I am an unabashed, unapologetic, deeply-passionate fan of Joni Mitchell. I discovered her in high school (of course) but my love and appreciation of her incredible music, unique guitar tunings, and insightful lyrics has not wavered in all these years (and there have been a lot of them since that initial discovery). The other night, I tuned into the new season of HBO’s Girls. While “Hannah” and her crew make me grit my teeth (because I am sooooo long past those earnest 20-something days), the last episode I watched prominently featured Joni from her Court and Spark days (circa 1974). It gave me a reason to revisit that amazing album.
There were a few things that surprised me. Here’s my list:
1) It was (sadly) her most commercially successful project.
2) José Feliciano played electric guitar on “Free Man In Paris.”
3) She played a completed version of the album to Dylan – who reportedly fell asleep.
4) Rolling Stone lists it at #113 on their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. (Sorry, it should be waaay higher…can’t they knock anything by Guns N’ Roses down a few slots?)
5) Other luminaries who appear on the album are her old friends David Crosby and Graham Nash (background vocals). Robbie Robertson, whom she would later share a stage with in the movie The Last Waltz, also lends a hand, playing electric guitar on the raucous “Raised On Robbery.”
6) Jazz-fusion legends Joe Sample, Larry Carlton, and Tom Scott are prominently featured.
7) Cheech and Chong show up on her way-crazy version of “Twisted.” (OK, this one I already knew about. They’re kinda hard to miss.)
No doubt about it, Joni’s jazz-tinged pop took her out of the ranks of earnest hippie-chick songstress and into a more commercially successful realm. Which she, as one of the most inventive singer-songwriters of all time, well deserved.
There are a number of other post-Court Joni projects that I personally feel should’ve gotten more props to keep that streak going. Hejira (1976) is one. Turbulent Indigo (1994) is another. But if Court and Spark is her main legacy, hey, it’s not the worst thing.
As for me, I plan to now pull out my very well-worn vinyl (!) version of the album, lay down on the living room floor (as I used to do on my bedroom floor back in the day) and revel in the sheer genius of Joni at her peak. And to quote a line from one of my favorite songs from that project (“People’s Parties”): “I told you when I met you I was crazy.” Yup, Joni – and we love you for it.
Photo: Paul C. Babin