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The odd Britpop hit that stopped Joni Mitchell from quitting music

Joni Mitchell is a beautiful gift who brightens up our dismal daily lives and we ought to applaud anything that has given her joy. When it comes to a track that has saved her from quitting music to milk out just a few more cushions to grind, we ought to drop to our knees and never forget it. However, when you’re down there, you might find that your mind is walloped with a slap of perplexity while trying to reconcile Mitchell with the sacred song that somehow stopped her from quitting. 

Gregg Alexander is a name that will pique the memory but wouldn’t be an easy answer in a pub quiz. Nevertheless, he’s one of Mitchell’s favourite modern songwriters. As the frontman of The New Radicals, he had a few hits between 1997-99. However, you’d be wrong to call him a one-hit wonder, he’s more so the sort of name that has been subsumed by the music industry and now continually crops up as a credited songwriter behind the scenes. 

Nevertheless, out of the praise he might have received in a secondhand fashion, none comes close to the plaudits that he drew from the one and only Joni Mitchell. The ‘Both Sides Now’ star was crazy about The New Radicals’ 1998 hit ‘You Get What You Give’, asserting that the track rose “from the swamp of ‘McMusic’ like a flower of hope.” So much hope, in fact, that it stirred her creative muse into action once more.

As she explained: “When I heard that song, I changed my mind about quitting the business. I was done. I wasn’t going to do anything more. But that it is the most brilliant song.” And then, as the cherry on top for Alexander, when she met him at a Grammy’s gala, she actually approached him and declared: “I am so happy to meet you!” At which point presumably Alexander looked around his shoulder expecting a secret camera crew to emerge.

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The strangest thing of all, however, is that there was some strange kismet tying Mitchell to the song from the get-go. Now, not to get too metaphysical about things, but if you believe that Mitchell is a spiritual numen then you might be inclined to think that ‘You Get What You Give’ is the craziest divine intervention that has ever been touted. 

As Alexander declared: “I don’t want to sound stalkerish. But I knew all this had something to do with you.” He went on to explain that he had a strange dream about the folk star just before writing the tune. Mitchell accepted this notion of her being some sort of sacred songwriting visitation as though he was merely complimenting her blouse, as she simply said that she was glad to hear it before returning to praise the song, proclaiming: “I’ll tell you, I was really going to quit. But that song gave me hope.”

She went on to select it as one of her favourite songs of all time. “At the time this song became popular, I no longer played my instruments and I had no desire to sing or to listen to music. I listened to public radio and changed the station if they played music,” she recalled.

Adding: “But music is everywhere – in stores, even in traffic with the window down – and so I managed to hear this song. It was the first thing I had heard in decades that seemed to be inspired by something greater than personal ambition. It was sassy and smart and had real emotions.”

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