I have to admit, I feel a little bit guilty about this one. Joni Mitchell is a legend by any definition who has inspired countless artists over the years, including many I hold near and dear. She is a gifted poet and a peerless songwriter, nothing less than an American treasure.
But I just can’t stand listening to her. Both her voice and her manner of singing are off-putting to the point of annoyance.
I want to get past that, because lord knows I’ve scoffed at that argument for disliking Bob Dylan over the years. It seems like such a silly reason to avoid such a talent. But we’re talking about music here… you have to listen to it. And if the actual listening isn’t any fun, it kind of defeats the purpose.
The male analogy to Joni Mitchell for me isn’t Bob Dylan. I mean, I like Bob Dylan’s voice, even though I understand why many don’t. No, the male Joni Mitchell is Neil Young. He’s another legendary talent whose voice works on me like nails on a chalkboard. I would have chosen to highlight him today but I didn’t want to subject myself to that.
Mitchell sometimes breaks through and performs a song in a way that reaches me. The first Joni Mitchell album I owned was 1991’s Night Ride Home, and that one had a few songs I really liked. Later I heard Court and Spark and Blue and could appreciate the artistry enough to get past the vocals, at least on occasion.
But give me Cyndi Lauper singing ‘Carey’ any day over the whine of its composer (and thanks to Amy for featuring Lauper’s version on this blog).
Here’s a song from Court and Spark that’s both an example of Mitchell’s great songwriting and a perfect showcase of why I hate her singing.
Everybody’s in it for their own gain, you can’t please ’em all
There’s always somebody calling you down
I do my best and I do good business
There’s a lot of people asking for my time
They’re tryin’ to get ahead
They’re tryin’ to be a good friend of mine
I was a free man in Paris
I felt unfettered and alive
There was nobody callin’ me up for favors
And no ones future to decide
You know I’d go back there tomorrow
But for the work I’ve taken on
Stokin’ the star maker machinery behind the popular song
I deal in dreamers and telephone screamers
Lately I wonder what I do it for, if I had my way
I’d just walk through those doors, and wander
Down the Champs Elysees
Going cafe to cabaret, thinking how I’d feel when I find
That very good friend of mine