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Joni Mitchell Hits ’em Up

And the seasons, they go round and round…”. Many years ago my friend Sandy deBellis used to sit in the office next to me and at 5pm we would play Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game” -a benediction for another day past, another week past, another season…

“And the painted ponies go up and down
Were captive on the carousel of time
We cant return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game”

It’s a lovely song, almost a children’s singalong, but with the tug of nostalgia, of sorrow, of that which we can’t return. And it is just one song in Joni Mitchell’s storied career. Since the mid-sixties till she retired earlier this decade, Mitchell has stood the concept of the chick singer-songwriter on its head. From her second album, Clouds, which featured Steve Stills on guitar and included two Hits on the Hits album: “Both Sides Now” and “Chelsea Morning”. President Clinton named his daughter after the latter and the former… the former will last forever. It’s a distillation of change and the effects of life upon our character. A smash hit for Judy Collins in memory serves.

Made Joni California rock royalty, sleeping with two thirds of Crosby, Stills and Nash, using the wrecking crew on all her albums: a folk singer with a sweet soprano who left the folk hang outs of the village that had nurtured Dylan five years earlier to join the Mama’s and the papa’s and John Sebastian in a wave of California dreaming. Her third album, the sublime Ladies Of The Canyon -Laurel Canyon of course. That’s where you’ll find “The Circle Game,” “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Woodstock”. Joni missed Woodstock to appear on the Dick Cavetts talk show -whoops, but at least she got the song right. “Taxi” is the best song ever written about the enviroment.

Three masterpieces and a greatest hits later, Joni’s restlessness with the singger songwriter lead her to explore on the brilliant if flawed The Hissing Of Summer Lawns -a take on a bohemian jazz world from 1975 featuring the jazzy evocation of 50s USA “In France They Kiss On Main Street” and the trible drumming of “The Jungle Line”. And four years later in 1979 (that year again) she released the strangest and most thrilling album of her career, Mingus, where she placed words to Charlie Mingus’ music.

As late as 1998, Mitchell released Taming the Tiger (“here kitty, kitty”) another great album.

But for all that Mitchell lends herself to a greatest hits album. On Hits are we missing the title track of Blue? Sure, we do And is it completely unacceptable to miss “A Case Of You” on the same album. Uh huh. But “Carey” and “California” are here and anyway we are not looking at completion otherwise we could just buy album # 2 through -well through, I dunno, 1980’s Shadow And Light and not missed a beat.

Hits isn’t quite for me, it doesn’t go far enough and I’m too much of a completist and I could recreate it with ease. it’s for those who kinda missed the boat or weren’t around for it. I could see Marie Lynn or Diana Ostrow flipping for Joni. It has “Raised on Romance” off the terrific Court And Spark -a must hear if you never ever hear another song. “Free Man In Paris” from back in the days when David Geffen was hereo and dating Joni, FM smash “You Turn Me On, I’m a radio”…

Hits holds together like an album but not a dream Joni album though it comes close. What it seems to miss, what there is no context for, is how of the three singer-songwriters to redraw the face of feminism in pop music (the other two were Carole King and Carly Simon), it was Joni who took it out of any form of comfort zone and played with the biggest of the big boys in the art of pop and jazz.

By the way, Sandy retired a couple of years ago though we still speak. The season came to an end and allw e can do is turn back and look at it longingly.

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