Song of the Day #4,626: ‘Night Ride Home’ – Joni Mitchell

In 1991, Joni Mitchell closed out a four-album run with Geffen Records that included her three somewhat cringeworthy 80s releases. The fourth record, though, was a notable improvement.

In fact, 14 albums in, I’m currently ranking Night Ride Home among Mitchell’s top five. This is a beautiful, rich album steeped in nostalgia. And it finds Mitchell back in her comfort zone of piano and acoustic guitar, as the glitzy 80s production gives way to a much more palatable 90s sheen.

Listening to Night Ride Home, I was reminded that I know this album quite well. A high school friend of mine put one of its tracks on a mix tape shortly after it came out and I was impressed enough to buy the album. I spent quite a lot of time with it back then, though I hadn’t revisited it in ages.

Even so, every one of these ten tracks was familiar. And, apart from some unnecessary repetition on several tracks, this is Mitchell’s strongest batch of songs since the early 70s.

Particularly good are ‘Cherokee Louise,’ a poignant track about a childhood friend who was a victim of sexual abuse, ‘Passion Play (When All the Slave are Free),’ ‘The Windfall (Everything For Nothing),’ and ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem,’ which sets Mitchell’s interpretation of the Yeats poem to a haunting musical backdrop.

Continuing her pattern of leading off with her best track, the album’s opener and title cut is a beauty. Mitchell describes a summer drive she took on the streets of Hawaii, painting a vivid picture that puts you right there in the car.

Once in a while
In a big blue moon
There comes a night like this
Like some surrealist
Invented this 4th of July
Night Ride Home

Hula girls
and caterpillar tractors in the sand
The ukulele man
The fireworks
This 4th of July
Night Ride Home

I love the man beside me
We love the open road
No phones till Friday
Far from the overkill
Far from the overload

Back at the bar
The band tears down
But out here in the headlight beams
The silver powerlines
Gleam
On this 4th of July
Night Ride Home

Round the curve
And a big dark horse
Red taillights on his hide
Is keeping right alongside
Rev for stride
4th of July
Night Ride Home

I love the man beside me
We love the open road
No phones till Friday
Far from the undertow
Far from the overload

Once in awhile
In a big blue moon
There comes a night like this
Like some surrealist
Invented this 4th of July
Night Ride Home

4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,626: ‘Night Ride Home’ – Joni Mitchell

  1. Amy says:

    I, too, have a familiarity with this album… title and cover, at the very least. Not sure why. Maybe this song symbolizes her journey back to her musical “home” – glad she had a grand time at July 4th celebration, but I’m pleased to see that the freedom it provided her to make all those albums better left in the rear view mirror is now enabling her to return to a sound much more suited to her talents.

  2. Dana Gallup says:

    So odd that you forgot that you had owned and liked a Joni Mitchell album. Had you remembered even 20 years ago, there may have been far less Mitchell bashing.

    Anyway, I am not familiar with this song or album, but am glad she returned to some semblance of her former self.

  3. Peg says:

    This is just lovely. Since I am reading Joan Didion’s new book of essays from her past writings, I need to listen to her Slouching Towards Bethlehem song’s interpretation. It’s one of Didion’s most famous works.

  4. willedare says:

    Thank you for giving me a taste of mid-late career Joni Mitchell, about which I am woefully ignorant. I love the cricket sample she included throughout this track.

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