Once Joni Mitchell has completed the act of creating a project, it’s no longer hers, and as soon as it’s released, the record changes ownership to her fans. Mitchell stayed fiercely loyal to this approach for the first 30 years of her recording career. However, that all changed with the release of Both Sides Now in 2000.
Unlike the rest of her canon, Both Sides Now is a concept album which allowed Mitchell to flex her creativity differently. The Grammy Award-winning record was structured around re-recordings of her classic tracks, ‘Case Of You’ and ‘Both Sides, Now’. They combined with a series of standards to forge a triumphant masterpiece which tells the story of a relationship from the hazy days in the beginning until they drifted apart toward the bitter end.
Fittingly, Mitchell’s former husband, Larry Klein, worked alongside her as the co-producer on the record. Their shared experience of love and heartbreak fed into the album’s spirit, which helped make it an extra poignant piece of art.
The thinking behind the album was to use it as a vehicle to look back at the previous century through the lens of contemporary music. Mitchell took on tracks including ‘At Last’, which was popularised by Etta James, and the standard ‘Don’t Worry ’bout Me’.
In a Q&A with Rolling Stone, Mitchell explained the thinking behind the record: “There was no point in doing them any other time. It was the end of the century. It was time to reflect on the music that went before. It was good for culture and music to revisit this, because we have gone so far from a melody, you know, and genuine musical ability”.
She added: “You’ve got an appalling amount of mediocrity and amateurishness in the foreground now. Because nobody cares, as long as it sells. It’s not music anymore, it’s just ick. There’s no muse in ick, you know. There’s no muse to it.”
In the album’s liner notes, Klein said Both Sides Now is “a programmatic suite documenting a relationship from initial flirtation through optimistic consummation, metamorphosing into disillusionment, ironic despair, and finally resolving in the philosophical overview of acceptance and the probability of the cycle repeating itself”.
Mitchell was filled with immense pride following the completion of the record. In the same interview, she admitted: “This is the only one that I have listened to after I finished it. Ever.”
Mitchell’s ingenuity on the inventive album won her the Grammy for ‘Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album’, and the titular track was also named ‘Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s)’ at the same ceremony.
Despite being a veteran when she made Both Sides Now, Mitchell’s mercurial spark was still thriving, and it helped cement her status as an all-time great. Listen to the reworked version of ‘Both Sides, Now’ below.