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Great B-Sides: Urge For Going by Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell paid her dues playing folk clubs in the mid 1960s, and she wrote songs for other folk artists like Dave Van Ronk, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and Judy Collins before she recorded her debut album. Her first song to gain prominence was ‘Urge For Going’, which Tom Rush recorded as a single in 1966.

The song’s an account of winters in Saskatoon, Canada, where Mitchell grew up, a town subject to extreme temperatures, with warm summers and freezing winters.

When winter comes along and the farms are all harvested and they don’t really have much to do if they don’t keep cattle. So most of them have winter houses in the Bahamas and Florida and they just escape, you know, to all the warm places like Philadelphia. [laughter] The rest of the people who have to stay there feel sort of like this…

Joni Mitchell

Mitchell wrote a wealth of material in the 1960s, a lot of which wasn’t released officially. But she revisited ‘Urge For Going’ in 1972, releasing it as the b-side for ‘You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio’, while, unusually for a b-side, it also led off her Hits compilation in 1996.

I also enjoy Crosby and Nash‘s more ornate cover version, recorded in 1971:

I awoke today and found 
the frost perched on the town
It hovered in a frozen sky 
then it gobbled summer down
When the sun turns traitor cold 
and all the trees are shivering in a naked row

I get the urge for going
But I never seem to go
I get the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown
Summertime is falling down and winter is closing in

I had me a man in summertime
He had summer-colored skin
And not another girl in town
My darling’s heart could win
But when the leaves fell on the ground
Bully winds came around
Pushed them face down in the snow

He got the urge for going
And I had to let him go
He got the urge for going
When the meadow grass was turning brown
Summertime was falling down and winter was closing in

Now the warriors of winter 
They gave a cold triumphant shout
And all that stays is dying 
And all that lives is gettin’ out
See the geese in chevron flight 
Flapping and racing on before the snow

They got the urge for going
And they got the wings so they can go
They get the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown
Summertime is falling down and winter is closing in

I’ll ply the fire with kindling now
I’ll pull the blankets up to my chin
I’ll lock the vagrant winter out and
I’ll bolt my wanderings in
I’d like to call back summertime
Have her stay for just another month or so

But she’s got the urge for going
So I guess she’ll have to go
She gets the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown
All her empire’s falling down
And winter’s closing in.
And I get the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown
And summertime is falling down.

Joni Mitchell – Urge for Going

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