The Seasons Go Round and Round
"She is probably the best writer of us all," said fellow singer-songwriter (and ex) David Crosby. Here, to celebrate Joni Mitchell's birthday, are indelible lines from 20 of her greatest songs.
"Big Yellow Taxi"
"Don't it always seem to go / That you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone / They paved paradise / And put up a parking lot"
Written the first time she visited Hawaii, "Big Yellow Taxi" combines an environmental theme with a simple underlying message: Never take things for granted.
"I'm in trouble / 'Cause you're a rambler and a gambler / And a sweet-taIking ladies man / And you love your lovin' / But not like you love your freedom"
Her biggest hit single—said to be about then-boyfriend Glenn Frey of the Eagles.
"Woman of Heart and Mind"
"I'm looking for affection and respect / A little passion / And you want stimulation—nothing more / That's what I think / But you know I'll try to be there for you / When your spirits start to sink"
A classic breakup song—with a title that sums up the singer.
"We are stardust / We are golden / And we've got to get ourselves / Back to the garden"
Mitchell didn't perform at the fabled 1969 festival—she didn't even attend—yet she owns it with this song.
"Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning / And the first thing that I heard / Was a song outside my window / And the traffic wrote the words"
Judy Collins released this early Joni Mitchell song as a single in 1968. Although Mitchell later dismissed "Chelsea Morning" as "the work of an ingenue," it captures what she remembers as "a very young and lovely time."
"Come on, Carey, get out your cane / And I'll put on some silver / Oh, you're a mean old daddy, but I like you"
The real "Carey" is Cary Raditz, a chef with panache who drew her into a cave-dwelling hippie community on the Greek island of Crete in 1970. "He was a bit of a scene stealer, and the cane was a theatrical prop for him," Mitchell told the Wall Street Journal. That might get on your nerves, but hey, Joni was happy!
"I met a redneck on a Grecian isle / Who did the goat dance very well / He gave me back my smile / But he kept my camera to sell / Oh the rogue, the red red rogue / He cooked good omelettes and stews / And I might have stayed on with him there / But my heart cried out for you, California"
A classic ode to home sweet home.
"My Old Man"
"He's my sunshine in the morning / He's my fireworks at the end of the day / He's the warmest chord I ever heard / Play that warm chord, play and stay, baby"
This track "Blue" is said to be about her ex Graham Nash, who later said listening to the album was "quite difficult for me personally."
"It's coming on Christmas / They're cutting down trees / They're putting up reindeer / And singing songs of joy and peace / Oh I wish I had a river / I could skate away on"
Who knew a song that starts with notes from "Jingle Bells" could be so sad?
"Don Juan's Reckless Daughter"
"I'm Don Juan's reckless daughter / I came out two days on your tail / Those two bald-headed days in November / Before the first snowflakes sail"
This is the title track from her 1977 double album, an experiment in jazz fusion that some critics found reckless indeed. But the lyrics are vintage Joni Mitchell.
"There's no comprehending / Just how close to the bone and the skin and the eyes / And the lips you can get / And still feel so alone"
But no regrets, Coyote. Now listen to Mitchell sing this ode to Sam Shepard (or so they say) with the Band backing her up in "The Last Waltz."
"In France They Kiss on Main Street"
"Under neon sign / A girl was in bloom / And a woman was fading / In a suburban room / I said, 'Take me to the dance'"
The first track on her 1975 album "The Hissing of Summer Lawns" ventures into jazz-rock. Backing up Joni are David Crosby, Graham Nash and James Taylor.
'Free Man in Paris'
"You know I'd go back there tomorrow / But for the work I've taken on / Stoking the star-maker machinery / Behind the popular song"
Mitchell wrote this one after a trip to the City of Light with The Band's Robbie Robertson and music mogul David Geffen. He was reportedly unhappy with the song, finding it too revealing.
"So you sign all the papers in the family name / You're sad and you're sorry but you're not ashamed / Little green have a happy ending"
"Little Green" refers obliquely to the child she gave up for adoption when she was Joan Anderson, a struggling 21-year-old folk singer living in Toronto. In 1997, a quarter-century after the song was released, she and daughter Kilauren Gibb reunited. Let's hear it for happy endings.
"Goodbye Porkpie Hat"
"When Charlie speaks of Lester / You know someone great has gone / The sweetest swinging music man / Had a Porkie Pig hat on"
What a bold move to add lyrics to this Charlie Mingus classic, collaborating with the jazz legend just months before he died.
"Come in From the Cold"
"I am not some stone commission / Like a statue in a park / I am flesh and blood and vision / I am howling in the dark"
Time passes, but it doesn't get easier, as this song affirms.
"A Case of You"
"Oh, you're in my blood like holy wine / You taste so bitter and so sweet / Oh, I could drink a case of you, darling / And I would still be on my feet"
Some say this exquisite love song is about James Taylor, who accompanies Mitchell on acoustic guitar, but the smart money is on Joni's ex and fellow Canadian Leonard Cohen. (Click here for the orchestral version, recorded in 1999.)
"Both Sides Now"
"But now old friends are acting strange, they shake their heads, they say I've changed / Something's lost but something's gained in living every day"
"The Sire of Sorrow (Job's Sad Song)"
"Once I was blessed; I was awaited like the rain / Like eyes for the blind, like feet for the lame / Kings heard my words, and they sought out my company / But now the janitors of Shadowland flick their brooms at me"
The final track on 1994's "Turbulent Indigo," which Rolling Stone called her "best album since the mid-'70s."
"The Circle Game"
"And the seasons they go round and round / And the painted ponies go up and down /
We're captive on the carousel of time"
A beautiful song about aging—written when Joni was in her early 20s.
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