Joni Mitchell

This is the first clip to come up on a YouTube search of Joni Mitchell

You may have seen in the news lately that Joni Mitchell was honoured with The Gershwin Prize for Popular Song from The Library of Congress. This award was first presented to Paul Simon in 2007, it is to recognize “the profound and positive effect of popular music on the world’s culture”. Mitchell is the 15th honouree. They haven’t updated the honoree profiles yet so I can’t tell you what The Library of Congress has to say about her, but as you may have guessed I have a few things for you on Joni Mitchell.

Most everyone knows the name, perhaps more so now than at the height of her productivity. Sure she had her moments of popularity, particularity in the Folk Music scene of the late 60’s and early 70’s and she rubbed shoulders with the stars of the day. Including touring with Bob Dylan and appearances at the all the big Festivals. Though she did not attend, she did write “Woodstock” and it is likely the most well known song as an account of the event. If we look at the success of past Gershwin honorees, many are more ‘household’ or mainstream names, beyond the first recipient we have Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Carole King, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Willie Nelson and more. All of them have many chart topping songs to their credit. While there are some non-performers on the list, Joni as she perhaps always has been is a bit of an outlier. Not that she doesn’t deserve to be there, she does.

Joni was Roberta Joan Anderson, born on November 7, 1943 at Fort MacLeod, Alberta. A former Northwest Mounted Police/RCMP outpost it later served as a Pilot training centre during WWII. Population 2,000. Her father was a flight instructor and her mother a school teacher. Her musical development began in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan where she describes it as “just playing with the gang”, often at Waskesiu Lake. Her first paying gig was at the Louis Riel Coffee House in October of 1962. She would sing and play her Ukelele there several times. After an appearance at the Calgary Stampede in 1964, it was off to Toronto were she played a number of Clubs and Coffee Houses.

She got married to Chuck Mitchell in 1965 and they moved to perform together in Detroit. After many life events, in 1967 she would eventually land in California which would become her permanent home. Her first album, Song to a Seagull (1968) was produced by David Crosby at Sunset Sound, in Hollywood.

There are some exceptions but generally Folk artists do not have many songs on the Pop charts. As evidence her highest charting song in Canada was “You Turn Me On I’m a Radio” at #3 and “Help Me” at #4 on the Adult Contemporary (A/C) chart, which hit #1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart in the US in 1974. In the the 1980’s she charted two singles in the top 40. As is typical of the genre, her albums fared much better. Court and Spark (1974) reached #1 in Canada and #2 in the US. A live album Miles of Aisles hit #2 in the US that year as well. Her follow-up The Hissing of Summer Lawns hit top 10 in both markets. In 1971 what is described by many as her masterpiece, Blue reached its highest international mark at #3 in the UK where 12 of her albums have reached the top 40. Her muse moved her towards the Jazz genre in the early 70’s, and despite the quality of her music and the calibre of her collaborators, she moved farther out of the Pop market, although some of her albums continued to chart fairly well.

In spite of the lack of a string of #1 singles, or albums to her credit, Joni Mitchell’s influence has only increased over the years. I don’t want you to think that no one noticed her as she has received much critical acclaim ever since the release of “Both Sides Now” first recorded by Judy Collins in 1968, which would go on to reach #3 on the A/C and #8 on the Hot 100. Joni’s own recording appeared on her second album “Clouds” in 1969. Those who might only know her for “Big Yellow Taxi” or “River” or some of the many covers of her songs may wonder, “why all the fuss”? As I started out, there is the Gershwin Prize, which is awarded only after considerable debate with not only Library of Congress and Industry experts but past honorees as well. So it’s a bit of a big deal.

For me to list all of the awards and honours etc. would take awhile, but to give you a bit of a summary:

In Canada she has been inducted into the Music Hall of Fame (1981) which included a Juno, also the Walk of Fame and the highest civilian honour the Companion of the Order of Canada. Leonard Cohen and Gordon Lightfoot are the only two other singer/songwriters to have received the award. She has won two other Juno Awards and nominated 10 times. Wow, we really missed the boat on awards for Joni, she has done much better south of the border!

In the US she has been nominated for 16 Grammys and won 9 times including her voice contribution on the multiple award winning Herbie Hancock album, The Joni Letters in 2008. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, Rolling Stone Magazine was not always very complimentary but they managed to put her and her songs on several of their lists including the Greatest Songwriters of all Time. She has been honoured by The Kennedy Center and after 10 years of male winners in 2020 she was the first woman to receive the Les Paul Award from the Technical Excellence and Creativity organization or TEC that recognizes innovation in recording. Guitar Legend Carol Kaye (2022) was the next recipient.

Joni has sold millions of albums and as noted above has had limited success with singles, with just one chart topper “Help Me” on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart in 1974. Despite this she has become one of the most influential Singer/Songwriters in history. The eventialbe comparison is to Bob Dylan and it’s been done to excess, but I will say there are as many parallels as there are differences. Like Dylan she has made many millions of dollars in royalty payments as a result of other artists recording their songs. To take nothing away from the brilliant Carole King, she shares many song credits with Gerry Goffin (some 100 songs) thus leading the way as the woman with the most songs recorded by other singers. Joni Mitchell is untouchable as a performer and singer/songwriter. Statistically she is the most recorded woman as a solo singer/songwriter with some 2,500 documented versions of 128 songs according to The team at has researched “7,646 covers of 173 of Joni’s songs done by 5,615 different artists”.

She wrote the words, music and arranged virtually all of her songs, by herself. She is also regarded as one of the best guitar players of all time. I noted in my last post that at #75 she is the highest ranked women by Rolling Stone Magazine (RSM), the only other on the list is Bonnie Raitt at #89, this says a lot more about the male bias and the oversights by RSM but these are our references. There are over two dozen songs written about Joni, including “Our House” by CSNY and “Hey Joni” by Sonic Youth. She has inspired several tribute albums as well as many songs and even lines in songs, in “The Circle Game” she wrote “the painted ponies go up and down” which gave (a fellow Canadian) David Clayton Thomas the idea to write “ride a painted pony let the spinnin’ wheel spin.” from their smash hit “Spinning Wheel”.

Of course it is the many millions who continue to listen to Joni’s songs that get the most from her music. Her style is quite unique, it is personal and stark at times. It is deep, melodic, thoughtful and gives insight to her soul and offers great introspection, and a hundred other things for the listener. I will admit that for many years I would be classified as a passing fan. Here in Canada we got a lot of her songs on radio, at that time, mostly in the ’70’s for my memories, and at her peak in 1974 we also heard as mentioned, other legendary singer/songwriters such as Leonard Cohen and Gordon Lightfoot. That same year another Canadian singer/songwriter, Terry Jacks was #1 and in the US he was #2 on Billboard’s year end chart with “Seasons in the Sun”. The more mature I became about my understanding of lyrics the more I grew to love Joni Mitchell. Like any artist she is not for everyone. Her talent and influence however is undeniable. Brandi Carlile is a nine time Grammy award winning singer/songwriter and a close friend and, let’s face it the best Cheerleader Joni has ever had. She got Joni back on stage in 2022 after 20 years and they have plans for performances in 2023. Joni’s health has not been good, I think she is quite brave to get back out there again. I have not seen her perform live and most certainly will not have that chance but Blue sure sounds fine with my Bose wireless headphones.

Joni Mitchell Discography

Here is a link to a post I did in 2018, the cover song stats are dated by it gives a bit more info.

Additional References: 1, 2

Happy 18 months to the little man of the family, Papa loves you.

27 thoughts on “Joni Mitchell

  1. I know she is super important…I never really connected with her as I have with other artists. I do like some of her seventies stuff I have to say. She is a true legend and pioneer.
    I’ve always said…and I mean it in a good way…her voice is like a slide whistle….she can go from normal to high in a heartbeat.

    Liked by 1 person

    • She had her own style and she was the full package, words, music, vocals and one of the finest guitar players. It’s not a surprise she’s so impactful, there really was no else like her, except Dylan. She’s not someone I listen to every day but I revisit and explore every now and again.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Re: the CanCon, yep radio used to have to be credited with 30% Canadian content to keep their license. CanCon was defined through MAPL, which I believe was an acronym, but I can’t remember for what. But you got partial credit if songwriter, recording artist or producer was Canadian, also I think if you were foreign but recorded in Canada. But for a song to have full credit, all 4 had to apply. (heart briefly qualified for part credit since early on they lived & recorded in Vancouver). It helped develop Canadian talent & pride…BUT yes, many stations just played endless Neil Young or Bryan Adams or Alanis, superstars who’d long since left the country.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Dave! Now can you explain and maybe it’s something similar why Bell Tv on Crave movie channels play 10 plus years old Canadian tv series like republic of Doyle and flashpoint? Hey they were not bad shows but more than a little dated. What’s next Due South!


  3. I hadn’t heard she won the Gershwin Award but she’s fully deserving – and I would think the first Canadian. They don’t usually look beyond the Lower 48 when giving that award, Paul McCartney notwithstanding. Though I don’t know a large percentage of her work, I do love many of her songs and certainly am proud of her as a fellow Canadian! The thing that sucks is most young people are probably most familiar with her work through that Counting Crows version of ‘Big Yellow Taxi”. I’ll say ‘not a ’90s fave of mine’ and leave it at that!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes she is the only Canadian born to win and to be honest I can’t see it going to another one, not that we don’t have some fine songwriters that all end up going south as well. but Drake? Justin Bieber?


  4. Randy, you did proper tribute to this infinitely talented musician, artist, songwriter, and human being. One of the greatest musicians EVER. She’s gotten me through a lot of tough times. Thank you for the excellent write-up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So glad you enjoyed it Lisa, I always appreciate your feedback so it’s great to hear that you are such a big fan. People really just have to listen to some of her songs, I mean really listen. She is truly remarkable.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Randy it feels like the world is moving at a faster pace, and it seems like we’re always multi-tasking. With Joni, it takes finding a quiet place and devoting some time to her.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. A very thorough look at a Canadian icon! I do remember, when I was teaching a class on Canadian Popular Music back in the early 90s, lecturing on that wonderful topic of “Cancon” (Canadian Content Regulations), whic monitored the percentage of “Canadian” content that radio stations had to play over a 24 hour period, and perhaps bristling somewhat that Mitchell, even though she hadn’t lived in the country for years, was still considered as Canadian content! Now that I find myself living in Los Angeles, that position has softened, to say the least! Life’s funny that way. Great post and the accolades are well deserved!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for checking in! I’m not an expert on CanCon and maybe my friend Dave will chime in as he is one. It was as you know designed to promote Canadian Talent and combat the music juggernaut of the US. She spent the first 21 or so years here, but to your point the rules were fairly liberal I think.

      Liked by 1 person

      • They were, and I’ll probably take some heat for what I said, but it was at a time when many Canadian artists living in Canada were struggling to be heard, and then I’d hear Mitchell singing about New York City, and mumble to myself, this is Canadian content by “birth!” What can I say, I was feisty back then :-)!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Well written. I too was not a massive fan but even for one who isn’t stricken by her, it is all too obvious she has a niche in music that no-one else even seems to be able to find. She really is alone.

    Liked by 1 person

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