Note: This is the March 12, 1967 interview broadcast as a portion of the WMMR retrospective on January 29, 1974. (Transcribed by Lindsay Moon)
ED Sciaky: Want to do some of the requested songs?
JONI MITCHELL: Let's see. What have we got here? "Night in the City," "Circle Game" -- oh, "From Both Sides, Now." I'm really glad somebody requested that, because that's a very new song, and I've been driving everybody crazy by playing it --
ES: Which one? Which one?
JM: -- twice and three times a night. It's called "From Both Sides, Now."
ES: I haven't heard that one.
JM: I'll play that one first. It -- I should tell people a little bit about it. I was reading a book, and I haven't finished it yet, called "Henderson the Rain King." And there's a line in it that I especially got hung up on that was about when he was flying to Africa and searching for something, he said that in an age when people could look up and down at clouds, they shouldn't be afraid to die. And so I got this idea 'from both sides now.' There are a lot of sides to everything, and so the song is called "From Both Sides, Now."
(Joni performs "Both Sides, Now.")
ES: It's nice. That's a new one.
JM: Very new.
ES: How new is it?
JM: Well, three days.
ES: Well, Philadelphia, you heard it first on -- no, we won't do any of this schtick. I notice you're using that glottal thing that you use --
JM: On "Night in the City."
ES: Yeah. That's a great way to make a song your own. Like nobody else can do it quite that way, right? I don't know how anybody -- well, they'd have to change the melody somewhat, I would imagine.
JM: Well, Lionda could do it because you have sort of two registers, like you can sort of feel two different voices in your throat, can't you?
JM: That's all you have to do. It's a split range.
ES: Have you heard "Night in the City"?
LIONDA: Yeah, I saw it in (inaudible) but I haven't heard it.
ES: Well, you'll have to hear what Joni does with the vocal part. There's a --
JM: It's just two different singing --
LIONDA: Like a falsetto?
JM: Yeah, it is a falsetto thing.
ES: It's not an octave difference, though. What is the difference in key, do you know, from one to the other?
JM: I really don't know. It really isn't as much as it sounds. It's just that one has more husk and the other one is much more clear. And so when you go from husk to clear, it sounds -- it sounds -- like a tenor and a soprano.
ES: From husk to clear sound. From husk to clear.
JM: The huskiness disguises it. Like I can sing the same note two different ways and it's really the same note, but it sounds much lower with all the husks in it.
ES: So it's really more of a quality thing --
ES: -- than it is tonal.
JM: Yeah. It's very deceptive.
ES: A woman called earlier this evening and said she heard a singer do "Circle Game" and where can she get ahold of this song?
JM: Oh, well all my songs are available --
ES: She didn't hear you sing it nor did she hear Ian & Sylvia, and I want to ask you about their recording of it, because it didn't flip me when I heard their recording of it, what they did with it, you know.
JM: You didn't like what they did?
ES: No. As a matter of fact I played it -- I got the album -- usually I have a chance to program the albums, and I listen to them at home before I put them on the air. I got the album about an hour before I went on the air, and we just played without listening to it, and I was really disappointed.
JM: It's a very difficult song, you know. You want to combine something that it has with a rock rhythm, and sort of double the mileage on it. It's a very tempting thing to do. And I made the mistake once of orchestrating it and getting a blues band called the Seigel-Schwall Blues Band who are also fine classical musicians to do an arrangement that it had sort of a rhythmic thing. And I tried to do a rock version of it and I lost everything. It's strictly a ballad. But it's very tempting, because it does have a certain thing, like people who do the song from amateurs to professionals find that it has a funny thing that happens, like in their repertoire, that does --
ES: Like an undercurrent? You mean in the song?
JM: Well, it's a very requested song no matter -- I've heard it done well and I've heard it done badly. And it seems to be a good song in their repertoire. And so you're tempted to say well, people seem to like it, it's sort of catchy. If you put a rock beat to it, it would really, really be a hit, but it doesn't work.
ES: Did Ian & Sylvia -- didn't they speed up the tempo somewhat?
JM: They did. I think originally --
ES: Did you hear that, Ed? Where you try to sing, you know, thinking you got to keep in mind the way you perform the song.
JM: Yeah. They do it much faster --
ES: On "The Circle Game" --
JM: They tried to get it under three minutes --
ES: -- they do speed it up.
JM: I think at one time they toyed with the idea of it being a single; otherwise, I don't see why they would have tried to push it under the three-minute mark.
ES: They didn't edit any verses then?
JM: Nope, just choruses.
ES: They took out some choruses?
ES: Do you have to make a conscious effort to keep your songs from sounding alike, or do you? Or do you just sort of let them -- do you know what I mean?
JM: Um --
ES: Do you find yourself getting into certain patterns and chord changes that --
JM: I do. I find that my songs within a tuning, like I play mostly in tunings. The only song I don't play in a tuning is "Urge for Going," and I find that unless there's a rhythmic change that, like certain songs back to back are different to me that are probably quite similar to the audience even though they're different in subject matter or something because of the tuning, because of the constant modal changes that I'm using and because of the drone strings that I'm using.
They have a similar -- the only way that I can avoid that in a set and it would be no difficulty at all on an album is to -- like to do maybe two songs in one tuning and then two songs in another tuning and then two songs in another tuning, which means that I'm tuning up and tuning down all the way through my set. It's only lately that I'm beginning to get enough variety within one tuning that I can play the whole set in a tuning. I have certain songs that I use as alternate, you know, because they're very similar and I wouldn't dare put them side by side or they would be lost.
ES: It seems the more you write, the more prolific you are.
JM: I think my songs, some of them, are recognizable.
ES: As a Joni Mitchell-type song? Is there a song -- do you think there is a Tom Paxton-type song? Do you recognize one, do you think?
JM: I think he has a writing style -- I think all of us have a certain amount of style --
ES: Which they want to retain -- I asked this question of Paxton, I said --
JM: Even Beatles songs like if you were to take away the orchestration which makes them different and the arranging which makes them different and play them all back to back, there's very much a sameness. They use funny modal changes and things too, and isolating them onto one instrument, I think you would find a lot of similarity between -- you know, it's Martin that takes them and says, "Okay, this one's going to be fire released (inaudible) and it's going to have sitars and groovy things like that, and the next one's going to have French horns and that sort of thing.
ES: What's that guy's name?
JM: George Martin.
LIONDA: How long have you been writing?
JM: Oh, let's see. About two years altogether, but I did write before I started songwriting. I was very active in an extracurricular writers' club in high school.
ES: Creative --
JM: It was a creative writing club where we all got together and were critics of each other's works and we just ripped it apart (laughs.) I used to write in prose. I never wrote within a rhyme scheme, blank verse and things, just rhythmic things. So it was different. But in the beginning, you know, when you first start writing there's great gaps from the time you write your first song 'til your second song, and gradually they start getting closer and closer together. It's a whole thing -- I know I wrote my first song was half a year before I wrote another one or even thought about writing another one.
ES: How do you put your songs down? On tape recorders or do you notate music?
JM: No, I don't do that.
ES: You just remember?
JM: I remember them. And then when I have them all worked out and the lines all worked out and the words all satisfactory, then I take them to somebody who -- I either take a tape or I take myself and we sit down and run through it and he puts it all down. And the only trouble is the fellow who used to do my lead sheets got most of them wrong (laughs), and I think "Night in the City" is in the last magazine --
ES: The Broadside?
JM: -- The Broadside.
ES: New York Broadside?
JM: The Boston Broadside. And it's, I believe, in 4/4 time rather than in waltz time which is going to be difficult for people that are trying to learn it from that. And he'd messed up the chords in "Urge for Going" so that I tried to play it and they didn't work somehow. So I'm having them all done over again, and they're all going to be accurate.