Watch Joni Mitchell’s Angelic ‘The Circle Game’ Live in 1968

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Watch Joni Mitchell’s Angelic ‘The Circle Game’ Live in 1968

joni mitchell
 Joni Mitchell. Photo by Robert Altman/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.

Canadian songstress, Joni Mitchell was far from an overnight success. From the mid-60s she toured tirelessly, moving from ukulele to guitar as her style evolved from country and jazz to folk. Most impressive, was her songwriting that saw many other artists finding success with her compositions throughout the decade. 

But it wasn’t until 1967 when, after catching the attention of The Byrds’ (and later CSNY) David Crosby, that Mitchell signed her first record deal with Reprise Records and began work on her debut album Songs to a Seagull with Crosby in the producers’ chair. 

By 1970, Mitchell would release her third studio album Ladies of the Canyon to massive critical acclaim. The tracklisting includes some of her biggest hits, like Big Yellow Taxi, Woodstock and closing track The Circle Game, and is to this day considered among the all-time greatest works. 

Proving her songwriting prowess to be such an early standout, here’s Mitchell delivering an angelic rendition of The Circle Game two years before the album was even recorded, live on CBS Studios’ The Way It Is in 1968. Enjoy below! 

Joni Mitchell’ | ‘Both Sides Now’ and ‘The Circle Game’ [The Way It Is, 1968] 

Two years later, in 1970, Mitchell described the lyrical origin of The Circle Game during her show at London’s Royal Albert Hall explaining: “In 1965 I was up in Canada, and there was a friend of mine up there who had just left a rock’n’roll band (…) he had just newly turned 21, and that meant he was no longer allowed into his favourite haunt, which was kind of a teeny-bopper club and once you’re over 21 you couldn’t get back in there anymore.”

Mitchell added: “So he was really feeling terrible because his girlfriends and everybody that he wanted to hang out with, his band could still go there, you know, but it’s one of the things that drove him to become a folk singer was that he couldn’t play in this club anymore. ‘Cause he was over the hill. So he wrote this song that was called ‘Oh to live on sugar mountain’ which was a lament for his lost 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.”

That “friend” was Neil Young.

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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