Desert Island Album Draft, Round 4: Blue

I’m participating in an album draft with nine other bloggers, organized by Hanspostcard. There will be ten rounds, with draft order determined randomly by round. With the first pick in round four, I’ve selected the first Joni Mitchell album I ever owned.

Anatomy of a Perfect Album: On Joni Mitchell's Blue | Literary Hub

Judge: “Mr. blogger known as Introgroove, you are accused of musical acculturation in the first degree. How do you plead?” Me: “Guilty as charged.” We’re now into the fourth round, and I realize I could fill my top 50 – never mind 10 – desert island collection with albums from 1965-75 alone. I do have one “modern” album from the 90’s in mind for later, yet even it’s over a quarter century old. It seems strange when I think of it, but I guess I’m just an older soul. Always have been. My choice to kick off this round, for example, was released when I was not quite four months old: Joni Mitchell’s Blue.

Picture of Joni Mitchell

Other than the handful of Joni’s singles I’d heard on the radio growing up – specifically Big Yellow Taxi, Raised on Robbery, Help Me, and Free Man in Paris – I didn’t know anything about her albums other than that they were held in high esteem by the omniscient scribes at Rolling Stone and MOJO. So at the age of 21 I decided to investigate for myself. I was at Streetside Records one day and ran into an older acquaintance I knew to be knowledgeable about such matters, so I asked him where I should start with Joni Mitchell. Without hesitation he said Blue. I took it home, popped it into the changer, and never looked back. At the time I was in an obsessive Dylan and Neil Young self-education mode, and her music fit my schooling perfectly. These days, I don’t try to categorize her. Especially not after gaining an appreciation for her later Hejira album.

Joni Mitchell's Alternative Tunings

But Blue? Almost everything I love about music from that era is encapsulated on this album: great songwriting, bare bones honest lyrics, a beautiful and unique voice, and unparalleled musicianship. Bob and probably even Neil couldn’t touch her alternate tunings (if I were still categorizing her). But it’s more than that. While the songs are mostly about Mitchell’s relationships past and then-present, some with famous musicians, others not well known, the recordings capture the mood of 1971. That is, it was a come down. Joni didn’t allot many words to political commentary, but in California she summed it up concisely: Reading the news and it sure looks bad, They won’t give peace a chance, That was just a dream some of us had… There’s a melancholy and resignation in those words and in her voice that can be found throughout the landscape of artists at the turn of the 1970’s. It wasn’t always bleak, but the 60’s hangover was hard to avoid, as in the title track: Acid, booze, and ass, Needles, guns, and grass, Lots of laughs…

Joni Mitchell makes appearance at Brandi Carlile tribute - Los Angeles Times
A rare Joni sighting – At Brandi Carlile’s tribute performance of the Blue album in L.A. last October

As we trudge through a summer of uncertainty and discontent, Blue maintains a contemporary feel. For me there’s something visceral about Joni’s music. As much as or more than other artists whom I admire but was born too late to listen to while they were in their prime, I feel like I was there when I listen to her. It’s 1971, except I’m 23 years old. I’m lounging at some dingy outdoor cafe with a buddy who’s just returned from Vietnam, unsure of what to do with his life. Return to school? Morocco sounds better. Or maybe the roles are reversed. Then again, maybe it’s just 2020 and we’re waist-deep in our own troubled times, but thinking about it in 50 year old terms makes it seem more palatable. Either way, Mitchell’s music is deep but accessible. This and her other early albums earned Joni the well-intended accolade from various critics, “Best Female Songwriter/Musician,” which rankled her and rightly so. She’s one of the best, most innovative songwriters, singers, and musicians ever, male or female, period.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. All I Want
  2. My Old Man
  3. Little Green
  4. Carey
  5. Blue

Side Two:

  1. California
  2. This Flight Tonight
  3. River
  4. A Case of You
  5. The Last Time I Saw Richard

-Stephen

Young, Talented, & Free: Laurel Canyon in the Late 1960’s

Is there a historical time and place you’ve ever thought might’ve been great to have been around for whatever reasons?  The combination of the lens of history and the imagination can make the grass appear quite green in different bygone scenes.  For me, Paris in the 1920’s, Greenwich Village in the late-1950’s/early 60’s, and Swinging London in the mid/late 60’s are a few which stoke my imagination.

56-3992828-1446131294fa0a0912c8764cbc93e2da0926eb1f7e.jpg

gvshp_8_wha-0.jpg

Foam-Gallery_London_60s.jpg

Another is Laurel Canyon for that brief moment in the late 60’s when the music world was shifting faster than people could keep up with.  Thankfully there were artists and record company executives willing to take chances.  Granted, the “free” in my title is subjective; artists enjoyed leeway to record and perform as they liked, but massive egos are a hinderance to freedom in the spiritual sense, and there was no shortage of those in the Canyon.

laurel_canyon_realtors__laurel_canyon_realtor__laurel_canyon_750.jpg

But it was a snapshot in time just before the money got absurd and the drugs too hard,  and it’s not likely to ever be repeated.  Today it’s snapshots I’d like to share in a manner which deviates from my usual format.  Rock photography became a major art form itself and crucial to the music industry around this time, and in L.A. Henry Diltz, among others, was a major contributor among the emerging folk and rock glitterati.  Perhaps I’ll explore that topic another time.

For now, picture yourself in a canyon in 1968 L.A., with tangerine trees and smoggy skies…

tMV6Buu.png

download.jpg
Frank Zappa with daughter Moon Unit.  Getty Images
laurel-canyon-ss06.jpg
The unofficial hostess of Laurel Canyon, Mama Cass.  Henry Diltz photo

Mama Cass may have been the unofficial hostess, but pictorially and musically speaking, to me the most interesting road in the canyon led to Joni Mitchell’s house:

MitchellL_CC_grass11x14856.jpg
Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, Eric Clapton, and Mama Cass’s baby.  Henry Diltz photo
laurel-canyon-ss04.jpg
Crosby, Stills, Nash, Dallas Taylor, Young, and Greg Reeves.  Henry Diltz photo
a5.jpg
Jim Morrison, standing outside his Laurel Canyon home.  Paul Ferrara photo
1928.jpg
Jackson Browne in his ’57 Chevy.  Henry Diltz photo
09-Linda-Ronstadt.jpg
Linda Ronstadt, then of the Stone Poneys.  Henry Diltz photo
54d538ae1ac93f5b5783f7fc_laurel-canyon-ss01.jpg
Stephen Stills and Peter Tork.
laurel-canyon-ss10.jpg
Judy Collins and Joni in Mitchell’s Lookout Mountain home, Laurel Canyon.  Rowland Scherman photo
laurel-canyon-ss09.jpg
James Taylor and Joni.
images.jpg
John Mayall
laurel_canyon_country_store_bailey_pennick.jpg
The Canyon Country Store, where the ladies (and gentlemen) of the canyon gathered.

I recommend the following books to anyone interested in learning more about the Laurel Canyon scene in the 1960s and 70s:

51+ZxVV-bgL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg
Laurel Canyon:  The Inside Story of Rock-and-Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood – by Michael Walker
51ZqLeLTBEL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg
Canyon of Dreams:  The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon – by Harvey Kubernik
f6f48818260efb46676c1bdc5a8a2764-w204@1x.jpg
Hotel California:  The True-Life Adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Mitchell, Taylor, Browne, Ronstadt, Geffen, the Eagles, and Their Many Friends – by Barney Hoskyns

-Stephen

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/p/laurel-canyon-michael-walker/1100946905/2660582144646?st=PLA&sid=BNB_New+Marketplace+Shopping+Textbooks&sourceId=PLAGoNA&dpid=tdtve346c&2sid=Google_c&gclid=Cj0KCQiA2o_fBRC8ARIsAIOyQ-nUr5rGOVMQysznRYWWeGKw0AyV9FYd9GtYNVJnKKuhsr4oNzFz474aAumGEALw_wcB

https://www.abebooks.com/Canyon-Dreams-Magic-Music-Laurel/30110395251/bd?cm_mmc=gmc-_-used-_-PLA-_-v01&gclid=Cj0KCQiA2o_fBRC8ARIsAIOyQ-kNGadghEctBnpcpBkIc6ZO4citQKhM2YH4GY7xmO6i_oF5PT47dmAaAmowEALw_wcB

https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-471-73273-0