Song of the Day #4,623: ‘Chinese Cafe / Unchained Melody’ – Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell waited three years between studio albums, the longest gap in her career to that point, before diving into a new decade with 1982’s Wild Things Run Fast.

Typically unpredictable, and citing the influence of such bands as The Police, Steely Dan and Talking Heads, Mitchell set aside the jazz experimentation of her past few records and fully embraced an 80s pop sound.

What is it about the 80s that caused so many beloved 70s artists to stumble? David Bowie is a classic example, along with The Rolling Stones, Genesis, Jefferson Airplane, Yes, and Elton John, to name just a few. While emerging New Wave and alternative acts found critical and commercial success, established artists tried to shift gears with often embarrassing results.

Wild Things Run Fast isn’t a bad record, but it feels inauthentic coming from Joni Mitchell. Hearing her lyrics sung against a backdrop of 80s synths, electric guitars and processed drums is jarring. She even throws in a duet with Lionel Richie.

Mitchell is also in a different space as a writer. Having recently married bassist Larry Klein, she is downright lovesick and giddy on some tracks, which is great for her but not so great for her lyrics.

I prefer Wild Things Run Fast to Mitchell’s previous two albums, but it would benefit from dropping a couple of its weaker tracks and taking the pedal off the 80s production.

I do love the album’s opening song, though. ‘Chinese Cafe’ is a sweetly nostalgic tune that beautifully incorporates the Righteous Brothers’ ‘Unchained Melody.’

[Verse 1]
Caught in the middle
Carol, we’re middle class
We’re middle aged
We were wild in the old days
Birth of rock n’ roll days
Now your kids are coming up straight
My child’s a stranger, I bore her
But I could not raise her
Nothing lasts for long
Nothing lasts for long
Nothing lasts for long

Down at the Chinese Café
We’d be dreaming on our dimes
We’d be playing, “Oh my love, my darling”
One more time

[Verse 2]
Uranium money
Is booming in the old home town now
It’s putting up sleek concrete
Tearing the old landmarks down now
Paving over brave little parks
Ripping off Indian land again
How long, how long
Short-sighted business man
Ah nothing lasts for long
Nothing lasts for long
Nothing lasts for long

Down at the Chinese Café
We’d be dreaming on our dimes
We’d be playing, “You give your love so sweetly”
One more time

[Verse 3]
Christmas is sparkling
Out on Carol’s lawn
This girl of my childhood games
With kids nearly grown and gone
Grown so fast
Like the turn of a page
We look like our mothers did now
When we were those kids’ age
Nothing lasts for long
Nothing lasts for long
Nothing lasts for long

Down at the Chinese Café
We’d be dreaming on our dimes
We’d be playing, “Oh my love, my darling
I’ve hungered for your touch
A long lonely time
And time goes by so slowly
And time can do so much
Are you still mine?
I need your love
I need your love
God speed your love to me”

(Time goes – where does the time go
I wonder where the time goes)

2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,623: ‘Chinese Cafe / Unchained Melody’ – Joni Mitchell

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    Let’s not start dissing the classic 70s’ artists’ 80s output! Of those you mentioned, David Bowie released the commercially and critically well received album Let’s Dance and partnered with Queen on the wonderful “Under Pressure.” The Rolling Stones similarly scored with fans and critics with Tattoo You. Genesis’ Abacab had some weak links, but also some classics. Yes’ 90125 was great and while Elton John certainly had some misses, Two Low For Zero was well-received. (Note of the artists you named, I will not defend Jefferson Starship😊) Then, of course, you have other 60s and 70s artists releasing some of their greatest material in the 80s, including Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, John Lennon, Steve Winwood, Bonnie Raitt and Bruce Springsteen to name a few.

    So, in short, back off the 80s!

    As for Mitchell though, I’ll take your word for it that her foray into the 80s was a stumble. Today’s song is fine, but it ain’t no “Chelsea Morning.”😁

  2. willedare says:

    Thanks for opening my ears to this song, which I did not know…

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