I didn’t know what to expect when I embarked on this monthlong exploration of Joni Mitchell’s discography.
I knew no more than a handful of her songs very well and had zero knowledge of the ebbs and flows of her 40+ year career. I understood that she is an iconic singer-songwriter who inspired a generation of artists, but I didn’t know exactly how or why.
After dozens of hours listening to every one of Mitchell’s studio albums, I now have a pretty well-formed picture of her wild path. But I still don’t know exactly what to make of it. It is certainly a far more unpredictable and uneven journey than I imagined.
When I wrote yesterday that Ladies of the Canyon was my favorite Joni Mitchell album so far, I didn’t realize she released Blue just a year later. So that was a short-lived stint at the top of that particular list.
Blue, released in 1971, is widely considered not just Mitchell’s best album but one of the best albums of all time. Rolling Stone recently placed it at #3 on their list of the 500 greatest albums. It redefined the singer-songwriter genre, inspiring countless artists to this day.
It’s time for the latest installment of my Decades series, wherein I highlight the albums of a specific year in the 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s. I last wrapped up the ‘zeroes’ by hitting 1970, 1980, 1990 and (earlier this year) 2000. Before that I did the ‘twos,’ starting with my birth year — 1972 — and jumping ahead from there.
Now I turn to the ‘ones’ and kick things off with 1971. As usual, I will count down my own favorite albums from that year before spending a week on widely acclaimed albums of the year with which I am unfamiliar.
Today’s random track appears on Joni Mitchell’s 1971 album Blue, her fourth, widely considered one of the greatest singer-songwriter records ever made.
I don’t know Blue well enough to offer my own opinion. I have long had a problem with Joni Mitchell as a vocalist that has kept me at a distance from her work. My loss, I know, because this is clearly next-level songwriting.
Car Wheels on a Gravel Road was a tough act to follow and Williams responded by going a whole new direction on her next release, Essence, released a relatively short (by her standards) two years later.
Essence eschewed the country rock and blues style of her earlier albums in exchange for a jazzier sound while the very specific lyrical content of previous songs was replaced by more abstract mood pieces. This is the album that suddenly made Lucinda Williams impossible to pin down in a single genre.