There are some albums that appear on this list that are beyond obvious and tread into cliché. As a Canadian woman born in the late seventies, there will be a Joni Mitchell album on the list, and it will be Blue. This cliché wouldn’t exist if the album wasn’t simply one of the most beautiful and emotionally honest records ever created. I don’t know how many times in my life I have listened to Joni’s heartbreak on this record, but it certainly one of the albums I reach for when my heart has been pulverised.
The album is legendary for its starkness, both musically and lyrically. On the run after a difficult break up, Joni took off to Europe and wrote the majority of Blue. The loss of love and displacement both permeate the album’s melancholia, but there is also a strain of pleasure and joy that flashes through. Essentially and acoustic album, with nothing more than her voice, piano, guitar, and her Appalachian dulcimer, the sparseness, quiet fun, and deep sadness can almost be too much to bear.
But this album’s best known song, a simple tale of love, is the too beautiful for this world “A Case of You”. Some Canadians ( ahem, Mike Myers) have said it’s the alternative national anthem. Gorgeous dulcimer tones and James Taylor’s gentle acoustic guitar play under that amazing voice, who laments the loss of love but acknowledging the deepness of her devotion to him even now. ” I could drink a case of you and still be on my feet” she sings repeatedly. Only in Canada could a 2-4 be used as a metaphor for love. The song is among her best known, it is among her most covered, and frankly, it’s one of the greatest love songs ever written.
The sparse but jaunty “California”, which references her European trip and the international view of what was happening back home both politically and personally. She travels through out France and Spain, and while enjoying what Europe has to offer her, gets increasingly homesick. Her greatest love is her home in California, and damn it, she’s going home. Soon.
The more upbeat, cheery swing of “Carey” offsets the overwhelming sadness of the record. Singing about a man she met in Greece and her adventures with him, it bounces along until you realize that the road is still calling her to go on. It’s a moment that she’s not thinking about her break up, and her joie de vivre spills out.
But she’s using this time to contemplate her life. “Little Green” is about the daughter she gave up for adoption, “The Last Time I Saw Richard” is about her ex-husband. “All I Want” is about her wanderlust when the going gets tough, “This Flight Tonight” is about actually running away. The title track is about an old friend who seems to have the ability to survive. “My Old Man” refers to the crushing loneliness when the one you love is away, but how you don’t need to physically have a piece of paper to tie you together, as love is all you need.
But there is nothing in this world sadder or more beautiful than “River”. “River” is my favourite Joni Mitchell song. The touches of cynical consumerism of Christmas that runs through out the song is of course secondary to the heartbreak she feels as her love affair ends. she blames herself, and wish to find a river she “can skate away on”. Being in California, the Canadian Prairie girl cannot find a river that’s frozen to do so, so she stays and looks about her environment. That doesn’t help. Homesick and lovesick, she eventually hops away on a plane to Europe and writes the rest of Blue. On the fade out, she plays “Jingle Bells” on her piano.
It’s an album you must listen to. But I must hand you a caution if you do. You will walk away both joyous in the existence of such beauty, but emotionally wiped out from the honesty she lays out in her lyrics. It’s an exhausting album, more exhausting than head banging to Metallica’s …And Justice For All. But it is worth every heartbreak, tear, smile, laugh, and sigh.