Top 100 Album Review: #30 – Blue, Joni Mitchell (1971)

An Extremely Personal Expose About Relationships

Completely exposed, Joni Mitchell touches a nerve featuring all textures of a relationship. Her infatuation, longing, loneliness, and heartbreak is cracked open for all of us to see.

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Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #30/100
My Rating:smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

The first two CDs I ever owned were Lou Bega’s Mumbo Number 5 and Joni Mitchell’s Blue. What do you want — I was a weird kid. Riding around on bus #22, I jammed out to the folk goodness of Joni Mitchell as we caravanned down cow-covered patches in western Hanover in Virginia.

I shouldn’t say I owned it; I overheard it being played by my sister and my mother, and after one of them left it in the CD drive, I got in the habit of listening to it while playing some of my favorite browser-based games (Archmage or Sissyfight anyone?). As a 13 year old, I did not exactly catch what all the lyrics were about. I much more appreciated the solid tunes and the earthy tones of the singer-song writer genre that was pretty absent from my 90s music diet.

Listening to this as a thirty year old is quite a different experience — past people and places bubbling to the surface with each track.

This quote from Mitchell herself sums the album up:

 “The Blue album, there’s hardly a dishonest note in the vocals. At that period of my life, I had no personal defenses. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes.”

The topic of interest throughout the album are her relationships, particularly with James Taylor which ended up as a dud as he drifted away. Each track is a testament to specific moments, and just like looking through the wrapper on cigarettes, everything is there for us to see. The album is so deeply personal Kris Kristofferson has been quoted as saying “Joni! Keep something of yourself!”

This album is exquisite because of a double punch: the songs are really good tunes and the bare-all attitude makes it poignant. Going through track-by-track reminds you how powerful each of these songs are, eliciting your own emotions as it reminds of you of your own relationships. Here are some highlights:

All I Want – An uptempo, playful song about how being single gives you freedom with some loneliness vs. being fully in love but having to give up part of yourself.

When I think of your kisses my mind see-saws
Do you see, do you see, do you see how you hurt me baby
So I hurt you too
Then we both get so blue.
-All I Want

My Old Man – A song that switches between a valley and a peak, expressing how being in love makes you feel so good, but when they are gone how empty you feel.

We don’t need no piece of paper from the city hall
Keeping us tied and true, my old man
Keeping away my blues
-My Old Man

Little Green – A conversation with her child named Green about the father/husband who left them both behind with a tinge of longing for him, and why she decided to give her up for adoption.

So you sign all the papers in the family name
You’re sad and you’re sorry but you’re not ashamed, little Green
Have a happy ending
– Little Green

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Clocking in at just 35:41, you will finish exhausted even though it lasts a little longer than a TV show. The great song writing and open content will suck you in and make you ride the wave of emotion that each song recalls. The difference between listening at age 30 and 13 is clear: I now have the relationship capital to understand what Joni is singing about, and it successfully makes me Blue.

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