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Music

Joni Mitchell's favourite Steely Dan song

Joni Mitchell is one of the most revered artists of all time. Always faithful to her unwavering artistic convictions, Mitchell has enjoyed substantial commercial success alongside artistic enlightenment over the course of her long and oscillating career. She’s been happy to forego economic rewards to follow her path of experimentation, which saw her music become increasingly polarising and threaten to push her into total obscurity throughout the 1970s and ’80s. 

In terms of artistic quality, Mitchell is cut from the same cloth as Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. She’s always led by example when it comes to music, showing us how to do it correctly and without selling out. Duly, there’s also an argument that posits that Mitchell was one of the first true punks, as she defied established mores in every way imaginable, but I’ll let you decide on that for yourself. 

One thing is very clear, though, Mitchell is an iconoclast. Everything she put her mind to follows her own free will, owing to her understanding of the countercultural notion of liberty and a preference for Ayn Rand. Regardless of her politics, you cannot question that she’s one of the most remarkable figures in music history and that she remains one of the most captivating. 

Aside from her music, Mitchell is also famous for her opinions, which, much like her art, tend to veer off the beaten path. Whether it be her comments on poetry or her generation as a whole, the golden-haired songstress has delivered many surprising opinions over the years. 

Watch Joni Mitchell sing ‘A Case of You’ live in 1974

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In 2005, she dropped another one related to misanthropic music nerds, Steely Dan, but it’s one we can all get behind. Picking a selection of ‘Music That Matters to Her’ as part of a feature published on her website, Mitchell chose ‘Third World Man’ from 1980’s Gaucho as her favourite by the band and offered up her take on the album. The ever-forthright Mitchell said: “I never understood why Gaucho didn’t receive the critical acclaim of Aja. I’m convinced that if Gaucho had come first and then Aja, the same thing would have happened in reverse.” 

She explained: “To maintain this high standard of musicality and storytelling through two projects is most praiseworthy – but there is something ignorant and arbitrary in rock journalism – editorial policy maybe – like ‘We were kind last time, let’s kill ’em this time!’ Or maybe it was like second-date syndrome, where unrealistic expectations eclipse a plenty good reality. Of all the great songs on these two albums, the first to come to mind was ‘Third World Man’.”

Of course, Mitchell is correct. Gaucho is an excellent album in its own right and was indeed overlooked because Aja preceded it, which is one of the great tragedies of Steely Dan’s career. But let’s be honest, after releasing something as impeccable as Aja, it was always going to be difficult to replicate it.

Listen to Gaucho in full below.