Joni Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon At 50

Joni Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon At 50

Posted 3 Apr 2020
joni mitchell, 1970
Joni Mitchell. Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns.

Joni Mitchell’s third studio album from 1970, Ladies Of The Canyon is neither her biggest seller or her most famous yet was home to some of her most well-loved songs, including “Woodstock,” “The Circle Game” and her revolutionary hit, “Big Yellow Taxi.” 

"Big Yellow Taxi"

Straight out of the gate, “Big Yellow Taxi” throws Joni’s extraordinary rhythm work on the guitar into the spotlight. Her staggered vocal delivery in the verses make each word break through your consciousness, imploring you to pay attention to every detail of the important story she's telling you. And it's a timeless story, as important today as it was the day she wrote it. 

Mitchell recorded Ladies of the Canyon after moving to LA from Canada, via New York. The expanse of this adjustment sits at the centre of this joyous album. In the title track, Mitchell pays homage to the city’s sunny, bohemian, west coast ways of life, as she turns her gaze outward with rose-coloured perspective to find her place in the post-hippie/counter-culture scene gathering momentum in California at the dawn of the 1970s. 

"Ladies of the Canyon"

The sophisticated, self-produced set of songs also marked a period of rapid musical development for Mitchell who builds a rich sonic palette with the addition of strings, piano, clarinet, saxophone and percussion to her signature prairie soprano vocals and idiosyncratic guitar tunings.

Even the complexity of Joni’s relationship with the members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young failed to dial down the sunshine in her heart as she celebrates the gathering of her tribe on the track "Woodstock" – not that she ever actually made it to Woodstock, as she explains in this enchanting live video below. 

"Woodstock" (Live, 1970)

And for her friend and fellow countryman, Neil Young, Joni wrote one of the album’s more recognisable tracks, jazzy closer, “The Circle Game” in response to his song “Sugar Mountain” which he wrote in 1964 at the tender age of 19. Speaking live in concert in London in 1970, Mitchell said: “[Young] wrote that was called ‘Oh to live on a Sugar Mountain’ which was a lament to his youth. And I thought, God, you know, if we get to 21 and there’s nothing after that, that’s a pretty bleak future. So, I wrote a song for him, and for myself just to give me some hope. It’s called ‘The Circle Game.’”

"The Circle Game"

Chances are, now half a century later, as Neil Young sings in front of the fire at his Colorado ranch with wife Darryl Hannah by his side, he would now agree with Joni that there is indeed more than one Sugar Mountain to climb in life. 

Ladies of the Canyon delivers Joni’s full range of talents, as a singer, songwriter, storyteller, poet and musician, with a captivating innocence that shines through like a ray of golden light – much like Joni herself.

Listen to Ladies of the Canyon on Spotify:

Listen to Ladies of the Canyon on Apple Music:

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