Joni Mitchell Clouds

Joni Mitchell: Albums Ranked from Worst to Best

Joni Mitchell emerged at a time when the women’s rights movement was still building steam and had to fight for recognition as a serious artist. Her image was often defined in terms of whom she was dating – a Rolling Stone article dubbed her “The Queen of El Lay”. As Mitchell’s material became more ambitious, and her lyrics became more provocative, she was abandoned altogether by Rolling Stone, who gave 1975’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns a lukewarm review and named it as the worst album title of the year. If Mitchell appears overly self-promotional in interviews, ranking herself alongside Bob Dylan as the great solo artist of her generation, she’s generally justified, reacting to the sexism she encountered in her prime.

Mitchell’s a wonderful singer, songwriter, and guitarist. A childhood bout of polio left her unable to play the guitar conventionally, and she’s an expert in alternative tunings. While her public persona is an acoustic guitar-strumming hippie warbling her way through ‘Both Sides Now’ and ‘Chelsea Morning’, her musical reach expanded throughout the 1970s into pop and jazz. Mitchell’s run of albums in the early to mid-1970s is stunning, a peak that ranks with the greatest artists in popular music. She’s also a talented visual artist, painting most of the below album covers herself.

Mitchell’s been in the news lately – along with Neil Young she’s pulled her music off Spotify due to the platform’s promotion of Joe Rogan’s podcast. It’s tragic that a supremely talented musician has a fraction of the listeners of a medically unqualified comedian blathering on about Covid conspiracy theories. Here are Mitchell’s seventeen studio albums of originals ranked. I haven’t included Mitchell’s two albums of remakes – the 2000 standards album Both Sides Now and 2002’s album of remakes from her catalogue, Travelogue.

Joni Mitchell’s Albums Ranked

#17 Shine

2007
Mitchell’s only album of originals from the 21st century was incongruously released via the Starbucks coffee chain’s record label. Ecological concerns are at the forefront of Mitchell’s mind on Shine – there’s a remake of her 1970 hit ‘Big Yellow Taxi’. Often the message overshadows the music, and the music is generic compared to Mitchell’s other work – the arrangements are closer to safe adult contemporary with synths and Bob Sheppard’s saxophone. There are glimpses of Mitchell’s immense talent – there’s some percussive guitar on ‘Night of the Iguana’ and lovely piano on ‘Strong and Wrong’, while her vocals are affecting on the generic title track. But Shine is easily Mitchell’s least essential studio record.


#16 Dog Eat Dog

1985
Mitchell dived headfirst into politics and 1980s musical technology with Dog Eat Dog. As on Shine, her intentions are laudable but she’s not enjoyable when she gets too didactic. The message dominates the music on tracks like the anti-televangelist diatribe ‘Tax Free’ and ‘The Three Great Stimulants’ (artifice, brutality and innocence!). ‘Impossible Dreamer’, with Wayne Shorter on saxophone, is a great tune where Mitchell is introspective instead of preachy.


Joni Mitchell Song To A Seagull

#15 Song To A Seagull

1968
Mitchell’s debut is different than anything else in her catalogue – instead of elegant poetry, it’s filled with wide-eyed hippie wonder. Song To A Seagull is dedicated to the 7th-grade teacher who helped Mitchell to love words, but she’d use them more impressively on subsequent releases. David Crosby, at a loose end between The Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash, discovered Mitchell playing in a Florida bar and produced Song To A Seagull. Crosby left Mitchell’s music unadorned – the only other musician credited is Stephen Stills on bass on the unbearably fey ‘Night in the City’. It’s a dated period piece, although songs like ‘I Had A King’ and ‘Cactus Tree’ are tuneful snippets of Mitchell’s life.


Joni Mitchell Mingus

#14 Mingus

1979
Suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, jazz legend Charles Mingus was no longer able to play bass. His final musical project was a collaboration with Mitchell. She wrote words for four of his compositions, including the jazz standard ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’. Mitchell’s supported by a cast of jazz legends, including Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Peter Erskine, and Jaco Pastorius. Mingus has some great moments – the funky ‘The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines’ is built around a fantastic bass riff, while ‘The Wolf That Lives in Lindsey’ is haunting and atmospheric. Yet Mingus is disjointed, interrupted by brief snippets of Mingus dialogue.


#13 Taming the Tiger

1997
Frustrated by the rigours of recreating her array of guitar tunings on stage, Mitchell started using a guitar synthesizer in the 1990s. The Roland VG8 is all over Taming The Tiger – as well as producing alternative tunings, she uses it to recreate other sounds like the marimbas of the opener ‘Harlem in Havana’. The first half of Tiger continues Mitchell’s creative renaissance of the 1990s – ‘Lead Balloon’ is the toughest rocker in her catalogue and ‘Man from Mars’ is a gorgeous jazzy ballad about a lost cat. The second half is less remarkable, however, mired in tasteful soft jazz.


#12 Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm

1988
Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm is notable for its high number of duets – Mitchell’s vocal partners include Peter Gabriel, Don Henley, Billy Idol, and Willie Nelson. Chalk Mark has some of the same issues as Dog Eat Dog – there’s a 1980s sheen and it’s sometimes mired in politics. But there’s some great music regardless – the opening duet with Gabriel on ‘My Secret Place’, the portrait of PTSD on ‘The Beat of Black Wings’, and the tale of Mitchell’s parents meeting in ‘The Tea Leaf Prophecy (Lay Down Your Arms)’ are all standouts.


Joni Mitchell Wild Things Run Fast

#11 Wild Things Run Fast

1982
In the late 1970s, Mitchell was starting to overreach as she delved deeply into jazz. Inspired by hearing The Police in a Caribbean discotheque, Wild Things Run Fast is a stripped-down record for the new decade. There are still jazz musicians – Mitchell would shortly marry bassist Larry Klein, and he plays on every subsequent Mitchell record. But Wild Things Run Fast also features the muscle of Toto guitarist Steve Lukather and the pop sensibility of Lionel Richie. Some of the songs are too fluffy and trivial, but opener ‘Chinese Café / Unchained Melody’ is a masterpiece and it’s fun to hear Mitchell rock through the title track and ‘You Dream Flat Tires’.


#10 Night Ride Home

1991
The lack of attention paid to Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm convinced Mitchell that she was no longer a commercial force. She stopped trying to stay current, and Night Ride Home is a relaxed bunch of guitar songs that recall the atmosphere of 1976’s Hejira. With a uniform sound and long tracks, it drags in places, but the standard of writing is impressive. The title track, with its cicadas in the background, the intergenerational conversation of ‘Come In From The Cold’, and ‘Nothing Can Be Done’, with music written by Klein, are all worthy additions to Mitchell’s catalogue.


Joni Mitchell Ladies of the Canyon

#9 Ladies of the Canyon

1970
Mitchell’s third album features some of her most widely-known tunes – ‘Woodstock’ was a hit for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young while ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ and ‘The Circle Game’ are singalong folk songs. None are among my favourite Mitchell recordings, but there’s a solid core of album tracks. Mitchell revisited ‘Rainy Night House’ and ‘For Free’ on her excellent 1974 live album Miles of Aisles, while ‘Morning Morgantown’ is a charming opener. Ladies of the Canyon is more lyrically nuanced than Mitchell’s early folk songs, but she’d develop further musically over her next records.


Joni Mitchell Clouds

#8 Clouds

1969
Mitchell’s second album is the strongest from her early folk phase. Unlike her debut, it features songs that she’d placed with other artists; ‘Chelsea Morning’, ‘Both Sides Now’, and ‘I Don’t Know Where I Stand’ had already been recorded by the likes of Fairport Convention, Judy Collins, and Jennifer Warnes. Like her other early work, Clouds is sparse – in particular, the acapella ‘The Fiddle and the Drum’ is stark and not always pleasant to listen to. But Mitchell’s songwriting is consistently strong – ‘Both Sides, Now’ is her most widely-known song, but I also adore ‘That Song About The Midway’ and ‘Roses Blue’.


#7 Turbulent Indigo

1994
Mitchell beat out Mariah Carey, Madonna (a longtime fan), and Annie Lennox for Best Pop Vocal Album at the 1996 Grammy Awards. While Mitchell made better records in the 1970s, the Grammys correctly rewarded the strongest record from Mitchell’s artistically satisfying 1990s. Using material from outside writers is a good move on Turbulent Indigo. Mitchell’s cover of James Brown’s ‘How Do You Stop’ and her co-write with David Crosby on ‘Yvette in English’ provide the record’s most memorable hooks. Mitchell was divorcing Larry Klein while making Turbulent Indigo and she provides naked autobiography on songs like ‘Borderline’, the title track, and ‘Last Chance Lost’. The standout is ‘The Sire of Sorrow (Job’s Sad Song)’, where Mitchell adapts the Biblical story of Job into an eloquent and epic closer.


Joni Mitchell Don Juans Reckless Daughter

#6 Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter

1977
After years of tightly constructed, song-based albums, Mitchell let her muse spread out on the double LP Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter. Songs like the experimental rhythms of ‘The Tenth World’ and the lengthy ‘Paprika Plains’ might not have made the cut for previous records, but they’re fascinating additions to her catalogue. Don Juan sometimes veers toward self-indulgence, but it’s a continuation of her 1970s excellence. Mitchell, drummer John Guerin, and bassist Jaco Pastorius are a strong core band. The strongest songs continue the sophisticated, jazzy excellence of Hejira – ‘Talk To Me’, ‘Off Night Back Street’, the title track, and ‘Dreamland’ are all excellent. Mitchell appears three times on the front cover – most infamously as her rumoured alter ego, a black hipster named “Art Noveau”.


Joni Mitchell For The Roses

#5 For The Roses

1972
It hurts to rank For The Roses fifth – it’s the overlooked album from Mitchell’s 1970s peak. It’s an important step in her development, a leap in musical sophistication after the emotionally naked Blue. Songs like ‘The Blonde in the Bleachers’ are filled with complex chord changes. Several songs address Mitchell’s recent breakup with James Taylor – ‘Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire’ is written about Taylor’s heroin addiction, while the title track is about his growing fame.


Joni Mitchell Hissing of Summer Lawns

#4 The Hissing of Summer Lawns

1975
Mitchell focused on texture on 1975’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns, a more eclectic record than anything she’d released previously. ‘The Jungle Line’ is built around a sample of Burundi drumming, while ‘Shadows and Light’ is filled with airy synthesizers. But the dominant mode of The Hissing of Summer Lawns is sumptuous, provocative ballads like ‘Shades of Scarlett Conquering’ and ‘The Boho Dance’. ‘Don’t Interrupt The Sorrow’ is my favourite song from Mitchell’s impressive catalogue, with its fluid bassline and dobro textures. Prince was a fan of Mitchell and was vocal in his admiration for The Hissing of Summer Lawns.


Joni Mitchell Hejira

#3 Hejira

1976
After splitting with drummer John Guerin, Mitchell embarked on a road trip. Hejira is a journal of her travels, documenting characters like the womanising ‘Coyote’ and veteran blues-man Furry Lewis. Hejira revolves around Mitchell’s guitar and Jaco Pastorius’s fretless bass. With the homogeneous and subtle sound, it’s the most insular album of her 1970s classics, but it’s filled with gorgeous songs like ‘Amelia’ and ‘Refuge of the Roads’.


Joni Mitchell Blue

#2 Blue

1971
Joni Mitchell’s early work was folk-based – 1970’s Ladies of the Canyon featured singalong numbers like ‘The Circle Game’ and ‘Big Yellow Taxi’. Blue is a direct and emotionally vulnerable album that diaries her relationships with fellow singer-songwriters Graham Nash and James Taylor. It’s often hailed as her masterpiece – other Mitchell albums are more sophisticated, and it’s most noteworthy for its emotional punch. Side two is the stronger with masterful songs like ‘A Case of You’ and ‘River’, and the intense paranoia of ‘This Flight Tonight’. Mitchell plays the Appalachian dulcimer on ‘Carey’ and ‘California’.


Joni Mitchell Court and Spark

#1 Court and Spark

1976
All of Mitchell’s studio albums between 1971 and 1976 are strong, but my favourite is the smooth jazzy pop of Court and Spark. Mitchell recounts; “Nearly every bass player that I tried did the same thing. They would put up a dark picket fence through my music, and I thought, why does it have to go ploddy ploddy ploddy? Finally one guy said to me, Joni, you better play with jazz musicians.” The arrangements and the melodies of Court and Spark are smooth, and the singles like ‘Free Man In Paris’ and ‘Help Me’ are among Mitchell’s most approachable songs. Despite the poppy sheen, there’s still depth – songs like ‘Car On The Hill’ and ‘Down To You’ are musically and emotionally sophisticated.

What’s your favourite Joni Mitchell album?

What Is Your Favourite Joni Mitchell Album?
×

Read More


More Posts from Aphoristic Album Reviews

I add new blog posts to this website every week. Browse the archives or enjoy this random selection:

Browse the Review Archives

Read about the discographies of musical acts from the 1960s to the present day. Browse this site's review archives or enjoy these selections:

Aphoristical
Aphoristical

Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande.

Aphoristic Album Reviews features many Reviews and Blog Posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.

Articles: 866

78 Comments

  1. Great to see Court and Spark at the top. It still sounds as good today as it did back then, Just Like This Train particularly. Brief love affair over, but she has loved and she’s okay. She’s got this berth and this roll-down blind, she’s got this fold-up sink. And these rocks and these cactuses going by. And a bottle of German wine to drink.
    Clouds hit me as a soulful teenager and although it contains some brilliant stuff, feels a bit intense now.
    Ladies of the Canyon, although almost as old, somehow feels cooler, with some fantastic atmospheres (you could make a film out of Rainy NIght House).
    Blue never really registered with me for some reason.
    But Hejira – wow. Coyote is typical Joni: romantic fool recalls bittersweet episode and regrets nothing. And in Blue Hotel Room she’s anticipating it, because it’s happened to her so often.

  2. I’ve been meaning to write something about Hissing Of Summer Lawns for an age. Melodically it’s just all over the place but still manages to be whistlable. And thanks for reminding me of For The Roses which reminds me of my big sister doing homework.

  3. I’ve got ‘revisiting the Joni catalogue’ noted for some point further down the line, as I just don’t really enjoy it. Though maybe the point isn’t to enjoy it… Some really striking music there and lots to admire, but I just haven’t felt any connection to it.

  4. Good on you for being able to list her albums in an order of favourites. Many has been the time I’ve wondered if I must turn in my Canadian card when I say I’m not actually a fan of her stuff. I’ve tried, I swear. It was only recently when 1537 sent me Blue on vinyl that I even got close to that record at all…

    Well done, I’ll use this as a list of stuff to try next time I feel up to giving her music another go!

  5. Joni Mitchell is one of these artists I’ve been aware of literally for decades but sadly never really explored, so I’ll be sure to check out your top picks.

    This morning, I chatted with a dear friend who I believe is a true Mitchell expert. He recommended her 1980 live album “Shadows And Light,” especially the title track. I listened to it right away, and it gave me goosebumps! The remainder of that album is great as well!

    • I’ve never actually heard Shadows and Light – track-wise it looks like it’s a pretty good summary of her 1974-1979 albums, so if you like it you’ll probably like that era – most of my favourite Joni stuff is in that era.

  6. I’m surprised to see so many people say they like Shadows and Light. I think it’s really inferior to her other live album Miles of Aisles. Actually Miles of Aisles is my fourth ranked of her albums. On two sides of it she does the songs from her first album up through Blue, and they are so Superior to the original versions. Never would have known that Last Time I saw Richard was a great song if I’d only heard the version on Blue. She sings it in her new lower voice, and it’s a real knockout. In fact all the songs from Blue are much better on Miles of Aisles. She sings them ten times better. And sometimes with a full band. Same with the songs from ladies of the canyon. 10 times better on miles of aisles because of her singing and the band. When I want to hear the song from ladies of the canyon, I reach for Miles of Aisles. Best of all is Rainy Night House. It’s awesome.

    • I like Miles of Aisles a lot, and I agree that the Ladies of Canyon material sounds a whole lot better there. I don’t generally include live albums on lists like that, but Miles of Aisles is probably about my 6th favourite Joni disc . Good performances, and enough differences from her studio versions to be worthwhile.

  7. Here’s how I would rank them. Not too different from yours actually, with the exception of Blue.

    The Hissing of Summer Lawns
    Court and Spark
    For the Roses
    Miles of Aisles
    Hejira

  8. As I just referenced Joni in your Ten Best Singer-Songwriters post, I thought I should respond here in longer form.
    Joni Mitchell is the most compelling artist to me, musically and lyrically, but mostly musically. I’ve returned to her music again and again for over thirty years just to hear her voice, guitar, piano and totally unique arrangements. You do a superb job detailing her albums, and I love reading your descriptions for each one!

    I totally agree with the five albums you selected! And I love them all so much, that your order could possibly stand some days, as it can change depending on which ones I’m connecting with at the time. But if I were to adjust for my own preference, for an all-time Top 5, I would adjust as follows:

    5. For The Roses
    4. Blue
    3. The Hissing Of Summer Lawns
    2. Court And Spark
    1. Hejira

    I’m a musician first (electric bass/acoustic guitar), and songwriter/lyricist a far distant second. So I find the top three albums (on my adjusted list above), endlessly compelling not only due to Joni’s contributions, but also for the contributions of her musical accompanists. I’m particularly fond of and inspired by John Guerin on drums (all 3 albums!); Wilton Felder (CAS & THOSL) and Jaco Pastorius (Hejira only) on bass (nothing against Max Bennett, he’s great too, I just especially love these two bass player’s signature lines and touches!); and Larry Carlton on electric guitar (all 3 albums!). These fundamental “rock” band components are masterfully handled by these four musicians. Sensitivity, precision, passion, and tasteful restraint (well, not Jaco on the last one but he gets a special pass), are the qualities that these musicians bring to Joni’s songs and arrangements in beautiful and wonderful ways.
    I think you’d agree that Hejira practically features Jaco and Larry Carlton. Jaco gets more accolades, deservedly so; but Larry and John Guerin are the unsung heroes on this unbeatable triptych of albums, IMHO. And with that I should also mention Bobbye Hall on percussion (Hejira), and Tom Scott’s horns and horn arrangements as well (all 3 albums, but especially Court and Spark). Joni found the sweet spot with these three albums, IMHO, and this was absolutely due to a group effort by all the musicians mentioned above as well as all the other musicians not highlighted here.

    And finally, for what it’s worth, my favorite songs from each of these three fantastic albums are:

    Coyote
    Amelia
    Hejira
    Black Crow
    Refuge of the Roads
    In France They Kiss On Main Street
    Edith and the Kingpin
    Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow
    Sweet Bird
    Court And Spark
    Help Me
    People’s Parties
    The Same Situation
    Car On A Hill
    Down To You

  9. some albums are not only great musically but they perfectly capture the zeitgeist o the times. court and spark asks the rhetorical question when did the sexual revolution go from liberating to irresponsible. i would take this album to a desert island.

    • I probably wouldn’t take Court of Spark to a desert island because it’s burnt into my brain from spinning it constantly for a couple of weeks. Great record though – easily in my all time top 10.

  10. A worthy tribute. I wish I knew her albums as well as I know many of her individual tunes. I keep wanting to spend more time listening to ‘Blue.’ I’m late to the party on that one.

    • If you find Blue tough going – it is pretty austere – it’s worth trying one from 1974-1976. You get cool jazz players like Jaco Pastorius, Larry Carlton, Tom Scott, and John Guerin.

      • Those I somewhat know. I was into the fusion stuff and it was big back then. So I knew about her tours and such. I wasn’t a big enough fan of her music to go though.

      • I was reading the comments and suddenly realized this is a reblog. You did it four years ago (and again last year and this year??) You must be pretty enamored of her.

        • Four years ago I did a post about her 5 best albums. I just expanded it into a new post and brought the old comments over to the new post. So not really a reblog as such.

          • My website has lots of review pages like:
            https://albumreviews.blog/reviews/1970s-album-reviews/joni-mitchell/

            Then I made them into Worst to Bests, which are like the Cliffs Notes versions.

            With Mitchell, I own everything from 1968-1982 on CD, and have listened to it a lot – with the exception of Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter which I picked up a lot later than the others. But I recently listened through the records I don’t own on Spotify – something between 3-10 listens for each one. I enjoyed Turbulent Indigo and listened to that one a bunch.

          • That is some serious commitment! Over the years -and now especially with streaming – I have gravitated away from albums and just listen to individual songs from albums. Too many albums suck and/or only have a few good songs. Plus, I just don’t have that kind of listening time anymore.

          • I work from home so I have tons of listening time, so albums makes sense for me. Main problem is when my 7 year old turns off whatever I’m listening to and puts on her music. It’s good that she’s passionate though.

  11. Blue isn’t even in my top five anymore. I used to like it more than I do now, and all the songs on it that I like are all better on Miles of Aisles because she sings them better. In fact that’s probably my third favorite of hers. Another one that I like more now than I used to is Chalk Mark. I think it’s her best post-70s album and I like all the same songs that you named on it, and even a couple more like Cool Water. There’s actually only a few that are really lousy, And at least it’s better than her other ’80s ones like Dog Eat Dog, which really sucks.There’s a few songs on Turbulent indigo that are pretty good too as far as her 90s albums go. You didn’t put Travelogue, which I kind of like and think it’s kind of interesting cuz at least she’s singing good songs, even if they’re all her old ones. I was gonna say that Don Juan would have made a good single album but I really love Paprika Plains which is a whole side, and that would make a single album too short. It would make a good 1 1/2 album maybe. Let’s see, probably I would put them in this order;

    1. Summer Lawns
    2. Court and Spark
    3. Miles of Aisles
    4. For the Roses
    5. Don Juan’s
    6. Hejira
    7. Chalk Mark
    8. Blue
    9. Travelogue
    10.Ladies of the Canyon

    • I didn’t think her 1980s was that bad really – Dog Eat Dog isn’t great (and even that has Impossible Dreamer) but the other two are fine.

      Don Juan isn’t an especially long double album – if you cut ‘Tenth World’ and ‘Jericho’ (since it was already on Miles of Aisles), and maybe one more song, I think you could squeeze it onto a single.

      • Probably the whole thing would even fit onto one CD. I don’t think I ever had it on CD. I had Miles of Aisles on CD but I can’t remember if it was one disc or two. I think one.

      • You know what though? I always completely forget about the albums Shadows and Light and Both Sides Now. I don’t know why. Probably because I never listened to them very much and didn’t much like them. Shadows and Light was an unbelievably disappointing live album after Miles of Aisles was so great. And Both Sides Now I only listened to a couple times, probably cuz I really don’t like to listen to whole albums of old standards. What do you think of those ones? And you know what else? I’ve never even heard Shine even though I owned it once.

        • I watched a little of Shadows and Light online – I like the albums it’s drawn from, but it didn’t seem that exciting. For some reason, I’m a bit worried about becoming a Pat Metheny fan.

          I have zero interest in Both Sides Now, although I’ve heard the remake of the title track in Love Actually.

  12. Damn……. I can’t really enjoy my usual disagreeing with you!

    I too would have the top 2 in that order but Blue does actually have stronger songs, it’s just that C&S is so much more fun – for Joni and the listener? Maybe I would put 3 and 4 the other way round but I accept Hejira is a better album…. though I play HOSL more than any of her albums. Shades of Scarlett Conquering is just about my favourite of her songs.

    Well done – another good job (curses!)

    • With Hissing, I think a lot of it is career peak – all these sumptuous, literate jazz songs like ‘Scarlett’, ‘Harry’s House’, ‘Sorrow’ are great. I don’t really like ‘The Jungle Line’ or ‘Shadows and Light’ much though – those two take it down a peg for me.

  13. I enjoyed reading your assessments of each of them. Having listened to some much more than others (Blue, Court & Spark, Chalk Mark…, and Miles of Aisles) these are my favorites, but it wouldn’t be fair for me to try to rank them. (btw on Chalk Mark, it is “My” not “Your” Secret Place.) I’ve got her boxed set so there is no excuse for not. Too much music not enough time.

    • Oops, I fixed my typo. There have been a couple of motions of support for Chalk Mark – it’s a bit unfairly maligned I think. On the website Rate Your Music, I think it’s ranked only above Dog Eat Dog.

      • I can see where some might be annoyed by what sounds like drum machine in there and some tunes sound kind of hollow, but the star line-up on it is pretty impressive. I like all of the duets she does on it.

        • I think the two cover versions, Corrina Corrina and Cool Water, are the best ones, and they have the least amount of the ’80s production stuff. They’re the nicest ones on the album. I think they were both country hits in the 1940s or 1950s or something like that.

          • I love Willie’s voice on Cool Water. Not too hepped up on Corrina Corrina. My favorite song is “My Secret Place” as the music, voices, lyrics, (and that cool video they made) all mesh so well together. Other favorites are “Lakota” (Joni’s voice sounds so good on it and the message is important), “Dancin Clown” (even if that chorus gets a little annoying), “Cool Water”, and “Snakes & Ladders” (wondering if that was Larry’s writing on the wall? Or Joni’s?)

          • Yeah, Corrina Corrina is good too. Looks like it dates back to early 20th century. I mainly know it from Dylan’s cover.

          • Yeah, Cool Water is an old Western written in 1936 by Bob Nolan, and Corrina Corrina is an even older country blues that probably comes from a traditional. According to Wiki anyway

  14. Wow, Graham, kudos to ranking all these albums. Based on what I’ve heard, Joni Mitchell is an amazing artist, though her voice can sometimes be a bit high and as such be an acquired taste, especially during her early folkie period. It also reminds me that I’m still far from having explored her catalog – not even close.

    While I was aware that Joni has used all kinds of unconventional guitar tunings, I had no idea this had anything to do with polio. That’s quite intriguing. BTW, Neil Young also had polio as a child. Back then there was no vaccine. I read some people speculate Neil’s polio experience shaped his views about Covid vaccines.

    • Yup, I think Young said in his press release that his experiences with polio led him to protest against the podcast.

      Mitchell dropped the warbling folkie stuff after her first few records, and her voice dropped due to smoking as well.

  15. Court and Spark and Blue are the ones I know best… her voice is one of a kind. It reminds me of a slide whistle…and I don’t mean that in a bad way… her voice is very flexible.

    • Her voice is pretty distinctive. I think the early folk stuff where she’s a bit warbly has become her public image, which is a bit unfair.

  16. I wholeheartedly agree with Court and Spark at number 1. I know most people rate Blue more highly, but I actually never really got into it, as much as I would have expected to, as a lover of Clouds and to a lesser extent For the Roses. One bone of contention with your comments, though: Night in the City – how did you put it? Unbearably fey? Sounds like a happy hippy girl enjoying life to me.

    • Sorry, but I hate Night in the City – it drives me crazy for some reason. It does feature Stephen Stills, who I think was the only bassist that Mitchell would allow on her records until she started working with jazz musos on Court and Spark.

  17. If “genius” could ever be defined I think she fits the bill. For me there have always been two Joni Mitchells: the folkie Joni and the jazzy Joni. Somehow she managed to excel with both. I like your list, but I would place Song to a Seagull much, much higher. I like how it is unadorned, which pulls her lyrics and melodies to the fore. It reminds me a bit of Nick Drake’s Pink Moon (maybe not as dark). A bit hippie, yes, but it is serious hippie not silly hippie. Topping my list would be either Hegira or Hissing, where I think she hit a creative peak musically and lyrically. And I love Court and Spark except for the song lineup: “Help Me” and “Free Man in Paris” should have been separated.

    • Genius, for sure. I do think maybe a genius for a relatively short period of time – for me, that 1971-1977 stretch towers over everything else.

  18. Fantastic choices. I agree completely with the Top 3, though I would put Hejira on top. Another difference in relation to how I’d rank them is that Ladies of the Canyon would be higher. I am surprised to see Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter so high, because that’s not a very popular opinion, but I do think it’s pretty solid.

    Joni was pretty terrible throughout the 1980s, but everywhere else she was absolutely incredible. What a genius. In my book, she’s the only lyricist who can give Dylan a run for his money.

    • Yeah, I think Ladies being a little low is the most controversial point of the list – I think a lot of people would slide it up of #5 or #6 or something.

      I don’t even think her 1980s are that bad – Dog Eat Dog isn’t great, but the other two are decent.

  19. Great post, and what a monumental undertaking to rank so many albums! It’s clear this is a very popular post that’s struck a nerve with many of your followers.

    I’m only familiar with Joni’s earlier albums, thanks to one of my lifelong best friends who was a huge fan of hers. The only Joni Mitchell album I own is “Hejira”, though I also have an original 45 single of “Help Me/Free Man in Paris”, both of which I love. I would say that my top 3 favorite albums would be:

    1. Court and Spark
    2. Hejira
    3. Blue

    • I’m just coasting off Mitchell’s star power really. I think her only competition for best female artist of her era comes from R&B singers like Aretha Franklin and maybe Nina Simone.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: