Reader Bob knew I couldn’t resist looking at this post from
SingersRoom, as it has two things that attract me: rankings and Joni Mitchell. If you read here, you’ll know that I think Joni is the best woman singer/instrumentalist/songwriter of our era, and, if you rule out Dylan because he can’t play or sing all that well, then all that’s left is the Beatles, which is a group, not an individual. Ergo you might leave “woman” out of the description above.
Click to read the SingersRoom ranking.
First, the site’s list, with links to either a live or recorded performance.
It’s not a very well written piece, but you don’t have to be a good writer to recognize good music. Unfortunately, while I agree with some of these choices, others, while good (Joni never wrote a bad song), are bested, in my view, by Coyne’s Choices given below. You do realize, of course, that both the above selection and my own choices are more or less subjective.
First, my own take on the ranking above:
1. Woodstock (1970) It’s a good song but not a great one, lacking the “lived experience” that makes Mitchell’s other songs so good. And it’s a crime to put this song at the top.
2. Carey (1971) Now
this is a good song, recounting Mitchell’s life living in the caves of Matala, in Southern Crete (I visited them in 1972 just to see where she stayed). And it’s about a real person, Cary Raditz. The song is lovely, bouncy, and about real life. 3. Raised on Robbery (1974). It’s a good song but not a great one, about a prostitute trying to pick up a man. I’m not overly fond of the music, though, as always, it’s head over heels above what most other songwriters can produce.
4. You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio (1972) A cute song about Mitchell being a song herself as well as in a relationship. It just doesn’t move me,
5. River (1971) A great melancholy song about loneliness after the end of a relationship. The mingling of “Jingle Bells” with the tune is sheer genius. Her vocals are superb, blending well with the piano.
6. Both Sides, Now (1969 and 2000) I’ve heard this song so often it’s hard for me to put it in a ranking. It’s such a standard, made famous by Judy Collins, that I’m going to put it to one side. It surely ranks near the top.
7. A Case of You (1971). One of my favorites, with great, clever lyrics and best played on the dulcimer, as in the link above.
8. Free Man in Paris (1974). I didn’t used to like this song much, but it’s grown on me. For one thing, it’s an accurate portrayal of music producer David Geffen, but set to wonderful and highly original music. I like the jazz touches, though the later jazz-infused Mitchell doesn’t turn me on (I’m a radio). Were I Geffen, I’d be very proud that Joni wrote this about me.
9. Help Me (1974) Nope. Just nope. One of the more anodyne of Mitchell’s love songs.
10. Big Yellow Taxi (1970) A bouncy paean to environmentalism with clever lyrics, but somehow I can’t think of it as one of her best songs, perhaps because it’s too cute.
So here’s my list of the top
thirteen (I couldn’t limit myself to ten) with “Both Sides Now” put separately from the other eleven. I haven’t ranked them, as I found that almost impossible to do. And I’ve put an asterisk next to the songs that are in the list above (we share five choices). I’ve also put video of those songs not in the the SingersRoom list (which includes its own videos).
Coyne’s choice: top thirteen:
Both Sides Now*
Free Man in Paris*
A Case of You*
The Circle Game (if I had to choose just one song to exemplify her talents, it’s this one, so it might as well be “the best.”
All I Want
Woman of Heart and Mind
Blonde in the Bleachers (written about and played with Stephen Stills, another favorite of mine, who plays every instrument on the song [that’s why his nickname was “Captain Manyhands”])
If you want more of Joni, here’s a 1.5-hour documentary of her life, featuring performances of many songs: