Library of Articles

  • Library: Articles

Why do so many escape Mitchell's web? Print-ready version

by Peter Lyle
The Guardian Unlimited
September 12, 2007

On Saturday morning, on Radio 4's Saturday Live, Trevor Horn picked Joni Mitchell's People's Parties as the song he'd pass down to his children "just to show them how good pop music can be." The veteran producer explained that he'd considered citing Bob Dylan as an example of lyrical excellence, and Debussy as a master of melody, but then realised Joni Mitchell did both at once. Court and Spark, the 1974 album from which People's Parties came, Horn claimed "will stand up in 200 years time, in my opinion."

Prince probably agrees. While London celebrates his gigathon, we shouldn't forget that before he was famous he used to sit in the front row of Joni Mitchell's shows, and write her fan letters full of hearts and 4s and Us. Not to mention paying tribute to her magnificent Help Me in his also-amazing The Ballad of Dorothy Parker. Last week's Led Zep reunion talk was a reminder that, even at their most debauched and dungeons and dragonsy, the band adored Mitchell's music above all else. Their Going to California is a song based on the premise that everything would be brilliant if she'd only be their girlfriend.

Kate Bush ("[Mitchell] stands alone"), Beck, Q-Tip, Chaka Khan, Herbie Hancock... the list of acclaimed popsters who've acclaimed her above all others is astonishing. Yet she doesn't get her props from rock fans. Maybe it's because her best records were long ago, when her voice simply soared. Maybe it's because she's always doggedly insisted on being "experimental", on finding ways to undercut and outsmart rock's standard bombast.

But here's the thing: her best lyrics piss on Dylan's, Drakes, Cohen's, and those of any other singer you could name - a fact thrown into relief by the fact that many of her sharpest dismantle the self-mythologizing and childishness of men in general and (see Blonde in the Bleachers) rock'n'roll men in particular. She doesn't do Stones-style rabble-rousing; she does laser insight and piano-wire nuance. She does proper poetry. When she covered Mitchell's The Boho Dance for a compilation released earlier this year, Björk wrote, "we are living in a rock white male world and because of this Joni is being ignored while someone like Bob Dylan for instance has become a saint." It sounds trite but it's true. Ever heard a better lyric than those of Cactus Tree, The Circle Game, Blue, or Joni's dozen other finest? Put 'em up. Because I - and, more importantly, a good proportion of the true pop pioneers of the past few decades - certainly haven't.

This article has been viewed 225 times since being added on September 20, 2007.

Copyright protected material on this website is used in accordance with 'Fair Use', for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of the copyright owner(s). Please read Notice and Procedure for Making Claims of Copyright Infringement.

Comments on Why do so many escape Mitchell's web?

Comment using your Facebook profile, or by registering at this site.

You must be registered and log in to add a permanently indexed comment.

Facebook comments