Bob Lefsetz: Welcome To My World - "Joni Mitchell Playlist"
NATHAN LA FRANEER
If you bought "Joni Mitchell," aka "Song To A Seagull," when it came out, you're a member of a very exclusive club or you're lying. There were no famous covers, no big media campaign, the record barely made a noise. Yet, when you discovered it sometime thereafter, which you did if you were a big Joni Mitchell fan, you became enraptured, because of the sound. This is my favorite cut on the LP, the story of a ride to the airport. Exquisitely recorded by Art Cryst and produced by David Crosby this is the sound of enough money to get it right, it's evidence of a lost art. Hearing the album is akin to viewing ancient relics of the Mayans and the Greeks.
MICHAEL FROM MOUNTAINS
Probably the most well-known song from the first album, you'll get this on the very first listen.
Oh, that guitar!
You can't help but get hooked by the lyrics, I'll let you listen...
By this time many knew who Joni Mitchell was, she was the woman who'd written Judy Collins's big hit "Both Sides Now."
This song, the second on Joni's second album, "Clouds," is the reason Chelsea Clinton sports that moniker, although the Clintons knew the tune from Collins's cover.
This is the opener of "Clouds," from back when you didn't have to hit them right between the eyes to get their attention, when an album was a relatively brief statement we devoured. This was produced by Paul Rothchild, of Doors fame.
"I found someone to love today"
It sounds like she did.
Love is private, you smile on the inside, "Tin Angel" sounds like that inner glow.
I DON'T KNOW WHERE I STAND
My second favorite cut on "Clouds"...
This is the opposite of today's paradigm, wherein everybody evidences an indomitable confidence, even women. But if you've ever risked love, you know...that sometimes you don't know.
THAT SONG ABOUT THE MIDWAY
My favorite cut on "Clouds," I completely missed it until I heard Bonnie Raitt's cover years later. Bonnie's rendition is better, but there's something haunting about Joni's original, like she's sitting in your living room singing, but not to you, but to a distant rogue you've never encountered that she's obsessing over.
SONGS TO AGING CHILDREN COME
Featured in the 1969 film of Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant," it's in the funeral/cemetery scene, in the snow. I saw it and never forgot it.
BOTH SIDES NOW
Yes, Joni includes her most famous song on her second album. It's the same, yet different, sans the production and the twinkly, hooky riff.
The debut was good, the follow-up was excellent, but "Ladies Of The Canyon" was TRANSCENDENT! This level of greatness was not infrequent back then, we didn't expect it to become so elusive in the future.
"And i play if you have the money
Or if you're a friend to me"
Ditto. I'll do loads of favors for friends, I'll put my fingers to keyboard for you, everybody else pays...always.
The best track on "Ladies Of The Canyon," it's the story of having a better relationship with someone than they do with their significant other, at least in your eyes.
Conversation is everything. Doesn't matter how you look, how rich you might be, if you've got the gift of gab, if you can not only persuade but empathize, you're gonna win in the lottery of life.
"She removes him like a ring
To wash her hands
She only brings him out to show her friends
I want to free him"
But you can't, he's got to free himself.THE ARRANGEMENT
"You could have been more
Than a name on the door
On the thirty-third floor in the air"
Do you wonder whether all those Ivy League graduates in finance are gonna wake up and realize they've taken the wrong path?
Life was different in the boomer era, personal fulfillment superseded remuneration, it wasn't until Reagan took office that we all started to dash for cash. And we counted on artists like Joni Mitchell to keep us honest.
RAINY NIGHT HOUSE
Supposedly about Leonard Cohen, this does not affect your appreciation of the track, which sounds like a rainy night, you know, just the two of you in the house, finding out who each other are.
A magical elixir of words and sounds, it'll penetrate your soul.
BIG YELLOW TAXI
I only include it because it's one of Joni's most famous tracks. It's been overplayed and over-covered, but her take still sounds fresh, it has not suffered from the passage of time.
"Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone"
Every baby boomer knows this lyric and verbalizes it and plays it through his brain constantly. Is change good or bad? Should you hold on or let go? I DON'T KNOW!
"They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot"
This was just at the advent of the Back To The Land movement, when we realized America's unchecked development might have a cost. Now we know it does.
Released subsequent to the famous Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young version, it doesn't sport the iconic riff, but it does evidence loads more meaning.
THE CIRCLE GAME
Already a famous song, Joni put her personal stamp upon it.
ALL I WANT
The piece-de-resistance, "Blue" is one of the best albums ever cut. Not huge upon its release, it has stood the test of time, it's there waiting to be discovered by future generations. Taylor Swift was clueless as to its existence until I told her about it on the phone, she listened and subsequently titled her next album "Red."
"I am on a lonely road and I am traveling"
That's what we used to do, go on road trips. Before flights were cheap and we traveled to distant locations on a whim.
"I want to be strong I want to laugh along
I want to belong to the living"
My credo. I sing "All I Want" whenever I'm extremely happy, when I'm newly in love, after meeting Felice.
"I'm going to see the folks I dig
I'll even kiss a Sunset pig
California I'm coming home"
Either you get it or you don't, either you need to live in the Golden State or you don't.
There are many tracks about my adopted homeland, but this one is definitive.
A CASE OF YOU
My favorite song on "Blue," "A Case Of You" was an album track buried on the second side which has been plucked free by generations, covered by everyone from Tori Amos to Prince, it evidences humanity and truth and has got that astounding metaphor.
"Oh I could drink a case of you darling
Still I'd be on my feet
Oh I would still be on my feet"
THE LAST TIME I SAW RICHARD
Exes. You were in love once, the memory fades, but never ever goes away, you're bonded forever, you share something personal that no one else does, but you can never ever recreate what you once had.
What a conundrum.
YOU TURN ME ON I'M A RADIO
Joni finally had a hit! You could hear her on the radio!
There's a bit of pandering to the format, the track is slick, but it's so infectious!
"I know you don't like weak women
You get bored so quick
And you don't like strong women
'Cause they're hip to your tricks"
I feel for the other sex, we make it tough. We want to be understood and coddled, we want to be treated just right, we keep sending messages that you're overbearing or inadequate. Joni understands.
Meanwhile, I've used the below lines in romantic encounters numerous times, they always seem to kill the deal, the opposite of my desire.
"Call me at the station
The lines are open"
BLONDE IN THE BLEACHERS
Male rock stars are pursuing something that can't be found, they believe if they become rich and famous their lives will work. Alas, this is not true.
WOMAN OF HEART AND MIND
Shocking because of the inclusion of the f-word, a no-no back in '72, "Woman Of Heart And Mind" is the best track on "For The Roses," it's the one I play most today.
"You know the times you impress me most Are the times when you don't try When you don't even try"
Heed this. The harder you work it, the more you turn us off. You appear desperate, you need to be loved, and that's unappealing to everybody. Just try to be yourself, it will work...with some.
LESSON IN SURVIVAL
"I get so damn timid
Not at all the spirit
That's inside of me
Oh baby I can't seem to make it
With you socially"
We want to be our best selves, but somehow we cannot. Even though we might have been able to once.
This is just a smidge of the plethora of truth in this track.
Hooky. I used to hear this in my head before the mallization of America, before you saw the same restaurants everywhere.
THE SAME SITUATION
Despite a mild radio hit, "For The Roses" underperformed, it was darker than "Blue," it ended up being for fans only, which is why it was such a surprise that "Court And Spark" was so gigantic.
"Caught in my struggle for higher achievements
And my search for love
That don't seem to cease"
I'd rather listen to Joni Mitchell on women's issues than Sheryl Sandberg any day of the week. Joni delineates the issues more clearly, she evidences the frustration, the questions, she makes males understand.
This is my favorite track on the album. Laden with insecurity, which everyone can identify with.
FREE MAN IN PARIS
"There's a lot of people asking for my time
They're trying to get ahead
They're trying to be a good friend of mine"
The best description of business I've ever encountered, it's the story of my life, it's why I no longer talk on the phone, they want to chew up my time just to serve themselves.
Supposedly about David Geffen, this was a hit despite being so personal, proving that platitudes are not necessary for mainstream success.
Seemingly every woman got the message that spring of '74, they all went out and bought "Court And Spark," they wanted to be escorted on their journey to love, "Help Me" was ubiquitous, played by everyone who'd fallen...in love that is.
Genius. This is Hollywood. Still. I sing this in my head all the time, especially when I'm at an affair which everybody would die to be at while I'm wondering what I'm doing there.
"Saying laughing and crying
You know it's the same release"
Where this expression became famous. Truly.
DOWN TO YOU
Intimate, quiet, more like what came before as opposed to the rest of "Court And Spark," "Down To You" would fit perfectly on "Ladies Of The Canyon."
"Everything comes and goes
Marked by lovers and styles of clothes"
I knew it then, I know it more now, that's the power of the artist, making truth self-evident.
A cover, Joni rescued the song from obscurity, made it famous for the ages.
COLD BLUE STEEL AND SWEET FIRE
1974's double live album was a bit too slick, but some songs shone, like this.
WOMAN OF HEARD AND MIND
A bit slower, this live iteration has even more meaning than the original, if that's possible.
IN FRANCE THEY KISS ON MAIN STREET
I'd be lying if I told you I loved 1975's jazz-influenced "The Hissing Of Summer Lawns." This track is the most famous and most palatable to old fans.
SONG FOR SHARON
"Hejira" is a revelation. It did not restore Joni Mitchell's sales success, casual fans moved on, but the hard core who bought and digested the LP were absolutely stunned, there was a new level of insight, the album is incredible.
This eight and a half minute epic is the centerpiece. Just listen.
However, I must point out the words I hear in my head too much, when those frustrated by modern life can no longer endure it:
"A woman I knew just drowned herself
The well was deep and muddy
She was just shaking off futility
Or punishing somebody
My friends were calling up all day yesterday
All emotions and abstractions
It seems we all live so close to that line
And so far from satisfaction"
When "Hejira" came out I was close to that line, I'm much further away today, I've got to give credit to "Song For Sharon" for keeping me here.
REFUGE OF THE ROADS
With the legendary Jaco Pastorius on bass, "Refuge Of The Roads" was about a road trip, it closed the LP, it set your mind free.
The road used to set you free, before modern technology, before cell phones, before Instagram, when life was interior as opposed to exterior, when you were so often alone, in your own mind, with the tunes as your only companion.
FURRY SINGS THE BLUES
Handy is cast in bronze, I saw him when I went to Beale Street, I looked for him, I couldn't leave Memphis without seeing him. Joni brought W.C. back from the dead, he's fading into the woodwork again.
An incredible sound, the track is about Amelia Earhart, from back before most baby boomers knew who she was.
THE THREE GREAT STIMULANTS
I saw Joni at the Troubadour, a special guest, she was unannounced, there were few in the venue, she played this accompanied only by herself, the performance was indelible, as great as anything I've ever seen.
"I saw a little lawyer on the tube
He said 'It's so easy now anyone can sue'"
It was 1985, lawyers were in love, yuppies ruled, what once was was now gone.
but the music remains.