Joni Mitchell is the quintessential singer-songwriter; although widely recorded by other artists—Judy Collins reached number eight on the pop charts with "Both Sides Now" (Elektra 45639; 1968), Tom Rush made "The Circle Game" the title song of his third album (Elektra 74018), and three versions of "Woodstock" made the Billboard Hot 100—her own idiosyncratic renditions remain the definitive versions of her material. While her folk troubador origins and confessional lyrics conform to the conventions of this genre, she has avoided stylistic categorization in recording career spanning five different decades.
Born Roberta Joan Anderson in rural Saskatchewan, she studied piano and displayed a talent for composing melodies at an early age. Despite battling polio at age nine, she continued playing music (learning guitar from a Pete Seeger do-it-yourself manual) prior to starting art school in Calgary. After a year of college, she matriculated to Toronto, working in a clothing store and trying to break into the Yorkville district’s coffeehouse circuit. While there, she met and married Chuck Mitchell, a cabaret singer hailing from Detroit.
Success as a songwriter, combined with the failure of her marriage, brought Mitchell to New York in 1967. There she met longtime manager, Elliot Roberts, and David Crosby, who produced her first album, Joni Mitchell (Reprise 6293; 1968). In 1968 she moved to Los Angeles, producing a series of folk-inflected LPs characterized by her unusual guitar tunings, the increasingly layered use of instrumentation, and poetic treatment of themes such as sexual liberation and the search for meaning in human relationships: Clouds (Reprise 6341; 1969), Ladies of the Canyon (Reprise 6376; 1970), Blue (Reprise 2038; 1971), For the Roses (Asylum 5057; 1972), and her pop breakthrough, Court and Spark (Asylum 1001; 1974).
Following the live Miles of Aisles (Asylum 202; 1974), Mitchell’s next five albums—The Hissing of Summer Lawns (Asylum 1051; 1975), Hejira (Asylum 1087; 1976), Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter (Asylum 701; 1977), Mingus (Asylum 505; 1979), and Shadows and Light (Asylum 704; 1980)—were strongly grounded in jazz idioms; the abstract, detached flavor of her verses and virtual absence of traditional melodies led to a gradual decline in sales. Wild Things Run Fast (Geffen 2019; 1982), however, signaled a return to her earlier pop-rock style. Following a brief experiment with electronica and broader geopolitical themes in Dog Eat Dog (Geffen 24074; 1985), she has preferred to craft songs from familiar clay rather than take stylistic risks. Nevertheless, her releases continue to sell moderately well and Turbulent Indigo (Geffen; 1994) was awarded two Grammys. Other notable honors include Billboard magazine’s 1995 Century Award and her 1997 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
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