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Music

Prince was a Joni Mitchell super-fan as a teenager

@SamWKemp

It’s easy to forget just how influential Joni Mitchell has been. She rarely gives interviews or opens up about her work in a way that many of her more self-celebratory contemporaries do. As such, her legacy is rarely talked about win the same way that say Neil Young’s or Leonard Cohen’s is. Of course, the reality is that Mitchell’s music served as a blueprint for many of the greatest recording artists of the ’70s onwards.

Everyone from Chaka Khan and Neil Diamond to Chrissie Hynde and Herbie Hancock has cited her blend of soulful philoso-folk as a major influence. But few of them were quite as obsessed with Mitchell as Prince was when he was a teenager.

Mitchell remembers seeing Prince in the crowd during one of her concerts in Minnesota in the 1970s. “I remember seeing him sitting in the front row when he was very young,” She told New York Magazine. “He must have been about 15. He was in an aisle seat and he had unusually big eyes. He watched the whole show with his collar up, looking side to side. You couldn’t miss him — he was a little Prince-ling.”

Prince even wrote fan letters to Mitchell, in which he attempted to make this deep affection for her known. Alas, his writing style came across as a little psychotic, worrying her publicity team. “Prince used to write me fan mail with all of the U’s and hearts that way that he writes,” she recalled. “And the office took it as mail from the lunatic fringe and just tossed it!”

As Prince grew older, his affection for Joni Mitchell only grew stronger. In a 1985 interview with Rolling Stone, for example, the glam star declared her 1975 album, The Hissing of Summer Lawns, the last album he’d listened to that he’d “loved the whole way through”. In Prince’s eyes, Mitchell was something of a rarity. He once said that he respected “people’s success, but I don’t like a lot of popular music. I never did.”

Mitchell had somehow managed to be both successful and retain her own artistic vision. Of course, Prince also adored Mitchell’s ability to turn chord progressions into lush narrative backdrops.

Remembering the times she joined Prince in the studio, Mitchell said: “From time to time, I would comment and say, ‘Oh, I love that chord,’ or ‘I love that progression — where did you get that from?’ And he would say, ‘From you,'” Mitchell once said, per the LA Times. “But I wouldn’t recognize it.”