This concert from 29th October 1970 forms most of the fifth disc in Volume Two of The Joni Mitchell Archives. The whole box set consists live performances, alternative studio recordings and home demos from 1968-1970. Volume One covered the years between 1963 and 1967.
The first record I ever owned was “Beep Beep” by The Playmates. I had heard it on “Uncle Mac’s Children’s Favourites” in 1958, when I was four years old. It was only recently that I learned that the BBC refused to play the original version due to its prohibition on the mention of brand names in songs. The Playmates recorded a new version with “Cadillac” replaced by “limousine” and “Nash Rambler” by “bubble car”. The ban on advertising also caused The Kinks to record a different version of “Lola” in 1970, replacing “Coca-Cola” with “cherry-cola”. One of the features of “Beep Beep” that I loved was the increasing tempo of the song and this probably explains why “Moonshine Whisky” by Van Morrison and “Keep On Movin’” by Green On Red are amongst my favourite tunes. There are plenty of other songs with an increasing tempo, for example,….. er, um, please use the comments below to help me out here.
When I was very young, my sister exerted a considerable influence on me. When she moved onto Cliff Richard, I transferred my affections from Helen Shapiro to Cliff. Rather a worrying transition for a seven year old. I played her copies of Cliff’s singles incessantly: “A Voice In The Wilderness”, “Nine Times Out Of Ten”, “I Love You” (and the B side, “D In Love”), “Theme For A Dream” (coupled with “Mumblin’ Mosie”) and, especially, “I’m Looking Out The Window”. The latter allowed me to pretend to be Cliff quite easily. All I had to do was look out of a window. Brilliant. These songs are all etched deep into my memory. I can remember the words to these songs more clearly than I can recall songs with an increasing tempo…..
My sister soon started loving The Beatles and when my parents bought her “With The Beatles” as a Christmas present in 1963, I too left Cliff in the lurch. My sister’s love of early Beatles’ records has stayed with her but to my horror, in 1965, she moved onto The Rolling Stones. You can hear her on the EP, “Got Live If You Want It”, recorded at The Finsbury Park Astoria. Luckily, I never transferred my affections to those long haired layabouts who seemed to take pleasure in breaking the rules.
I’m time, I was introduced to many new acts. Meeting Andy’s friends in Wadhurst meant I came across The Moody Blues and Neil Young. His friends were a year older than us and were obviously scary. I had to like these or else I’d be ridiculed. It was bad enough to have my fashion style held up as an example of how not to dress; there was no way I was going to suffer the ignominy of not liking cool bands like The Moody Blues.
In time, my two musical gurus, Alex and Peter introduced me to The Beach Boys and The Velvet Underground. However, the breakthrough came when my parents bought me a reel-to-reel tape recorder for my 16th birthday in 1970. I managed to find a lead that connected to a radio and the evening programmes on Radio One became an essential source of wonderful new sounds. The trick with recording from the radio was to only record good stuff and not to miss out. This meant that every song that Tommy Vance, Alan Black or John Peel played had to be recorded and a quick evaluation was needed. It was a forerunner of Paddy’s 30 second test. If nothing about the first 30 seconds grabbed me, I would stop and rewind the tape to its last position. This meant lots of rewinds and fast forwards to find the point where the previous recording finished. If the track being rejected was short, panic set in. Come to think of it, this 30 second test was a forerunner of the decisions made by producers of multi-million streams of current songs in which a song only counts as a “play” if at least 30 seconds are played. This explains why some songs have a very hard hitting and infectious beginning. Songs like “Can’t Buy Me Love” start with the chorus and grab our attention. These days, so would “Yellow Submarine”.
Back to my tape recorder… Sometimes I would make a mistake with my 30 second instant judgement. On one occasion, I recorded the wonderful title song to “Tupelo Honey” but when I went to play it later, I realised I had recorded a strange song by an artist I’d never heard of. Luckily, in time, I came to the conclusion that “Down By The Borderline” by Tim Buckley was the best song on the second best album ever, “Starsailor”.
I had never really liked Joni Mitchell until December 1970. I found her vocal style, I had never really liked Joni Mitchell until December 1970. I found her vocal style, alternating between three octaves, too unusual to appreciate. Now, of course, I love and admire the vocal range of one of the best singers of all time. In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2002, she recounted that her initial vocal style was probably influenced by Joan Baez and Judy Collins. She also expressed the view that American women speak unnecessarily high compared to women around the world. She felt that in America, women were likely to be called a lesbian “at the drop of a hat”. She laughed about a review which criticised her music for being “effeminate”.
On 27th December 1970, I was in my bedroom in Tunbridge Wells and decided, what the hell, let’s record a Joni Mitchell concert from the radio and see if I can “get into her”. I listened to the broadcast; James Taylor came on for the second half of the concert, Joni Mitchell was charm personified between songs and, despite never having heard any of the songs before (apart from “Big Yellow Taxi”, the last song), I loved every song. Maybe I found the combination of James Taylor’s precise guitar playing and her work on a mountain dulcimer to be calming and soothing. Certainly this was the first time that I had heard “A Case Of You”. I played that recording a lot for about five years until the reel-to-reel recorder submitted to old age and I’ve never heard it again until this box set arrived. It’s even better than I remembered.
That Song About The Midway (from “Clouds” 1969)
In this song, Joni Mitchell meets a guy in a midway, which is part of a fair where most of the sideshows are concentrated. This guy was “playing on the guitar strings” and they fell in love but by the end of the song he has been hiding while she is left behind. The song is about the end of Joni Mitchell’s relationship with David Crosby, who produced her first album. He two-timed Joni Mitchell (fool!) and at a party at Peter Tork’s house, she announced that she had a new song. David Crosby said “She sang it while looking right at me, like, ‘Did you get it? I’m really mad at you.’ And then she sang it again. Just to make sure.”
The Gallery (from “Clouds” 1969)
Joni MItchell introduces this song with “This next song is a little play, a little soliloquy. It’s about an artist’s old lady. In it, I play the part of that old lady. There’s one thing that kinda holds true about artists is that they’re connoisseurs of beauty. This song is about an artist who runs around the countryside connoisseuring lots of beauty.” The song is a gorgeous description of a man who treats his lover(s) like objects, using them until he has no further use for them apart from figuratively hanging their portrait in the gallery of his mind. That’s how I see it anyway.
Hunter (not on any studio album)
The song reminds me of “Morning Glory” by Tim Buckley, which, in turn, reminds me of the story of the birth of Jesus. Joni Mitchell finds a cat, feeds it but doesn’t want it in the house so turfs it out. Later, feeling guilty, she decides to take the cat in but “When I woke in the weary morning he was gone.”
River, My Old Man, Carey, A Case Of You, California (From “Blue” 1971)
There are five songs from “Blue” in this concert but it would be six months before the album was released. It doesn’t really need saying that these five songs are amongst the most profound and beautiful songs ever composed. The live versions here are wonderful. At the end of this disc is a remarkable studio version of “River” with a great French horn accompaniment.
The Priest (from “Ladies Of The Canyon”, 1970)
The guitar playing in this song is effortlessly sublime. “Then he took his contradictions out and he splashed them on my brow. So which words was I then to doubt
when choosing what to vow.” This is Joni Mitchell at her very best, after her relationship with Leonard Cohen ended (halfwit!).
For Free (from “Ladies Of The Canyon”, 1970)
A comment left by a random person on YouTube states “I truly believe that, like a shaman, she was able to manifest energy (in the form of music and poetry) from the collective unconscious. She was a connection to something that is otherwise indescribable.”
The Circle Game (from “Ladies Of The Canyon”, 1970)
For the final seven songs in this concert, James Taylor plays with Joni Mitchell. In a recent interview with Cameron Crowe, she said, “He really locked up to my dulcimer, playing great with the guitar. Those two instruments together sound great. It sounded like one instrument. Musically, we were a great couple.“
You Can Close Your Eyes (from “Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon” by James Taylor, 1971)
The last song in the gig (before the encores) is a duet between James Taylor and Joni Mitchell which Joni Mitchell describes as a lullaby. James Taylor has stated that the song was written to Joni Mitchell. They were in a relationship and the title track of “Blue”, which mentions “Acid, booze, and ass, needles, guns, and grass” is generally considered to be about him (as is “All I Want” and “This Flight Tonight”). He played on four tracks of “Blue” in early 1971, but he finished the relationship before the album was completed (idiot!).
Both Sides Now (from “Clouds” 1969), Big Yellow Taxi (from “Ladies Of The Canyon”, 1970)
Two classic songs. Two of the best songs of all time. Two magnificent songs. I like them.
In 2015 she suffered a brain aneurism but recent years have seen a gradual return to health and her involvement in The Archives Project is more than welcome. Cameron Crowe writes in the sleevenotes that “combing through the treasure trove (of this old material) has kept her busy and with regular physical therapy sessions accompanied by helper-friends, her days are often joyous. She walks with little help a bounce to her steps, often to the sounds of Chuck Berry.”
The recording of this gig on my cheap reel-to-reel tape recorder was my first proper introduction to the music of Joni Mitchell. I wonder if I ever thanked my parents for the gift?