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Music

The Marvin Gaye song that was "so influential" for Joni Mitchell

If you’ve spent much time perusing the many articles we’ve written on the extraordinary talents of Joni Mitchell, you’ll already be well aware that there is very little in her music and her songwriting that we dislike. One of the truly iconic folk singers of her generation, arguably surpassing the talent of Bob Dylan with the potency of her catalogue, Mitchell’s sonic structures feel both universal and wholly unique.

“I thrive on change,” the singer once proclaimed. “That’s probably why my chord changes are weird, because chords depict emotions. They’ll be going along on one key, and I’ll drop off a cliff, and suddenly they will go into a whole other key signature. That will drive some people crazy, but that’s how my life is.” Her confessional songwriting set Mitchell apart from the crowd during the boom of pop music in the 1960s and ’70s, but while her sound feels completely unique, in truth, it takes inspiration from a plethora of places.

A Queen in the folk world, Mitchell really gained fame for her ability to effortlessly sew genre, style and sentiment together into a tapestry of beguiling songs that will continue to enrich your soul forevermore. If there’s a singer-songwriter with more devotion to her craft, then we haven’t met them yet. Contemporaries such as Neil Young and Bob Dylan certainly had their place in Mitchell’s development, but where she found her most useful resources of inspiration were in the recesses of left field.

Whether it is her 1978 album Mingus, where she paid tribute to the magic of jazz musician Charles Mingus or her work with Herbie Hancock, Mitchell has found influence in some unlikely spots. Another, perhaps more unassuming place of inspiration for Mitchell, came from the iconic figure of Marvin Gaye and his song ‘Trouble Man’.

Speaking as part of her 2006 CD release Music That Matters to Her, Mitchell picked out the song as something that was “so influential to my music”, and it ranks as one of the soul singer’s best. Released in 1972, the track became one of Gaye’s signature sounds and worked as the titular song for the blaxploitation film of the same name. Gaye went on to call the track one of the most honest songs he had ever written, which may be what Mitchell connected with, in the first place.

In 2006, she said of the song: “I had this song on an album, and I kept the needle on this track – playing it over and over. It was so influential to my music and my singing. It excites me from the downbeat – the way the drums roll in – the suspense – the approaching storm of it.” It’s a classic song that can be easily seen as an extension of Mitchell’s confessional, characterful and courageous ethos.