Despite her sweet persona, Joni Mitchell has always had a rebel spirit; one that shone brightly through the 70s folk-rock scene of which she was the unofficial queen. While her peers were crafting cleverly masked metaphors in poetic sweet somethings, Mitchell put her emotions on display with startling lyrical honesty, covertly weaving poignant social commentary into her sunny pop songs.
But, no matter how raw or real her subject matter, across albums and era’s, Mitchell’s angelic voice remains a captivating rarity of nature; swaying between fragility and ferocity on an endless exploration of truth.
We’re taking a look back to where the celestial star’s prolific songwriting career began with five early Joni Mitchell essentials.
1. I Had A King 
In 1968, when she was just 23, Joni had already lived a lifetime. But it wasn’t just life experience the made her debut album Songs to a Seagull so quietly audacious, it was her desire to shine a spotlight on things others would tend to shy away from that made for a truly captivating listen.
The album’s opening track, I Had A King tackles her divorce from Charles Mitchell with ruthless honesty, giving a matter-of-fact account that spares no emotion. It was a bold first step that also set the tone for her future work.
2. Both Sides Now 
From her second album Clouds released in 1969, Both Sides Now is a piece of analytical brilliance that flaunts Mitchell’s analytical prowess.
At a 1967 concert in England, she introduced the track by saying: “This is a song that talks about sides to things. In most cases there are both sides to things and in a lot of cases there are more than just both. His and a hers. His and theirs. But in this song there are only two sides to things… there’s reality and I guess what you might call fantasy. There’s enchantment and dis-enchantment, what we’re taught to believe things are and what they really are."
3. Big Yellow Taxi 
Big Yellow Taxi, the lead single from Joni’s 1970 studio album, Ladies Of The Canyon – her third in as many years – not only magnified her star power, it solidified it forever more. The retro pop hit offered a vision of the future that only makes environmental anthem more relevant with every year that passes.
4. The Circle Game 
Also arriving on 1970’s Ladies of the Canyon was The Circle Game, inspired Neil Young's Sugar Mountain – a despondent homage to his teenage years that were fast closing in on him. Mitchell took his worry to heart and responded with a song offering a more sanguine perspective of time. Considering that a few years later Young released Old Man when he was only 27, it’s hard to say if he let her wise words truly sink in…
5. A Case Of You 
Joni’s fourth studio album Blue isn’t just one of her best, it’s widely considered one of the best albums of all time. Earlier this year, the reclusive star offered up some rare insight into the impact her deeply personal, introspective writing style had on the formulaic pop themes of her peers; in particular the high-profile male artists Mitchell famously held court with.
And it’s not hard to see why. Blue proved Joni a force of fearless honesty that is wonderfully personified by A Case Of You; a candid story of desire that may as well serve as an open door to Joni’s heart. Captivating in every way.
Joni Mitchell Archives Vol. 2: The Reprise Years (1968-1971) arrived on vinyl last month. The extensive release features a number of live performances from the era, including a live album from Carnegie Hall in 1969, a recording of her The Dick Cavett Show appearance in 1969, two BBC sessions from 1970 and more. Get Joni Mitchell Archives, Vol. 2: The Reprise Years (1968-1971), here.
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