Musicheads Essential Artists: Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell
For her bold and passionate approach to music, Joni Mitchell is a Musicheads Essential Artist (Courtesy of the artist / MPR graphic)

Each day during Minnesota Public Radio's Spring Member Drive, The Current will highlight a different artist who has made a significant contribution to the music world and a lasting impression on the music we listen to today. We call them Musicheads Essential Artists.

Joni Mitchell has described herself as "a painter who writes songs" and "a woman of heart and mind." Those quotes get to the essence of her artistic expression: imagistic, evocative, passionate, thoughtful. Joni's early career arc brought her from her native Canada to Michigan to New York; the folky songs she wrote along the way — "Urge For Going," "The Circle Game," "Both Sides Now," "Chelsea Morning" — were recorded by other artists and established Joni's bona fides as a major talent before she released her debut album in 1968. She captivated listeners with her intimate reflections on the vagaries of love, most notably on Blue (1971), which she called "the first really confessional kind of writing. It was like, nothing left to lose, let's spit it out." The stark settings of her early records blossomed into the lush pop of Court and Spark and the more adventurous jazzy settings of her late '70s and '80s work, which incorporated topical lyrics with the romantic ruminations. Her most recent record, Shine (2007), was inspired by the Iraq war. Joni's life has been a bold and passionate journey. In the liner notes to the four-disc retrospective, Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, A Ballet, Waiting To Be Danced (2014), she wrote, "Try to follow the flow of ideas or perspectives contained in the writing. Try to see 'the pictures in your head.' " Simply put: it's an Essential experience. – Lou Papineau, Minnesota Public Radio member

Fun fact: Prince has cited Joni's The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975) as one of his favorite discs. In an interview in New York magazine, Joni recalled an early encounter with the young artist: "Of all the musicians and rappers who have cited you as an influence, whose work do you appreciate most? Prince. Prince attended one of my concerts in Minnesota. I remember seeing him sitting in the front row when he was very young. He must have been about 15. He was in an aisle seat and he had unusually big eyes. He watched the whole show with his collar up, looking side to side. You couldn't miss him — he was a little Prince-ling. [Laughs.] Prince used to write me fan mail with all of the U's and hearts that way that he writes. And the office took it as mail from the lunatic fringe and just tossed it! [Laughs.]"

Essential albums: Blue, For the Roses, Court and Spark, Hejira

Essential tracks: "A Case of You," "Help Me," "Coyote"

The Current's Mac Wilson on Joni Mitchell:

Musicheads Essential Artists


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