10 Essential Joni Mitchell Songs


At once incisive and joyful, this 1970 single — with which Mitchell opened her set last summer — covers a lot of ground in just over two minutes, moving seamlessly from social critique to personal lament. Its observations about industrialization and environmental degradation are still piercingly relevant 54 years later.

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Mitchell’s poetic 1991 album “Night Ride Home” is a highlight among her later releases, beloved by many fans but lesser known to the general public than much of her work made in the ’70s. This moody, atmospheric title track — featuring some hypnotic crickets on percussion — sets the tone.

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This rowdy rocker from Mitchell’s 1974 masterpiece “Court and Spark” chronicles a failed barroom proposition (“Hey, where you going?/Don’t go yet,” Mitchell implores, “Your glass ain’t empty and we just met”), allowing her to show off an underappreciated strength of her songwriting: her sense of humor.

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When Mitchell played another cut from “Night Ride Home” as her fourth song in the Gorge performance, I knew we’d be in for a thrillingly eclectic set. As she proved on “Court and Spark,” and later on this seven-and-a-half-minute meditation on human connection, Mitchell is an expert at capturing the glowing flush of new romance: “With just a touch of our fingers, I could make our circuitry explode,” she sings, recalling a teenage dalliance. “All we ever wanted, was just to come in from the cold.”

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Most days, if you were to ask me my favorite Joni Mitchell song, I’d resent you for making me choose. But on certain days, particularly the lonely, melancholy ones, I’d blurt out, “Amelia.” A highlight of her singular 1976 album “Hejira,” this sparse, searching track plays out as a stream-of-consciousness monologue to the doomed aviator Amelia Earhart, who here symbolizes both the freedom and perils of independence: “A ghost of aviation, she was swallowed by the sky/Or by the sea, like me, she had a dream to fly.”


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