Friday, 5 December 2008

This will be my last Joni Mitchell post (for now)

Some songs (this applies to plays too, I guess) are a kind of litmus test. I'm thinking of the memorial concert at Wembley for Freddie Mercury in April 1992 where various artists performed those dramatic, epic, operatic Queen songs and the wheat was separated from the chaff. (Biggest surprise: George Michael's fabulous performance of "Someone to Love". I don't care for the man's music, but man, has he got the pipes...)

The songs of Joni Mitchell have a similar effect on singers. With emotionally complex lyrics and intricate melodies, these are not that easy to sing. While I'll take Joni performing her own stuff in most cases, there are singers of enormous talent who can redeem a song I've overlooked and/or not particularly cared for, or reveal a whole new universe in an old favourite. Here are three of my preferred Joni Mitchell covers:

1. "Ladies of the Canyon" - I don't dislike this song; I've just never particularly liked it. It's a bit cute and hippy-dippy, to my mind. Then, last year, I was ambushed by Annie Lennox's version:

Holy cow.

2. "The Magdalene Laundries" - Never paid much attention to this until I heard Emmylou Harris. (Actually, Emmylou Harris seems to improves most songs.) Can't find the whole version of this, but you can hear a snippet here and compare it with Joni's original, if you like. Christy Moore's version ain't half-bad either.

3. I've always loved "Carey", but oh my gawd, listen to where Cyndi Lauper takes it. (And she took it right in front of Joni Mitchell herself; the woman's got guts!):
Now, obviously, the band is fabulous, but don't those back up singers do a gorgeous and subtle job?

I've wondered whether to drop this without mentioning "A Case of You". I don't think I can. There are other Joni Mitchell songs that have more to do with my personal history, but this has to be the very best song she ever wrote. Many, many fine covers have been done of it, most of which you find on YouTube and elsewhere: kd lang's, Tori Amos's, and Allison Crowe's are among the best, but this is one that really belongs to the woman herself. Her original luminous recording from the album Blue is up on YouTube, along with a lovely live recording from the early 70's with James Taylor (commenters there are claiming a romantic liaison with him, which is the first I've heard of it), but here is a gentle 1983 Wembley performance:
...and this is a good place to shut up....


Barry said...

Well I'm not going to weigh in on the adult sex thing, but when it comes to your taste in Joni Mitchell song, your really know your stuff!

Can't disagree with anything.

Persephone said...

Welcome, Barry, lovely to hear from a fellow Canuck! I don't pretend to be an expert, either on Joni Mitchell or adult sex, but it seems the British bloggers with whom I correspond are big fans of Leonard Cohen, but aren't that familiar with Joni Mitchell. Since I think she easily matches him for lyrics, and beats him hollow for melody, I thought I'd go on for a bit about her.

Vanessa said...

I love Joni Mitchell dearly, and I'm so glad you're posting about her music. "Case of You" is a beautiful song.

rashbre said...

Co-incidentally there was a UK TV documentary about the Taylor/Mitchell/Simon/CSNY era on a couple of weeks ago which also linked JT+JM.