Song of the Day #4,620: ‘God Must Be a Boogie Man’ – Joni Mitchell

I might have spoken too soon yesterday. I’ve finally arrived at a Joni Mitchell album that even her die-hard fans have a hard time defending.

1979’s Mingus, Mitchell’s 10th studio album, is the culmination of her jazz phase. A collaboration with jazz great Charles Mingus released just after his death, the album features two songs written by Mitchell and four with lyrics by Mitchell and music by Mingus. The other five “rap” tracks include snippets of studio banter.

As on Mitchell’s other jazz releases, these songs mostly lack choruses or distinctive melodies. How intriguing that a songwriter so skilled at both chose to eschew them over so many releases. Fans of her early songs must have wondered during this five-year span if she would ever write a pop tune again.

The answer was yes. Three years later (her longest wait between albums), Mitchell would change labels and ring in the 80s with an album of, you know, songs. We’ll get to that one next week.

He is three
One’s in the middle unmoved
To show what he sees
To the other two
To the one attacking so afraid
And the one that keeps trying to love and trust
And getting himself betrayed
In the plan oh
The divine plan
God must be a boogie man!

One’s so sweet
So overly loving and gentle
He lets people in
To his innermost sacred temple
Blind faith to care
Blind rage to kill
Why’d he let them talk him down
To cheap work and cheap thrills
In the plan oh
The insulting plan
God must be a boogie man!

Which would it be
Mingus one or two or three
Which one do you think he’d want the world to see
Well world opinion’s not a lot of help
When a man’s only trying to find out
How to feel about himself
In the plan oh
The cock-eyed plan
God must be a boogie man!

6 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,620: ‘God Must Be a Boogie Man’ – Joni Mitchell

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    I actually kinda dig this jazzy beat poetry style, though a little bit goes a long way. I find the insertion of the catchy title line accompanied by those 40’s style commercial jingoistic background vocals rather amusing. Not sure if that was inspired by a TV ad running in the 70’s but it sounds like it…try substituting “Swanson feeds the hungry man.”

    Anyway, these departures are interesting and remind me of roads other great artists have traveled such as Elvis Costello and Fiona Apple. I am glad to hear though that she maneuvered back to more accessible songs in the 80’s. Will be curious to know if I recognize any of them.

    • Clay says:

      I should note that I picked this song to feature because it’s my favorite on the album, and I kind of dig it too. I find myself singing the title refrain occasionally out of the blue.

      The rest of the album is nowhere near as interesting or catchy.

  2. Amy says:

    Was she proud of these experiments? Or, like a performance artist today, was the experimentation… and the reaction her fans would have to it… the point? I wonder if her label pushed back at all?
    While I applaud an artist for continuing to expand her creative boundaries, not sure every step of that process needs to be preserved and shared with the world.

    • Clay says:

      I think she was very proud. She actually is a bit dismissive of some of her earlier work (like ‘Chelsea Morning’) in favor of this stuff.

      • Amy says:

        Just read her compare the songs from that era to Blake’s “Songs of Innocence,” which she apparently never read or understood to make such a comparison as a way to dismiss her own work.

  3. andrea katz says:

    I’m a huge fan of Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan’s early work. They lost me after awhile like those wild cacophonies professors play and tell you that in 50 years this will be pop music.
    Dana asked me to expand on my “oy” of the other day and I said that was short for chaotic abortion. Passing this along as it seemed to amuse. 🙂

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