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Can We Talk About How Awesome This Is?   Print

by James Sandham
Canadian Music Hall of Fame
February 2012

Blue by Joni Mitchell

Well hello there, music lover. Good to see you back on the blog. Or if you're just joining us, then welcome. Why don't you make yourself at home? Get comfortable, stay for a while, and put some music on while you're at it.

It seems you've caught me in a mellow mood today. It's grey out there, music lover. February's dirty dishwater sky is hanging low across the city and a cold wind's whispering outside my house. It's on days like today I find it best to stay inside, drink tea, wear slippers and go back through old vinyl. That's what I've been doing, and I just let the needle drop on this: Blue by Joni Mitchell. Can we talk about how awesome it is?

Ah, Joni Mitchell. She reminds me of my first apartment and the girl I lived with there, now my wife. But it's not just nostalgia that makes Mitchell's work so resonant - there's something else, something about her voice and the way it just climbs from the speakers, fragile but elegant, like snowbells climbing from the soil, a soft harbinger of bucolic times to come.... Or maybe I've just got spring on the brain - it's entirely possible on a grey day like this one. But in any case, I'd be hard-pressed not to argue that Joni Mitchell was made for mellow days like today, and that Blue, her fourth album, seems like it was made for this mood in particular.

It's been more than 40 years since Blue was released, way back in 1971, a whole decade before Mitchell herself would be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. But she was already very well established as a musician then, and Blue was an instant commercial and critical hit, reaching No. 15 on the Billboard 200 and No. 3 on the UK Albums Chart. The New York Times would later choose it as one of the 25 albums representing "turning points and pinnacles in 20th-century popular music." High praise indeed. But totally warranted.

Mitchell wrote Blue after a tough breakup with then-boyfriend Graham Nash, a British singer-songwriter best known for his work with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. She had taken a break from live performance at this time and was travelling around Europe after the breakup - in a bit of a mellow mood herself, by the sounds of it, because it was there that she composed much of the material that would eventually form Blue. Consequently, a lot of the album's content centres on relationships, from the infatuation of "A Case of You" to the melancholy withdrawal and self-doubt of "River," in which she sings of her desire for "a river I could skate away on." There's an emotional immediacy to these songs that is undeniable, a fact Mitchell herself acknowledged, remarking that "at that period of my life, I had no personal defences... the advantage of it in the music was that there were no defences there either." As listeners, we're all the richer for it.

The success of Blue would start Mitchell touring again and performing her music live. It was still only the beginning of a career that's spanned decades, in which there were still many great albums to come. But Blue stands out among them - especially on vinyl, hissing and crackling on the turntable. And especially on grey days like today.

 

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