Joni Mitchell is one of the most influential figures in music’s history; she wrote in such an open, honest and confessional manner that it was utterly infectious. Many artists have attempted to mould themselves into a shape reminiscent of Mitchell, using her influence to guide them. Still, her favourite artist that she inspired over her career couldn’t have sounded any different from her — even though they did share a maverick spirit.
The surprising artist in question is the late, legendary Prince. Even though the powerful arsenal of music that both artists created, on the surface seem to come from different ends of the musical spectrum, once you do some digging, it’s evident that there is much more that unites Mitchell and Prince’s style than divides the divine pair.
The Purple One adored her, and the love was reciprocal, with Mitchell once calling him the best artist to checklist her as an influence. She once recalled her memory of seeing him in the audience as a teenager at one of her show, telling New York Magazine: “Prince attended one of my concerts in Minnesota. I remember seeing him sitting in the front row when he was very young. He must have been about 15. He was in an aisle seat and he had unusually big eyes,” she said.
Adding: “He watched the whole show with his collar up, looking side to side. You couldn’t miss him—he was a little Prince-ling. Prince used to write me fan mail with all of the U’s and hearts that way that he writes. And the office took it as mail from the lunatic fringe and just tossed it!”
Prince was always coy on what he shared with the media and rarely gave a glimpse into the music that made him tick. Although in an interview with Rolling Stone in 1985, Prince claimed to have not fallen in love with a record for ten years since called Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns from 1975 which he described as being “the last album I loved all the way through.”
Other ways that Prince showed his unbridled love for Joni came when he delivered a spellbinding cover of her track, ‘A Case Of You’, in 1983. The cover would get an official release in 2001 on One Nite Alone, on the tour that coincided with the record, Prince then rehearsed Joni’s track ‘Twisted’, but only squeezed it into his live set on one occasion. On The Purple One’s track, ‘The Ballad of Dorothy Parker’, which featured on his iconic Sign O’ The Times, Prince name-checks Joni’s ‘Help Me’ which he says is his favourite song.
The folk legend much appreciated this smattering of love he showed towards her. In 1996, Joni was getting interviewed by Morrissey when he chose to ask her about her ‘Junior Joni’s’ and her favoured disciple should come as no surprise: “People tell me all the time that that is, but I don’t really — I don’t really hear it. I mean, I’ll hear a thing here and there — even Prince, you know, like who’s an interesting hybrid who’s taken some things from me, or so he claims, but his influences are me and Sly.
“Now you take me and Sly and hybrid that, you’re going to get something unique because he played back, I think it was Paisley Park, I went to a playback here. And there was a harmonic passage in one of the songs that really interested me, and I said to him, ‘Oh, you know, where’s that coming from?’ Because it sounded fresh to me, you know, and he said, ‘You’, you know, and I couldn’t hear it.”
Mitchell continued: “But time went by and I heard something and it was — the reason I couldn’t hear it was because it was something that Larry Carlton played against my architecture which I’m very familiar with and I’m familiar with what I added also, but — yeah, he’d taken something between those two things. You know what I’m saying?”
Both Prince and Joni Mitchell were artists that drowned in originality. Neither artist can be subjected to any claims of biting on another artist’s style. That didn’t mean that The Purple One didn’t embody the brazen Mitchell spirit, which seemed to serve him somewhat well throughout his dynamic career. Take a few minutes out and brighten up your day, with Prince’s purple take on ‘A Case Of U’.