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.
Continuing my exploration of Joni Mitchell’s career, I’ve arrived at her sixth album, 1974’s classic Court and Spark. This remains Mitchell’s most popular album. It reached #1 in her native Canada and #2 in the United States.
This is also the first album where Mitchell utilizes the vocal tic that long turned me off of her music. On several of these tracks, she slides her voice in a way that reminds me of Dory’s whalespeak in Finding Nemo and totally loses me.
A year after the stunning accomplishment of Blue, Joni Mitchell kept up the pace and released her fifth album in five years, 1972’s For the Roses.
This record marks a shift from the confident confessional pop music of Blue. It’s a much more leisurely and laid back album that at times feels like one long song with many movements, rather than a collection of individual tracks. The album shifts between piano and acoustic guitar, but in service of the same blissful vibe.
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.
Joni Mitchell’s evolution was quick and remarkable, as she dropped an album a year from 1968 through 1972, each building on the strengths of the last. Her third album, 1970’s Ladies of the Canyon, was quite a leap.
Following the acoustic guitar showcases of her first two releases, Ladies of the Canyon saw Mitchell switch to piano on many of its tracks, with excellent results. She also introduced strings, woodwinds and horns to the mix, and included instrumental stretches that broke up the verse-chorus pattern of her earlier work.