Song of the Day #4,611: ‘Conversation’ – Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell’s evolution was quick and remarkable, as she dropped an album a year from 1968 through 1972, each building on the strengths of the last. Her third album, 1970’s Ladies of the Canyon, was quite a leap.

Following the acoustic guitar showcases of her first two releases, Ladies of the Canyon saw Mitchell switch to piano on many of its tracks, with excellent results. She also introduced strings, woodwinds and horns to the mix, and included instrumental stretches that broke up the verse-chorus pattern of her earlier work.

The second half of Ladies of the Canyon features three of Mitchell’s biggest hits, each showcasing a very different aspect of her songwriting. The almost avant garde ‘Woodstock’ gives way to the playful pop of ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ before wrapping with the earnest folksiness of ‘The Circle Game.’

But the hits are the least of this album’s pleasures. Every song here is richly realized. Opener ‘Morning Morgantown’ is a sweet celebration of small town life, ‘For Free’ explores the emptiness of stardom, the title track introduces a trio of Mitchell’s Laurel Canyon friends, ‘Blue Boy’ paints a devastating portrait of a woman in a loveless relationship.

This was the first Mitchell album so far that grabbed me upon my first listen. I haven’t heard Ladies of the Canyon touted as one of her best releases, but so far it’s at the top of my (admittedly short) list.

Today’s SOTD, ‘Conversation,’ is another great example of the album’s storytelling, depicting the classic scenario of being in love with a friend who’s dating somebody rotten. Taylor Swift would mine this territory 40 years later in ‘You Belong With Me.’

[Verse 1]
He comes for conversation
I comfort him sometimes
Comfort and consultation
He knows that’s what he’ll find
I bring him apples and cheeses
He brings me songs to play
He sees me when he pleases
I see him in cafes
And I only say, “Hello”
And turn away before his lady knows
How much I want to see him
She removes him, like a ring
To wash her hands
She only brings him out to show her friends
I want to free him

[Verse 2]
Secrets and sharing soda
That’s how our time began
Love is a story told to a friend
It’s second hand
But I’ll listen to his questions
I’ll give my answers when they’re found
He says she keeps him guessing
But I know she keeps him down
She speaks in sorry sentences
Miraculous repentances
I don’t believe her
Tomorrow he will come to me
And he’ll speak his sorrows endlessly and he’ll ask me why
Why can’t I leave her?

He comes for conversation
I comfort him sometimes
Comfort and consultation
He knows that’s what he’ll find
He knows that’s what… he’ll find

5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,611: ‘Conversation’ – Joni Mitchell

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    I am not familiar with this album beyond the three hits and, of those, I am not a big fan of “The Circle Game,” but love the other two.

    Clearly, based on your review, it sounds like the rest of the album is worth checking out.

    • Clay says:

      I love that I’ve gone years labelled as anti-Joni Mitchell and Dana comes out of the gate throwing shade at ‘Both Sides Now’ and ‘The Circle Game.’ 🙂

      I have to agree, though, about ‘The Circle Game’ … a bit too saccharine for my taste.

  2. Amy says:

    This is one of the albums I have wanted to explore in depth, and this song and your review confirms that it’s long past time I do that. Unlike Dana, I’m a sucker for “Circle Game,” which I remember most vividly from an episode of thirtysomething a couple of decades ago.

  3. Andrea Katz says:

    I’m a few days late to this party. Did you already review Blue? This album is delightful but does not have the depth and weight of Blue. I think there are songs there which would really appeal to the melancholy side of you.

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