From the moment she arrived on the scene, Joni Mithcell was typecast. In the eyes of the American public, she became the poster child of boho feminity; a whimsical flower-child with the crystalline voice of some rare bird. She was, in this sense, infantilised in a way that her male contemporaries were not. Leonard Cohen, Graham Nash, and James Taylor were granted complete control over their own image. In contrast, Mitchell’s image seemed the property of other people; a part of herself that she had not asked for, and which, as the 1960s progressed, began to weigh on her conscience.
Mitchell’s response was to write Blue, the 1971 album with which she aimed to demonstrate that she was far more than some vacuous embodiment of the “west-coast feminine ideal”. She certainly succeeded in that respect. Although the LP received luke-warm reviews on release, 50 years later, it still simmers with novelistic introspection, inviting its listeners to plunge into the depths of Mitchell’s multifaceted psyche. As the singer-songwriter recalled back in 2013, the album was motivated by a desire to rupture the reductive image her fans held of her. “They better find out who they’re worshipping,” she said. “Let’s see if they can take it. Let’s get real”.
In this sense, Blue can be regarded as a deliberate attempt to combat the unspoken misogynies of the music scene in the 1960s and ’70s, which seemed to allow men every freedom they desired, but required women to alter something about themselves in order to fit into one of the laughable character moulds that had been crafted for them. It is for this reason, perhaps, that Blue seems to capture the essence of transformation and renewal – both positive and negative. As Mitchell said of ‘Woodstock’: “It’s a description of the times. There were so many sinking but I had to keep thinking I could make it through the waves.”
Adding: “You watched that high of the hippie thing descend into drug depression. Right after Woodstock, then we went through a decade of basic apathy where my generation sucked its thumb and then just decided to be greedy and pornographic”.
This rare collection of demos and outtakes from Blue is the perfect opportunity for Joni Mitchell fans out there, to revisit what has come to be regarded as one of her greatest offerings. With alternative versions of ‘A Case of You’, ‘California’, ‘Hunter’, ‘River’ (featuring French horns), and ‘Urge For Going’, it’s a remarkable document of how the album developed and is well worth your time.