By 1971, Joni Mitchell had found a new instrument to play. She had already been crowned the folk queen of the late-1960s, and now she was expanding her sonic scope beyond the curiously-tuned acoustic guitars that had filled out her first albums. Mitchell had gotten her hands on an Appalachian Dulcimer, a strange three-stringed instrument that produced a trebly twang. In order to break it in, Mitchell wrote a new sound around the dulcimer’s sound.
‘A Case of You’ is Joni Mitchell at the absolute peak of her power. With almost no additional accompaniment, Mitchell lays out a sombre recollection of a love right before the flame burns out. Filled with ideas about infatuation and personal demons, the track is bolstered by some of Mitchell’s most expressive and engrossing lyrics. But Micthell wasn’t a tactician: she was a tinkerer, which meant that songs needed a bit of editing before they came out in their final form.
The most remarkable element of the early demo recording of ‘A Case of You’ is just how different most of the words are. Mitchell clearly had the central theme of ‘A Case of You’ figured out, but the actual turns of phrase that would bring the song to life ranged from being slightly off to completely altered. In its original form, only the final verse was retained for the final recording.
Mitchell calls her subject “silly as a northern fish” before letting out a little laugh. For the next four minutes, a completely alternate version of Blue‘s central love song unfurls itself, familiar in its similarities but still unpolished and slightly clunky. Even though the lyrics aren’t quite as sharp as they would become, it’s fascinating to hear Mitchell experiment with meter and different images as she finds the best way to get her message across.
The faster demo recording does lend credence to the idea that Mitchell specifically wrote ‘A Case of You’ around the dulcimer. That instrumental line is nearly identical to what it would be in the final recording, and Mitchell already seems completely at ease handling the atypical lap-strummed instrument. The dulcimer found plenty of use on Blue, showing up on songs like ‘Carey’ and ‘California’, but it never got quite as good of a showcase as it does on ‘A Case of You’.
Listen to the original demo recording of ‘A Case of You’ down below.