Song of the Day #4,617: ‘The Hissing of Summer Lawns’ – Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell continued her musical evolution with the release of The Hissing of Summer Lawns in 1975, just a year after Court and Spark. This album furthered her push into jazz-inflected pop and world rhythms, miles away from the simplicity of ‘Both Sides Now.’

On the brash, aggressive ‘The Jungle Line,’ Mitchell is credited with the first-ever sample, using a recording of African drummers as the bed for her impressionistic lyrics. That percussive track stands apart from the rest of the album, which has a smooth R&B quality. Some of these songs would feel at home on a Steely Dan album.

These aren’t songs you find yourself humming, but the album is a great listen. Sonically, it’s way ahead of its time, and Mitchell backs off from the vocal tics that bother me so on Court and Spark.

I was taken aback by the album’s treatment of race. References to “cannibals of shuck and jive” and “Negro affectations” coupled with the album art of jet-black “natives” carrying a snake feel uncomfortable coming from a 32-year-old white woman.

A little research revealed that Mitchell has had a complicated relationship with these issues, including blackface and use of the n-word, along with a desire to celebrate and explore Black musical genres. I’ll touch on those explorations as I get to future albums.

Eight years and seven albums into her career, it’s remarkable how much ground Mitchell had covered. I think I’ve already heard her most celebrated work and I’m not even halfway through her catalog. I can’t wait to hear the directions she took next.

He bought her a diamond for her throat
He put her in a ranch house on a hill
She could see the valley barbecues
From her window sill
See the blue pools in the squinting sun
Hear the hissing of summer lawns

He put up a barbed wire fence
To keep out the unknown
And on every metal thorn
Just a little blood of his own
She patrols that fence of his
To a latin drum
And the hissing of summer lawns
Darkness
Wonder makes it easy
Darkness
With a joyful mask
Darkness
Tube’s gone, darkness, darkness, darkness
No color no contrast

A diamond dog
Carrying a cup and a cane
Looking through a double glass
Looking at too much pride and too much shame
There’s a black fly buzzing
There’s a heat wave burning in her master’s voice
Hissing summer lawns

He gave her his darkness to regret
And good reason to quit him
He gave her a roomful of Chippendale
That nobody sits in
Still she stays with a love of some kind
It’s the lady’s choice
The hissing of summer lawns

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,617: ‘The Hissing of Summer Lawns’ – Joni Mitchell

  1. Amy says:

    I had no idea about this album or this controversial aspect of her career. You would think writers would have explored the comparison when Graceland came out. Maybe they did, and it just wasn’t as easy then to read all the various takes on a release as it is today. The first ever sample? That’s pretty damn cool.

  2. Dana Gallup says:

    I’m not sure I know a single song or album from Mitchell
    after Court and Spark. From what you describe, and listening to this SOTD, I think I would enjoy this album.

  3. Different, but lovely.

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