Song of the Day #4,585: ‘Chelsea Morning’ – Joni Mitchell

Of the three lists of favorite songs posted last week, one pick appeared on all of them. That was Elton John’s ‘Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters,’ which Amy, Dana and Madison all singled out. The track is one of my very favorite Elton John songs — up there with ‘Tiny Dancer,’ ‘Rocket Man’ and ‘Your Song.’

I’ve posted ‘Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters’ before, 12 years ago, so I’m setting it aside today in favor of a track that showed up on two of the three lists.

Amy and Madison both chose Joni Mitchell’s ‘Chelsea Morning,’ the popular track from her 1969 sophomore album, Clouds. ‘Chelsea Morning’ had been recorded by several others, including Judy Collins and Dave Van Ronk, before Mitchell released it herself.

The song describes the scene in and around Mitchell’s apartment in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood, including the “rainbow on the wall” caused by light filtering through a mobile she and her friends had crafted from pieces of stained glass. ‘Chelsea Morning’ was the inspiration for Chelsea Clinton’s name, after Bill and Hillary heard Judy Collins’ version.

While this is one of Mitchell’s songs most beloved by fans, the artist herself isn’t as impressed. “I think it’s a very sweet song, but I don’t think of it as part of my best work,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “To me, most of those early songs seem like the work of an ingenue.”

Funny how little an artist’s opinion matters when it comes to the work her fans adore. I’m always amused when I read a songwriter or filmmaker dismissing something they created that I love. It’s a powerful demonstration of how art can have a life of its own apart from its creator.

On another note, I think it’s time I set aside my longtime resistance to Mitchell’s work and gave her catalog the Meet Me in Montauk showcase it deserves. I hereby resolve, on the 22nd day of the still-new year, to do a Joni Mitchell deep dive in 2021.

[Verse 1]
Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning
And the first thing that I heard
Was a song outside my window
And the traffic wrote the words
It came ringing up like Christmas bells
And rapping up like pipes and drums

[Chorus]
Oh, won’t you stay
We’ll put on the day
And we’ll wear it till the night comes

[Verse 2]
Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning
And the first thing that I saw
Was the sun through yellow curtains
And a rainbow on the wall
Blue, red, green and gold to welcome you
Crimson crystal beads to beckon

[Chorus]
Oh, won’t you stay
We’ll put on the day
There’s a sun show every second

[Bridge]
Now the curtain opens
On a portrait of today
And the streets are paved with passersby
And pigeons fly
And papers lie
Waiting to blow away

[Verse 3]
Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning
And the first thing that I knew
There was milk and toast and honey
And a bowl of oranges, too
And the sun poured in like butterscotch
And stuck to all my senses

[Chorus]
Oh, won’t you stay
We’ll put on the day
And we’ll talk in present tenses

[Outro]
When the curtain closes
And the rainbow runs away
I will bring you incense owls by night
By candlelight
By jewel-light
If only you will stay
Pretty baby, won’t you
Wake up, it’s a Chelsea morning

4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,585: ‘Chelsea Morning’ – Joni Mitchell

  1. Maddie says:

    Ooh looking forward to this deep dive! I’ve always loved this song, it’s a consistent family car ride favorite and it puts me in a great headspace (also achieved with the song “These Are Days.”

    But I need to discover more Mitchell myself, so your blog will be a great way to do that. 🙂

  2. Dana Gallup says:

    Wow, this might be the biggest seismic musical shift since you reversed yourself on the Eagles!

    I considered putting Mitchell on my list, which certainly would have bolstered my diversity and representation, but, as Amy pointed out while reviewing my draft lists, a song like “Chelsea Morning” and Mitchell’s songs generally are really not “me” as much as other songs/ artists like Joe Jackson, Don Henley, etc. In some instances, particularly where I had placed a song already on her list, she convinced me to go in a different direction. Sometimes I agreed, as I did with Mitchell, but sometimes I didn’t, with “Mona Lisas…” being one example where I rejected the idea that this was really “her” song.

  3. Peg says:

    I too am looking forward to the “deep dive” on Joni Mitchell as I was more a Judy Collins fan. Not sure if it was my age or that I just wasn’t exposed to her work. Funny how artists are introduced to one many years later like Nina Simone for example.

  4. Amy says:

    The imagery in this song destroys me in the best way… and it contains one if my all-time favorite lines – “We’ll talk in present tenses.” As Amanda Gorman brilliantly demonstrated this past week, sometimes an ingenue is exactly what is needed to capture a mood and a moment.

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