Release date: January 1, 2005
We came up with the idea for Artist’s Choice because we always wanted to know what our favorite artists were listening to. Norah Jones talked about the sound of the snare drum on her favorite Ray Charles song. Keith Richards told us about the most powerful blues he ever heard, and Willie Nelson said you have to hear Django Reinhardt if you want to hear the guitar the way it’s supposed to be played.
We talked to Joni Mitchell about her favorite artists and songs. Here is what she had to say.
“By the end of the 20th century, it seemed to me that the muse had gone out of music and all that was left was the ‘ic’. Nothing sounded genuine or original. Truth and beauty were passé. Shock was the reigning value and schlock was rating raves in Rolling Stone. I heard one record (company) boss on the radio announcing matter-of-factly, ‘We are no longer looking for talent. We’re looking for a “look” and a willingness to cooperate!’ Another executive told me, as a prelude to rejecting my (then) last album, ‘We’re selling cars now. We’ve got fast cars and cute cars...’ I got the picture. I quit the business”. -Joni Mitchell
1. “Clare de Lune” from Suite Bergamasque by Claude Debussy
“When I was a child record players were a kind of novelty item - like player pianos - not everyone had one. We had one, a blonde double-doored console that housed a radio and a turntable and a small space for records. Papa had two trumpet records - Leroy Anderson and Harry James. Mama had four nocturnes - Chopin, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’. To this day, I love the trumpet and sad, moonlit melodies.”
2. “Subtle Lament” performed by Duke Ellington & His Orchestra
”I love this arrangement - the way the colors change - but it’s the sound of the band - the warmth of it - the heart - the humor - the spiritual synchronization - that makes this music so inimitable. This is less a band and more a being. They play together like one instrument - one soul. Listen to Duke as he comes tickling in - the notes wink at you - like the Harlem Globetrotters- delightful! - serious clowning.”
3. “Solitude” performed by Billie Holiday
“I love Billie Holiday- all phases of her. No one I know could express hurt and loss with such a good-hearted tone - not a trace of self-pity or melodrama in it. This was her great gift, and with it, she could make all those beautiful melodic ‘doormat’ sound (written by men for women to sing) sound wise. Billie’s voice here is pristine, and again I am delighted by the horn arrangement.”
4. “It Never Entered My Mind” performed by Miles Davis
“Miles was contemptuous of singers. He said, ‘They’ve got words - I’ve got to do it without the words.’ On this track Miles sings. He captures and transmits - without words - all we need to know about the situation- in the universal language of tone.
5. “Jeep's Blues” performed by Duke Ellington & His Orchestra
“While I was in Toronto, I frequented a bistro near the hotel where I was staying. I went there regularly, not only for the fine food but also for the music they played. They played female standards singers - Ella, Billie, Carmen McRae, Sassy, Julie London, Blossom Dearie - interspersed with Edith Piaf. I was about to do an album of standards and had not completed the set list, so it was great for research. I usually went there (in the) midafternoon when business was slow to stalled and I sat out on the patio where I could smoke and listen. I struck up a dialogue with a waiter there and before I left town he presented me with a hard-to-find Duke Ellington live recording, Hot Summer Dance, and on it was this cut, “Jeep’s Blues”. Johnny Hodges kills on this track. So snakey!”
6. “Harlem In Havana” performed by Joni Mitchell
“The highlight of the summer, when I was growing up in Saskatoon (Saskatchewan), Canada, was the week the fair came to town. At the end of the mile long midway, there were two adult, Vegas-style shows - Club Lido and Harlem In Havana. Parents seemed to be scared by Harlem In Havana. Don’t let me catch you there! Every kid I knew got that instruction. Every hour or so (if you wanted to), you could hear the barker shouting through the roar of the crowds and rides, ‘Step right up folks - it’s Harlem In Havana time!’ When I heard this, I’d go running - to see the band file out - horns in hand - and seat themselves behind the blue and silver music stands. They’d begin to play this brassy, stripper groove - so slow and humid. Then, out came the girls - black girls - some chewing gum - and they’d begin to move - slowly - flipping their capes open and closed to the beat - like they had done a million times - a tired, bored tease. I stuck my song in here beside “Jeep’s Blues”, just for fun - just to check something out. I didn’t intend to, but I left it here - between Johnny Hodges and Louis Jordan - because somehow it fits. In reviewing this song, I found two influences that I unconsciously assimilated - Marvin Gaye and the whisper singers of Burundi.”
7. “Saturday Night Fish Fry” performed by Louis Jordan
“Our neighbor woman, Mrs. Cantelon, had a son. He had already left home and was a DJ in Edmonton just as I was coming into my teens. One day his station cleared out a lot of old 78s - (so-called) ‘race records’. Mrs. Cantelon gave some to me. The best one was “Saturday Night Fish Fry.” The song took up two sides - you had to flip it over in the middle. I think the version I am presenting here came after the one I had back then. On mine (if memory serves me), Louis sang, “the joint was jumping.” This one says, “We were rockin’”, so maybe it’s a later version, but otherwise it is as I remember it -without the flip-over part.
My ‘Fish Fry’ record went through a peculiar metamorphosis. One day, my mother put it in the oven and baked it! When it had melted enough to be malleable, she took it out and crimped and fluted it up - and lo and behold - it was a flowerpot - drain hole and all. It hardened into its new shape - she painted it gold and stuck a plant in it!”
8. “Johnny B. Goode” performed by Chuck Berry
“When rock ‘n’ roll hit I went crazy for dancing. The weekend dances were too far apart for all who caught the fever, but weekdays, in the summer, you could always find kids hopping around to ‘Tutti Frutti’ or ‘Johnny B. Goode’ on the patio by the jukebox at the Avenue H swimming pool. For those people who never heard a (so-called) ‘race record,’ rock ‘n’ roll seemed to come out of nowhere.”
9. “Third World Man” performed by Steely Dan
“I never understood why “Gaucho” didn’t receive the critical acclaim of “Aja”. I’m convinced that if “Gaucho” had come first and then “Aja”, the same thing would have happened in reverse. To maintain this high standard of musicality and storytelling through two projects is most praiseworthy - but there is something ignorant and arbitrary in rock journalism - editorial policy maybe - like ‘We were kind last time, let’s kill ‘em this time!” Or maybe it was like second-date syndrome, where unrealistic expectations eclipse a plenty good reality. Of all the great songs on these two albums, the first to come to mind was ‘Third World Man’.”
10. “Night Bird” and
11. “The First Twilight”, both performed by Deep Forest
“A friend played me this album. I could not get enough of these two tracks - the sophistication of the setting and the genuineness of the Pygmy musicians - truth and beauty.”
12. “Trois Cloches” performed by Edith Piaf
“When I was seven or eight years old, I went to Helen La Franeer’s birthday party. Helen lived on our street but out past where the pavement ended and the gravel began. They were very poor and there seemed to be no father around. Helen’s mother made a table for the party out of an old door resting on two saw horses and she covered it with pink crêpe paper. I got seated where the doorknob used to be - I know because my elbow found the hole and ripped the paper. Out in the kitchen the radio was set to the French station - people chattering away in French. Then I heard an extraordinary sound. A men’s choir began to sing, and up from the bottom of it bubbled a voice like I had never heard before - a woman’s voice. Captivated by the sound of it, I was drawn up from the table and out to the kitchen to listen closer. When the song ended I asked Helen’s mother, ‘Who was that?’ She was tiny and sickly looking. She fidgeted with the bottom of her cardigan and she said, so shyly, ‘That was the Little Sparrow.’”
13. “At Last” performed by Etta James
“I first heard this song on a tampon commercial and then again in a Jaguar ad. Funny way to find a masterpiece.”
14. “Lonely Avenue” performed by Ray Charles
“Ray Charles played my hometown when I was 13. I bought a tube of rhinestone studs from Woolworth’s and stuck ‘em down the seams of my jeans for the occasion and off we went to hear Ray play. This was my first live music concert and to my amazement and frustration, we just had to sit there - no standing up - no dancing in the aisles! Rock ‘n’ roll had quickly turned into a spectator sport. ‘What’d I Say?’ was Ray’s hit then but this one - a slow dance - was the thriller for me. The emotion was so genuine - unusually so.”
15. “Trouble Man” performed by Marvin Gaye
“I had this song on an album and I kept the needle on this track - playing it over and over. It was so influential to my music and my singing. It excites me from the downbeat - the way the drums roll in - the suspense - the approaching storm of it.”
16. “Sweetheart Like You” performed by Bob Dylan
“It was another Dylan song, ‘Positively 4th St.’ that had the most influence on me. I remember thinking as I heard it for the first time, ‘I guess we can write about anything now - any feeling.’ As I reviewed it for this collection, though, I found it a little too grumpy for my current state of mind and so I chose this one, more in keeping with the spirit of this collection - for its Damon Runyon style of storytelling.”
17. “The Stories of the Street” performed by Leonard Cohen
“Leonard - the boudoir poet - the hungry ghost - the perennial penitent. Young girls take him seriously. I did. He seemed so worldly to me as a young woman. He gets funny as you get older. I guess I can call him Lenny now.”
18. “You Get What You Give” performed by New Radicals
”At the time this song became popular, I no longer played my instruments and I had no desire to sing or to listen to music. I listened to public radio and changed the station if they played music. But music is everywhere - in stores, even in traffic with the window down - and so I managed to hear this song. It was the first thing I had heard in decades that seemed to be inspired by something greater than personal ambition. It was sassy and smart and had real emotions. It rose from the swamp of ‘McMusic’ like a flower of hope.”
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