James Blake wrote his Mercury-prize winning album ‘Overgrown’ on a plane home from California with advice from Joni Mitchell “fresh in his mind.” “Joni’s music always reminds me that melody is flexible, and that if you want to reinvent yourself as she continually has, you should command it to bend and ebb and flow, and treat it as king,” he told the Independent. From Led Zeppelin to Herbie Hancock, Rufus Wainwright to Sonic Youth and Hole to Kanye West, a legion of musicians have been influenced by Mitchell since she started touring the world in 1965, releasing debut ‘Song To A Seagull’ in 1968. With a nightingale voice that can break and heal hearts, songs so potent they soon become part of your skin and an outrageous lyrical talent, she’s one of the greatest living artists of all time. Period. To celebrate, NME writers have picked their favourite Joni Mitchell songs. Add your favourites in the comments below.
A Case Of You
An obvious choice but there’s a reason why ‘A Case Of You’ is arguably Joni’s best song. In devastatingly intimate detail, she lays out the dissolution of a relationship. With hurt filtering through her vocals, the lyrics become even more heartwrenching, as on the chorus’ killer blow of “I could drink a case of you and still be on my feet.”
This Flight Tonight
Ever sat by the window seat on an airplane on the descent, looking at the strange terrain, thinking about where you’ve come from and where you’re going to, searching for new discoveries but scared about what you might have left behind? Joni Mitchell has. ‘This Flight Tonight’ is pure poetry about wanting to barge into the cockpit and head straight back home to your one true love. Probably the closest to a “Hollywood” moment the Californian songstress ever got.
My Old Man
It’s a tale of loving someone and missing them when they’re gone, but described exquisitely. “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,” she sings before a chill enters the song with a minor key change and the simple, perfect line, “The bed’s too big/The frying pan’s too wide.” It makes me feel happy and sad and weird and nice all at the same time as Mitchell, the poetic seamstress, knits together human experience in all its messy complexities.
Both Sides Now
Because as insipid as it sounds, love really is that fragile and knotted string that ties us all together. And nobody documents that roller-coaster ride of giddy flirtation to heart-torn-to-shreds despair with such honesty, spitelessness and wisdom as Joni Mitchell.
It’s easier to picture Joni Mitchell strolling through a windswept Greenwich Village, guitar case in hand, than in Los Angeles, America’s most plastic city. But on ‘California’, from the brilliant ‘Blue’, she details why she’ll always be a Cali girl at heart, beating Katy Perry to it by a good four decades. A gorgeous song built on a crispy acoustic guitar, it’s Mitchell’s wordplay – and that voice, which seems to have no upper limit – that are the stars. We find her in hippy Paris, we meet a “red, red rogue” on a Greek island and we join her, tanning, in Spain, before escaping back home to the land of rock ‘n’ roll bands and “Sunset pigs”. Sweet, sweet homesickness.