Born in Alberta, Canada on Nov. 7, 1943, Joni Mitchell is a nine-time Grammy winner, Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame inductee, artist, poet, singer, and songwriter.
If you haven't heard Joni Mitchell's music you've certainly heard a cover of one of her songs or know someone she has influenced. Prince, Nora Jones, Herbie Hancock, Sarah McLaughlin, Tori Amos, Kanye West, Taylor Swift, Madonna, Stevie Nicks, Tina Turner, k.d. Lang, Janet Jackson, and countless others have said Mitchell was a direct influence on their work.
What makes Joni so great, in our opinion, is her songs. She has a range of melodies from upbeat and rhythmic to relaxing and sensuous, but all of them have unique, thought-provoking lyrics that paint a picture in a way that it can only be described as pure poetry.
Though we could play a month of Joni, we've picked fourteen of our very favorites from this poetic goddess who’s been a great inspiration to us all here at Vinyl.
1. Big Yellow Taxi - from Ladies of the Canyon
Joni Mitchell wrote Big Yellow Taxi after her first trip to Hawaii. It was recorded and originally released from her 1970 album, Ladies of the Canyon. Though it was a hit in Canada, the song didn't gain popularity in the US until after Mitchell released a live version in 1974. The song's been covered by several artists, including the Counting Crows.
2. Raised On Robbery - from Court and Spark
Joni Mitchell had released a new album every year since 1968, but in 1973, she took some time off to work on Court and Spark (1974). Raised On Robbery was the album’s first single. Released in December 1973, it landed at No. 65 on Billboard Hot 100, and the album went on to become one of Mitchell’s greatest commercial successes.
3. Both Sides Now - from Clouds
Written by Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now was originally recorded by Judy Collins. Released as a single in 1968, it won a Grammy. Joni released her own version in 1969 from the album, Clouds. The song was inspired by a passage in Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King (1959) and has been covered by dozens of artists.
4. You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio - from For the Roses
Released from the album For the Roses (1972), Joni Mitchell wrote You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio as a response to pressure Asylum Records was putting on her to write a hit song. She believed using radio-themed lyrics would entice stations to play the tune. With Graham Nash on harmonica, the single became Joni’s first Top 40 in the US.
5. Free Man In Paris - from Court and Spark
Free Man In Paris is from Joni Mitchell's 1974 album, Court and Spark. The song is about close friend David Geffen, during a trip the two took to Paris. It's one of Joni's most popular hits and has been covered by numerous artists. In the 1970s, an instrumental version was used as the theme for CBC's The Saturday Evening News.
6. All I Want - from Blue
All I Want is from our favorite Joni Mitchell album, Blue (1971). The album is one of the greatest of all time, and the songs were inspired by Joni's relationship with two men - Graham Nash and James Taylor. Blue and All I Want reference her relationship with Taylor and dealing with his heroin addiction. She really did knit him a sweater.
7. Night Ride Home - from Night Ride Home
Night Ride Home is from Joni Mitchell’s 1991 album, Night Ride Home. Though the album wasn’t commercially-successful, several songs received critical praise. Night Ride Home was originally titled “Fourth of July” and had been written about an evening in Hawaii. She first performed it in promotion of her 1988 album, Chalk Mark In a Rain Storm.
8. Help Me - from Court and Spark
Help Me is from Joni Mitchell’s 1974 album, Court and Spark. Commercially, it is her most successful song. Landing at No. 7 on Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 on the Easy Listening charts, it is her only US top ten hit. Several artists have covered it, Prince references it in The Ballad of Dorothy Parker, and it’s been featured in South Park and Shameless.
9. Face Lift - from Taming the Tiger
Face Lift is from Joni Mitchell’s 1998 album, Taming the Tiger. Along with songs like Little Green and Chinese Café, Face Lift discusses the details of Joni getting pregnant and giving her daughter up for adoption in 1965, the main drive behind her songwriting. After the two reunited in 1997, Joni said she no longer felt the need to write.
10. Chelsea Morning - from Clouds
Joni Mitchell wrote Chelsea Morning while living in New York, before she had a record deal. It was included on her second album, Clouds (1969), because several artists had already covered it, including Judy Collins who had released a version a month before the release of Clouds. Fun Fact: Chelsea Clinton’s name was chosen because of Collins’ version.
11. A Case of You - from Blue
A Case of You is from Joni Mitchell’s 1971 album, Blue. Written around 1970, the song was inspired by her break up with Graham Nash. Mitchell plays the dulcimer, and James Taylor plays the guitar. It’s been covered over 300 times, but our favorite - hands down - is Prince’s version, which can be found on the 2007 album, A Tribute to Joni Mitchell.
12. Black Crow - from Hejira
Black Crow is from Joni Mitchell's 1976 album, Hejira. The album was inspired by a cross-country car trip she took from Maine to LA. The song, Black Crow, is about the difficulty Mitchell had when she left her second home in British Columbia's Sunshine Coast. Commercially, the album didn't perform well, but it's still one of our favorites here at Vinyl.
13. The Magdalene Laundries - from Turbulent Indigo
The Magdalene Laundries is from Joni Mitchell's album, Turbulent Indigo. For the cover, Joni took inspiration from Vincent van Gogh and painted a self portrait. Released in 1994, the album won a Grammy and is her most-successful since the 1970s. The Magdalene Laundries is about the suffering of Irish woman in the Magdalene Asylum.
14. River - from Blue
Though never released as a single, River is one of Joni Mitchell's most popular songs. From the 1971 album Blue, River was inspired by Joni's breakup with Graham Nash. The piano solo borrows from Jingle Bells, and it's often been called a Christmas song. There are over 400 recordings, placing it second to Both Sides Now for most covers.