Song of the Day #4,610: ‘Both Sides, Now’ – Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell’s sophomore album, Clouds, came out in 1969, a year after her well-received debut. Mitchell took over the production reins, as she would on every subsequent album she released.

Clouds features two of Mitchell’s best-loved songs — ‘Chelsea Morning’ and ‘Both Sides, Now’ — recorded by her for the first time after charting for other artists (Judy Collins’s version of the latter song reached the top ten of both the Pop and Easy Listening charts, though Mitchell was reportedly not a fan of the recording).

Clouds feels more substantial than Song to a Seagull, both lyrically and musically. It found Mitchell experimenting with the alternate guitar tunings I’ve read so much about without understanding what that means even a little bit.

I had a similar experience listening to both albums, in that my first time through I was a little bit bored by the sameness of the sound. But several listens revealed the complex and rewarding melodies of these songs.

In addition to the hits, I’m very fond of ‘I Don’t Know Where I Stand,’ ‘That Song About the Midway’ and ‘The Gallery’ (written about Leonard Cohen).

But the true treasure on this album is closing track ‘Both Sides, Now.’ This song has deservedly become a standard, recorded by dozens of artists, including Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond, Dolly Parton, even Leonard Nimoy. And every version sounds goddamn beautiful.

It was also featured in one of the greatest ever season ending scenes, in Mad Men‘s sixth year.

The simple but profound message and achingly sweet melody of this song are undeniable.

Rows and floes of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way

But now it’s just another show
You leave ’em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know
Don’t give yourself away

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way

But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,610: ‘Both Sides, Now’ – Joni Mitchell

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    I must confess that I have never been a big fan of “Both Sides, Now,” mostly because I had heard the Judy Collins version a lot as a kid and, like Joni, I don’t like that version. In more recent years, though, I have heard Joni’s version far more frequently and have come to appreciate it more.

    Of course, “Chelsea Morning” has always been a favorite.

  2. Amy says:

    This song is simple and profound, my favorite combination. She re-recorded it on one of her final albums, her voice very different than when she first recorded, and it took on even more power coming from an artist singing near the end of her career. Meanwhile, how confident and rare for any performer, let alone a woman, take over the producer role in 1969! I’ve always loved that she released this song the year I was born.

  3. Peg says:

    This is a lovely song. I guess I remember it mostly by Judy Collins. I loved Sinatra’s version (no surprise) too. You make me want to revisit Mad Men again ❤️

  4. Maddie says:

    Listening through this album now, just came back to say I think “Gallery” is stunning!!

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