” last year.

In Herbie Hancock, an old pal of Joni’s appears here. Hancock collaborated with Joni during her jazz phase; in 2007 he roped in various vocalists for an album of his interpretations of Mitchell songs. Among these singers was the wonderful UK soul singer Corinne Bailey Rae, who gives the over-covered River just the right treatment.

An even older Joni pal was Tom Rush, who has the honour of representing the song I’d name as my “favourite” Joni Mitchell track: The Circle Game. The coming-of-age song was a more hopeful response to fellow Canadian Neil Young’s Sugar Mountain, which was full of angst about growing up.

Written in 1966, The Circle Game was first recorded by Canadian folk duo Ian & Sylvia and soon after released on single by Buffy Sainte-Marie. Tom Rush, whose support helped many folk artists — including Joni — break through, recorded it in 1968. Two years later Joni finally did it herself. Rush was the first to record two other Mitchell songs, Tin Angel and Urge For Going, both in 1968 (she recorded these herself in 1969 and 1972 respectively).

Urge For Going features here in the rather unexpected hands of Lee Hazelwood, who recorded it for his 1973 album I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight, which also included covers of songs by Bob Dylan and Harry Chapin. Bob Dylan also features here, with the much-loved and also much-despised Big Yellow Taxi (a song on which I love Joni’s vocals). It is a pity that of everything that Mitchell has done, this slight song is her most famous. It’s a fine song, but it is neither her best nor her most representative — which is why, I suppose, it is so despised by many Joni fans.

The CD-R playlist closes with Richie Haven’s version of Woodstock, a song written by someone who wasn’t at the festival performed by somebody who was.

The bonus tracks include four tracks for which there was no space on the CD-R playlist, and for more which feature before by other acts.

As ever, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R, includes home-made covers on both sides now, and the above text in an illustrated PDF. PW in comments.

1. The Band with Joni Mitchell – Coyote (1978)
2. Bob Dylan – Big Yellow Taxi (1973)
3. Natalie Merchant – All I Want (1995)
4. Steely Dan – Carey (2001)
5. k.d. lang – A Case Of You (2004)
6. Herbie Hancock feat. Corinne Bailey Rae – River (2007)
7. Judy Collins – Chelsea Morning (1969)
8. Katja Ebstein – Beide Seiten (Both Sides Now) (1973)
9. Tom Rush – The Circle Game (1968)
10. Fairport Convention – I Don’t Know Where I Stand (1968)
11. Bonnie Raitt – That Song About The Midway (1974)
12. Gail Davies – You Turn Me On I’m A Radio (1982)
13. Three Dog Night – Night In The City (1971)
14. Lee Hazlewood – Urge For Going (1973)
15. Hoyt Axton – He Played Real Good For Free (1982)
16. Neil Diamond – Free Man In Paris (1977)
17. Stewart & Gaskin – Amelia (1991)
18. Richie Havens – Woodstock (2004)
19. George Michael – Edith & The Kingpin (2005)
20. Diana Krall – Black Crow (2004)
21. Claire Martin – Be Cool (1992)
22. Tim Curry – Cold Blue Steel And Sweet Fire (1979)
23. Barbra Streisand – I Don’t Know Where I Stand (1971)
24. Neil Diamond – Both Sides Now (1969)
25. Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – Chelsea Morning (1973)
26. David Crosby feat. Sarah Jarosz – For Free (2021)


Previous Songbooks:
Ashford & Simpson
Barry Gibb Vol. 1
Barry Gibb Vol. 2
Bill Withers
Bob Dylan Volumes 1-5
Brian Wilson
Bruce Springsteen
Burt Bacharach & Hal David Vol. 1
Burt Bacharach & Hal David Vol. 2
Burt Bacharach’s Lesser-Known Songbook
Carole Bayer Sager
Carole King Vol. 1
Carole King Vol. 2
Chuck Berry
Cole Porter Vol. 1
Cole Porter Vol. 2
Elton John & Bernie Taupin
George Harrison
Gordon Lightfoot
John Prine
Jimmy Webb Vol. 1
Jimmy Webb Vol. 2
Jimmy Webb Vol. 3
Lamont Dozier
Laura Nyro
Leonard Cohen
Neil Diamond
Paul McCartney Vol. 1
Paul McCartney Vol. 2
Rod Temperton
Rolling Stones Vol. 1
Sly Stone
Steely Dan

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  1. amdwhah
    November 7th, 2023 at 09:44 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. rat-a-tat-tat
    November 8th, 2023 at 18:01 | #2

    Marvelous. Thanks for your hard work, as always.

  3. Johnny Bacardi
    November 9th, 2023 at 14:24 | #3

    Oh no, you missed Roger McGuinn’s version of “Dreamland”, from his Cardiff Rose LP. Oh well.

  4. amdwhah
    November 9th, 2023 at 22:17 | #4

    Never heard of it. That could have been a good addition indeed.

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