Complete Geffen Recordings

Release date:  September 23, 2003

Album Notes

by Joni Mitchell
It was Christmas. I was signing prints for Geffen's "A" list, when I was informed by an alarmed friend that my first two albums had been cut out. I called up the company president and I said, "You mean I'm sitting here, getting writer's cramp, giving you these lithos for nothing and you've dropped "Wild Things" and "Dog Eat Dog?" I was demoralized.

I made four albums for Geffen. For one reason or another, they were viewed as being out of sync with the '80s. But I was out of sync with the '80s. Thank God! To be in sync with these times, in my opinion, was to be degenerating both morally and artistically. Materialism became a virtue; greed was "hip." You heard the word "victim" bandied about, but never the word "victimizer." I seemed like everyone was dressed in black everywhere. What were we mourning?

When Geffen Records sold to MCA, they announced with pride, on the radio, all of great and near great artists transferred in the deal. I was not mentioned. In '98, when the conglomerate possessing my masters merged with another conglomerate, PolyGram, again the roster was highlighted in the media and again I was not mentioned. When this "multiglomerate" announced its intentions to sell itself to France, I called the CEO and requested that he return my masters to me. "They're like an old pair of slippers at the back of your closet. They're just gathering dust. You don't even know they're there." He agreed that he didn't. "I know this is audacious," I said, "But you're not making any money off them so, give 'em to me!" He passed me down to the president. For the last three years, I have been meeting with Universal representatives trying to get these records back on the street.

So, here, sprung from the dungeons of Geffen Records after doing twelve years for failing to be wildly popular, are these four parolees. Much thanks to Mike Ragogna and Andy McKaie and Bruce Resnikoff and Jimmy Iovine- friends on the inside. Special thanks to David Geffen for the file in the cake.


"Chinese Café / Unchained Melody"
When I was in my teens, rock 'n' roll was only on the radio from 4 o'clock to 5 o'clock- after school- and two hours on Saturdays. If you didn't have a record player and you just HAD to hear those sounds, you went where there was a jukebox.

I hung around two cafés that had jukeboxes. The AM Café was close to my house, and the CM Café was on the other side of town and I was forbidden to go there. They were owned by two Chinese guys- Artie Mack and Charlie Mack. You could loiter in the booths and you could smoke there. That's where I listened to Lieber & Stolier and King & Goffin and Zaret & North, although at the time, I paid no attention to the writers of songs. Most of my dimes went for ballads but I also loved the comic songs- "Charlie Brown," "Poison Ivy", "Little Eqypt" and "Love Potion #9."

"Wild Things Run Fast"
I usually write my words after I have the music completed and structured. That's generally how I do it and the reason why is because it keeps me away from iambic pentameter. It gives me the challenge of new rhyme schemes. The music then dictates where the rhymes fall and where the ideas climax.

In this particular situation, as in "Tax Free" which was Klein's music, I used short phrases. I'm normally a paragraph speaker, a soliloquy speaker. So, for the exercise of "see spot run" or "the cat ran fast"... well even that's a long sentence... I wrote this for the discipline of saying something in short, fragmented sentences, which is basically what pop writing always was. It was more of an excercise to see if I could do it, to say something in a minimalist way. I failed.

"Ladies Man"
I invited Don Henley to come and sing with me on this one. After he left, when I was playing it back, I was amazed at how similar our voices sounded. It took a while to even notice that a new singer had been introduced. So I went across the hall to where Lionel Richie was recording and I conscripted him. There was the contrast I wanted, so I replaced Don with Lionel. The old cutting room floor routine.

"Moon At The Window"
The text for this one took its point of departure from an old memory. My daughter's father left me three months pregnant in an attic room with no money and winter coming on and only a fireplace for heat. The spindles of the banister were gap-toothed- fuel for last winter's occupants. He left behind a doodle of a pregnant woman seated at a window, looking at a crescent moon and on it he wrote, "The thief left it behind, the moon at the window." The song, other than this Zen saying, has nothing to do with that incident.

"Solid Love"
I was beginning to rethink partnering- rethinking what allows love to endure rather than being merely a sexual attraction. The intensity of that plays out in the first year in most relationships.

"Be Cool"
"Be Cool" is like a pep talk to myself. It's tongue-in-cheek. While you generally want to be cool, it's a corset.

"(You're So Square) Baby, I Don't Care"
This was my courtship song for Klein. Friendly kidding. Just for fun.

"You Dream Flat Tires"
Suddenly love comes to a screeching halt. A blow out. Why?

"Man To Man"
I'm a serial monogamist.

"Underneath The Streetlight"
I had an apartment in New York. My living room windows looked down on Little Italy- when it was still Little Italy, before it became gentrified Soho. It was near the Holland Tunnel. Great traffic jam chords- impertinent, impatient- like Mingus sometimes, all that brass, ya know- cacophony.

I sat at my window expecting a song would go by underneath the streetlight. These are some things I saw.

"Love (Corinthians II:13)"
This is an adaptation of Corinthians II:13, which is a really fine bit of writing on what love is and isn't. I removed some archaic images- like "tho I give my body to be burned"- things and customs not pertaining to this culture.

"Two Grey Rooms"
unfinished demo version


"Good Friends"
This song went through several rewrites. In the first draft, I wrote a line that went, "Sometimes change comes at you like a broadside accident, you get minor cuts and bruises, that's all, you can hammer out the dents." Then I rewrote it: "Sometimes change comes at you like a broadside accident, there is chaos to the order, random things you can't prevent."

One night after mixing this song, Klein and I were driving home to Malibu. We had just gotten off of the Santa Monica freeway and onto the PCH- which, in the summer, is the most dangerous road in California. It's full of drunk teenagers, coming back from the beach. That night a drunk kid ran into us. He was passed out at the wheel. He nailed us head on and totaled our car. My hard head went through the windshield. We were taken to the hospital where Klein took 16 stitches in his tongue and six hours later, we were sent home in a taxi.

We were approaching the site of our accident. Broken glass was strewn about- glinting in the morning light. I said to the cab driver, "Oh look, there's our glaaaa...s." Just as I was saying that, the car next to us swerved out of control and we had to dodge to miss it. So within six hours, we nearly bit it again on the same spot, as if something hovered there- laying in wait.

We made a video of this song with some animators who lived in Portland. We went up there to meet with them and we were sitting in a Vietnamese restaurant deciding what the accident should look like on film. We conceived of the car rolling on its side with the trunk and the doors flapping. At 11 o'clock, we left the restaurant. The driver pulled out without looking. There was a screech of brakes. I looked out the back window and saw a car coming at us sideways. He skidded. When he straightened out, he was so pissed-off that he chased us for 25 minutes through the alleys of Portland. My hands were in the prayer position in the back window pleading for him to calm down, calm down. We're sorry. We're sorry. It was an accident!

In the following month, every time I drove, "change came at me" threatening an accident. Time after time my car was nicked or grazed or rammed. Finally I stopped driving altogether. Then we went to England and the pattern broke.

Maybe some people are ready now for "Fiction" and "The Reoccurring Dream." After September 11, when the cry went out for us to do our patriotic duty and get out and shop, at least some people noticed that we'd been turned into a nation of consumers.

"The Three Great Stimulants"
The three great stimulants of a morally decaying culture, as Nietzsche observed in Germany prior to World War II, are artifice, brutality, and innocence, or should I say, the exploitation and corruption of innocence. Artifice increases as a culture declines. Real emotion becomes rare. Insights are nowhere. The voyeuristic appetite for brutality dominates entertainments- blood sports, sick fascination with criminal violence, "Shock and Awe" and all that.

"Tax Free"
I saw a pink and black billboard on Sunset Boulevard that read "Rock and Roll is The Devil" - signed Reverend Falwell and "The Moral Majority." I thought, "Soon they'll be passing out armbands for us to wear. We're being scapegoated!" I took to watching television evangelists, keeping an eye on them. And when the record came out, it appeared that some of the churches had been keeping an eye on me. Pat Robertson challenged me to a debate on The 700 Club. The Church Of England called me a doubtraiser. The ministers of the Crystal Cathedral and Episcopalian churches wrote letters of congratulations.
In the years that followed, Jimmy Swaggart, whose sermon is presented here, was caught in a sexual scandal, and Time Magazine, having dismissed this song as either sophomoric or adolescent thinking (I can't remember which), made Swaggart's fall front page news. Twenty year later, as rock 'n' roll continues to push the envelope, becoming more and more pornographic, I find myself reflecting again on that pink and black billboard.

"Smokin' (Empty, Try Another)"
Out in the A&M parking lot was a cigarette machine and it wasn't well maintained. I went out there for a pack of smokes. I pressed my brand but the chamber was empty. The machine went "jinko-gwang-a-doo-hoo!" There was one little gear that made the little, high, squeaky "hoo!" OK, my brand was out, so I hit my second favorite brand... "jinko-gwang-a-doo-hoo!" I hit my third favorite... I hit every brand, even the menthol. Every time I pressed a button, a little square lit up and read, "Empty Try Another."

So I went to Henry (Lewy, the recording engineer) and we got a microphone with an extension cord. We ran the cord down the hall, into the parking lot and shoved it up the machine. I dropped in the coins again, 'cause that sounded good too. Then I played the machine for about five minutes... "jinko-gwang-a-doo-hoo!" At the end, you can hear me taking the coins out. People think this was sampled but it was played. "What do you play, man?" "I play guitar, piano and cigarette machine."

"Dog Eat Dog"
As the first few lines imply, this was my political awakening. I was robbed by my bank, by the government of California, by everyone around me who could- all at once. I was a kid with unguarded marbles.

During the Reagan era, greed became fashionable. We had come through the optimism of the '60s, then the apathy of the '70s and finally, the accelerated consumerism of the '80s- the hippie, yippie, yuppie.

"Shiny Toys"

This was my reaction to all those "We Can Save You" songs which raised so much money for corrupt Ethiopian leadership. I was begged to take this off the record. A friend of mine said, "I hate it. All those parallel 2nds, they're wrong!"
Even Wayne Shorter said, "What are these chords? They're not piano chords, they're not guitar chords. What are they?"
I said, "Well look, these women are bone thin, their babies are dying in their arms. They're walking along with nothing but the rags on their backs. They're coming to a crossroads; one road leads to slavery; the other leads to death by the side of the trail...It's not like they have any good place to go. You think they're gonna be walking along to an Everly Brothers triad?"

"Impossible Dreamer"
This is a tribute to Martin Luther King, John Lennon, and Robert Kennedy- to all those who gave us hope and were killed for it.

"Lucky Girl"
"Lucky Girl" was a celebration of my relationship with Klein. Years after we split up, he was dating this girl and he said, "Joan-Joan, she wants to be worshiped." So I said, "Well, worship her for a while and watch her turn on you!" The man/woman thing is SUCH a turkey dance.

"Good Friends"
unfinished demo version


"My Secret Place"
Albert Magnoli approached me to write a song for a scene in a movie he was making, "American Anthem." In the scene, a young couple in a red Jeep is racing up a mountain road against a backdrop of golden Aspen trees. The director requested the song be upbeat and nestled on a bed of Syndrums and he sang me a hideous Syndrum fill. I told him, "That's not the way I see the music in this scene and I couldn't possibly give you a drum fill like that. Should I do it anyway?" He laughed and said, "Yes, and while you're at it, take a stab at the title song. Write me an American Anthem." So I wrote a ballad, "My Secret Place," for the driving scene and "Number One" for the anthem.

We were in England at the time. Klein had just finished playing on Peter Gabriel's "So" album. The album was completed and his studio was standing empty. Peter offered it to me, as a courtesy, to make my demos. He agreed to sing on "My Secret Place."

I didn't approach the duet in the usual way. I wanted it to be like the Song of Solomon where gender seems to switch arbitrarily. I had learned from singing with Don Henley that seemingly different voices give little to no contrast in certain registers and I used this observation here.

Both songs were rejected. Of "Number One," the director said, "I asked for an anthem. I don't want the truth!"

"Number One"

I have a friend who is a Macatek Indian. His name is Federico. He owned a shop down the street from where we were recording in Santa Monica. I went in to see him one afternoon before going to work on this song and he told me there was an Indian artifact show at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, opening at 5 o'clock that afternoon. He said, "There's gonna be some great stuff there like hummingbird baskets." Hummingbird and eagle feathers are illegal now, like elephant ivory, and would have to be sold under the counter. Federico said I should go early and meet him there because he knew the merchants and they would show me those rare, old things. So, at 4 o'clock, I told Shipley and Klein, "I want to leave for an hour," and Klein said, "Joan-Joan, we need you here!" In all my recording career, this is the only time I can recall that I was in the studio and wanted to be someplace else. I told them I would only be gone for an hour. Again, they protested. Just then the machines went down and I said, "Okay! Down time!" and borrowed ten dollars and a watch and promised to be back in an hour. I left.

Inside the Santa Monica Civic, this woman came up to me, stuck a 16mm camera in my face and asked, "What are you here for?" I looked into the lens and said, "I'm here to look at the artifacts and I can't stay very long."

She asked, still filming, "Do you know Iron Eyes Cody?"

I said, "No."

"Would you like to meet him?"

"Okay," I say. Up comes Iron Eyes Cody, wearing a grey braided wig (he'd gone bald), tied like a bonnet under his chin. He had on gobs of turquoise. I say to him, "Do you know any Indian songs?" And he says, "Well, yes; I know a few."

And I say, "Would you sing me one?"

Now we're standing in the aisle of this Indian show; he tilts back his head and goes,

and I'm delighted. Now I say to him, "What are you doing right now?"

And he says, We'll I'm going to dinner with some people at 9 o'clock."

I say, "I'm recording nearby. It's a song about the Lakota and the Black Hills. Would you come and sing on it?"

And he says, "You want me to overdub?"

So I come back to the studio. I'm 20 minutes late. I come back with four Indians and a film crew. The machine is still down, but Klein and Shipley give me the stink-eye anyway, like I broke my promise. They finally fix the machine and we play back "Lakota" for Iron Eyes. He listens with his eyes closed and when it's over, he says, "Oh, it's got the haunting! I think you're turning Indian! You want me to overdub?"

So Iron Eyes overdubs his beautiful song. He has just finished when we hear this clap of thunder. He and I rush to the back door and, standing on the back steps, we see coming down the telephone wire- a golden ball of lightening- riding on the lines and it's coming straight at the building. I run into the studio and yell, "Get the tapes off the heads!" That electrical storm was only in Santa Monica- nowhere else in LA. I'd never seen ball lightening before. I haven't seen it since.

"The Tea Leaf Prophecy"

"Dancin' Clown" Dylan heard "Dancin' Clown" and liked it. "How'd you write that song?" he asked. I told him, "I wrote it off a (horse) racing sheet- from the O.T.B. (Off Track Betting office.) "I had that idea," he said. "I thought it was a dumb idea."

"Cool Water"
I always love the Sons of the Pioneers- classic cowboy music- Roy Rogers' band. I updated this song because water is another issue that people aren't paying enough attention to- like the radioactive waste that is rapidly leeching towards the Colorado River.

"The Beat Of Black Wings"
During the late '60s, I used to play at Fort Bragg for boys who were coming from and going to Vietnam. On night, I came off stage in a long velvet dress with flowers in my hair and bare feet. I opened the door to my dressing room and inside was a little guy with his fists clenched and his teeth grit- shaking- and his face was red with anger.

With a southern drawl he said, "You got a lotta nerve, sister, standing up there singin' about love because there AIN'T no love. An' I'm gonna tell ya where love went!" Then he burst into tears and told me about his experiences in 'Nam and having to pick up pieces of what he referred to as his "brother," who was his best friend. He said, "I went over there to kill a commie for God." He said, "Give Charlie a safety pin and he'll blow up a platoon." He said, "They're in the right. We shouldn't even be there."

"Snakes and Ladders"

"The Reoccurring Dream"

"A Bird That Whistles"
This is an old folk song, slightly adapted from Dylan's version regenderized so I could sing it.

Klein and I just jammed it up for the fun. We only took up three tracks so there were lots left over for Wayne and birds. That's what I heard in my mind for this one- Wayne Shorter with birds.

We had a tree in our backyard at the beach that was always full of birds. Birds of a feather aren't supposed to flock together but our tree defied this natural law. It was a regular bird Babylon. We ran a cord out into the yard and recorded "bird babble" and we had it in our files. When Wayne came into the session, the only instruction I gave him was, "You're the bird." He's the only musician that I ever played with that could take metaphorical instruction. Wayne plays pictures. I wish more people could see/hear them and delight in them the way I do. He is indispensable to my music.


"Night Ride Home"
There was a television show in England, an offshoot of Sesame Street designed to introduce a wide variety of music to children. It was called "The Ghost of Faffner Hall". Faffner Hall was an old house and the ghost was an old woman who'd obviously died. She had left her house to her nephew, who was an Oil Can Harry type character, complete with a thin, waxed mustache and a villainous and mercenary nature. As the new owner, he was intent on tearing down the house for personal profit.

In this house lived an assortment of characters- the mad impresario, a ruddy-faced, blond puppet who loved a wide variety of music- from Beethoven to the musical saw. In the basement lived a couple of punk-rocker puppets and then, of course, you had the ghost who haunted the house. The show was a set-up to feature a variety of guests ranging from Dizzy Gillespie to opera singers, to me!

They created an episode where the mad impresario gets a letter from an old sweetheart- Joni Mitchell- who is coming to visit him. The letter finds him as he is searching for the world's greatest sound. So he's banging on everything- listening to wooden sounds and metal sounds and glass sounds, with rapture. The scene between the impresario and me takes place in a pink Cadillac by moonlight.

Prior to taping the show, we recorded "Night Ride Home" and we did it quickly, without the unnecessary pressure of mixing and remixing. Thank God we had that mix because one night, our second engineer accidentally put the machine into "record" when she was setting up the tones. It was the first track on the master and it got wiped out! It was the only track we had a mix on, so we got lucky.

"Passion Play (When All The Slaves Are Free)"
I always liked the Rabbi Jesus' spunk and his rebellious spirit. My father told me, "Your Jesus is awfully human." He also said my way of telling the story of Moses and the Burning Bush would be, to some people, blasphemous!

This song is basically my telling of the Easter story but it morphs into contemporary ecological and sociological disasters. It is about crisis in the heart and healing of the heart. The "I" perspective that I am singing from is that of Zachius, the tax collector. He was short. He was jumping up and down in the back row of a large crowd that gathered to witness the arrival of Jesus into the town of Jerusalem. He had climbed into a sycamore tree to get a better look.

"Cherokee Louise"

"The Windfall (Everything For Nothing)"
In 1974, I bought an old Spanish house that sat on the market for a few years and I got it for a fraction of its worth. I moved into it from an apartment in Burbank. I moved in like the Beverly Hillbillies, with everything I owned in a pickup truck. The big house swallowed-up my few pieces of furniture like a whale eating anchovies. I had to hire somebody to help keep the dust and spiders down. Most of the people who came for the position were horrified because it was so Spartan. One applicant, a professional houseboy, asked, "Where is your silver?" It was clearly beneath him to keep a house so poorly appointed. Finally, there came a Guatemalan who spoke no English. She was smiley and kind of cute, she wore white patent-leather go-go boots and a red miniskirt. Over the years, she learned to speak English and I finally moved her and her husband and their infant daughter into my house and for a few years, all was well. But she began to climb...

"Slouching Towards Bethlehem"

"Come In From The Cold"

"Nothing Can Be Done"

"The Only Joy In Town"
I was traveling with Gloria Boyce, my manager's secretary. We were in Rome. We were climbing the Spanish steps. Our hotel was at the top. It was a hot day.

There were a lot of black vendors selling watches and trinkets on blankets and they all looked bummed. Everybody looked bummed! I was used to Italy being full of life, but it was pouty and sullen and lethargic.

So, we were climbing the steps. We were nearly to the top when we heard a voice call out. "Ladies! Ladies!" with an American accent. We turned to see this gorgeous, black kid. It was the first day of Spring and there were these big pots of fuchsias, and he'd taken blossoms from them and stuck them in his afro. His black hair was polka-dotted with hot pink like those garlands, those halos of flowers that Botticelli paints on heads.

He extended his arm like a Shakespearean actor and said, "Ladies! Ladies! I am the original flower child and you ladies are the oxygen that my flowers breathe!" Then he gave this sweeping bow. We curtsied back. It was just delightful. And as we reached the top of the stairs, I said to Gloria in the voice of Bob Dylan, "The Botticelli black boy with the fuchsias in his hair is breathing in women like oxygen on the Spanish stairs."

"Ray's Dad's Cadillac"

"Two Grey Rooms"
Michael Landau, Vinnie Colaiuta, Klein, and I were recording one night. I can't recall what we were cutting, but when we were done, the boys still had an itch to play. They said, "Do you have anything else?" and I said, "Well, I got this piano tune but it doesn't have any words." I was just kind of noodling around with it.

There was a locked-out Michel Columbier session at A&M Studios where we were recording. There was a piano there. So I asked Henry Lewy, "Can we go in and use that piano? H said, "Well, it' got a big tape on it that says, Do Not Touch." I told him, "Well, I have a very light touch and I'm not going to put it out of tune. He won't even know that we've been there."

So, "Two Grey Rooms" was done in one take, out of courtesy to Michel. It was kind of like "one more for the road". A musical nightcap. If you were to solo up the guitar and drums and bass, you'd find that there are moments of ragged and tentative playing, but when you put it all together, you can't tell. Everybody was hanging by their fingertips, including me, because the composition was just jelling.

When we played it back, we were all quite excited about it. Then th boys started joking around. They're about 13 years younger than me and their humor was what I would call "bad, potty-training humor". Like scatological- spewing from every orifice humor. I couldn't get in on it. Even if I did, I think I would have embarrassed them, so I got this really "left out" feeling. I felt sad and in my melancholy, I said to Henry, "Let me try a melody on this thing." I went into the booth and lifted my voice and the melody was born in that manner. It had French diphthongs- vowels that don't show up much in English and I got very attached to the French sound of it.

Some time went by and Henry played the track for Jeremy Lubbock who fell in love with it and said, "I've GOT to put strings on it! Tell her she can edit them or take them off, but I'll do it at my own expense." I kept most of Jeremy's strings.

It took me seven years to find words for it. I kept thinking, "This thing wants to be written in French," and I had to find the right story for the mood of it. It's a very dramatic melody, full of longing. So, I finally found a story in some magazine about a German aristocrat, a homosexual and friend of Fassbinder, who had a lover in his youth that he never got over. He lost track of him for many years. One day, he discovered that his old flame was working on the docks. He moved out of his fancy digs and into a couple of dingy rooms that overlooked the route where, with his hard hat and his lunch pail, his ex-lover walked to work. He lived to glimpse him twice a day, coming and going. He never approached him.

"It's All Over Now Baby Blue"
I always liked this Dylan song. I changed a couple of lines to reflect my heritage since I haver Laplander blood. So, I added, "reindeer navigators" to make it feel like mine. I felt I could take this liberty since Bob had written a "Big Yellow Tractor" verse into my "Big Yellow Taxi"!

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