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Music

Joni Mitchell's five best covers of all time

@jackwhatley89

“I see music as fluid architecture.” — Joni Mitchell

Such is the expert skill and cultured creation that Joni Mitchell put into songwriting that the need to cover other people’s songs was never really much of an interest for her. While artists from the 1960s, such as The Beatles and Rolling Stones, plunged the treasures of Americana to bolster their early releases, and Bob Dylan rested as heavily on folkie classics as anyone could, Mitchell preferred her own expression above anyone else’s. However, there have been some occasions throughout her career where she has taken on somebody else’s song.

Much like Bob Dylan before her, such was Mitchell’s songwriting prowess that her songs were uncontainable within her own catalogue. It meant that, for some time, Mitchell was happy to be the songwriter in the shadows, providing intercontinental acts with standout tunes. It was only when she moved to Europe and discovered her sound that she decided to make a go of it for herself.

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With a songwriting style that few have been able to top, and a class of muso adorers who understand the technique and ability she delivers into every song she has ever written, it perhaps makes sense that there have only been a few occasions when Mitchell has covered somebody else’s songs. However, as with all rare entities, the scarcity of such collaborations makes them all the more precious.

There are occasions when Mitchell picks unusual songs or forgotten rarities as perfect tracks to cover throughout her discography. However, below, we’ve picked the best of the best, even if that does mean we see Mitchell sharing the spotlight on more than one occasion.

Joni Mitchell’s five best covers:

‘Girl From North Country – Bob Dylan

To take on a Bob Dylan song is to put yourself in harm’s way artistically. The enigmatic folkie is so widely beloved that to attempt one of his songs and fall flat on your face is a risk most should avoid taking. However, when you’re backed by Johnny Cash, as Joni Mitchell was when she took on ‘Girl from North Country’, then those fears should be quickly allayed.

Not necessarily a Dylan original — the song has traditional roots that seem to have been muddied by his release — the track is lilting, bold and beautiful under the watchful eyes of Mitchell and Cash, with the former’s delicate vocal providing necessary gilding for Cash’s low-slung grumble.

‘Goodbye Blue Sky’ – Pink Floyd

21st of July 1990 was an eventful day, an occasion which is written into the history books as Joni Mitchell performed at the site of the fallen Berlin Wall. The imposing structure of oppression had been lined up for destruction the previous November and it was an evening for celebration as the two sides of Germany were united at long last.

The Wall – Live in Berlin was a live concert performance by Roger Waters and featured numerous high profile guests, including Van Morrison, who took to the stage to perform tracks from Pink Floyd’s The Wall. It’s safe to say it was a night to remember, with Mitchell’s emotionally charged performance of ‘Goodbye Blue Sky’ being the pick of the bunch.

‘Chelsea Morning’ – Fairport Convention

Released on her 1969 album Clouds, the cover of Fairport Convention’s anthemic ‘Chelsea Morning’ is a contentious entry on this list, largely because Mitchell penned the song. However, Judy Collins’ cover of the song, arriving a month before Mitchell’s, was by far more popular, meaning we’ll squeeze it in here. In fact, there’s perhaps no clearer alignment than Mitchell and the mystical mythology of New York’s Chelsea Hotel, about which the song was constructed.

Originally released two years prior to Mitchell’s cover, the original is bouncy and bright like a blissful morning should be. However, under Mitchell’s guidance, with her always effusive vocal, the song seems to ump up more than a few notches.

‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love’ – The Teenagers

If you’ve ever watched a film set in the 1960s, then there is a high chance you’ve heard The Teenagers’ classic song ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love?’. The track is a mainstay of pretty much any film of that sort as well as being a guarantee foot-stomper whenever you press play on the stereo. However, there’s a great argument for suggesting the song is far out of Mitchell’s reach.

Not only had she become an icon of confessional songwriting at the time of recording this number for 1980’s Shadows and Light, making singing another’s song a little strange, but the track is an anthem of pure joy and terrific turbulence. It’s a jumping party starter that you wouldn’t expect Mitchell to take on. However, she does so with aplomb, providing a quality moment in an otherwise disappointing album.

‘I Shall Be Released’ – Bob Dylan

Like other moments on this list, this cover came about when Joni Mitchell joined forces with another singer. But this time, we have two for the price of one as Mitchell joins folkies Mama Cass and Mary Travers to sing ‘I Shall Be Released‘. Though the cover did feature on Cass’ unsuccessful variety show, this piece of footage is fantastic to watch.

The moment that these three fine voices take on the classic track that Dylan originally wrote for The Band before later releasing it himself is nothing short of spellbinding. Travers, Mitchell and Elliot were gifted with three of the most golden voices of their generation and if the whole programme was just the trio harmonising, ABC would have been left with no choice but to give the show a series.