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Music

Robbie Robertson’s favourite Joni Mitchell song

@TomTaylorFO

From life on the road as a touring musician to finally sharing the spotlight when The Band emerged from the shadows, Robbie Robertson’s journey in music has been a rather more winding one than most. At 78, you could forgive him for finally putting his feet up and basking in the harvest of his toil. However, if The Band were anything, it was a culmination and, thus, it simply wouldn’t be in keeping with his own unique legacy if he didn’t remain at the forefront of his gathering musical momentum. 

In 2019, he crafted the critically lauded album Sinematic, and unlike a lot of artists in their autumn years, it was still fresh enough to celebrate without any hint of glossy-eyed nostalgia. While the legendary musician was promoting the album, Robertson caught up with the Los Angeles Times to discuss his life in music. As a musician who has worked with seemingly the entire folk scene in his day, he has a greater insight than many regarding what made the scene soar.

In the awe-inspiring epic concert film The Last Waltz, The Band managed to rub shoulders with many of their heroes. They are joined on stage by Joni Mitchell who sang ‘Coyote’ and provided becloaked backing vocals for the Neil Young track ‘Hopeless’ and the ensuing performances are highlights are the entire gilded concert. 

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Robertson has often extolled his gratitude for Mitchell being part of the show and expressed who much he admires her as an artist. However, there is one song in particular – a song which he was fortunate enough to play on – that he holds dearest in her entire discography. In fact, he goes as far as to say that ‘Raised on Robbery’ from her 1974 record Court and Spark is one of his favourite songs of all time full stop. 

The track documents the tale of a prostitute who tries to pick a lonely man sitting in a hotel bar by expressing her life story, but when the final verse is cast the man simply gets up leaving her in despair. The song itself is as performative as anything in Mitchell’s songbook, with histrionic vocals and slide guitars giving the song an almost cinematic feel. 

“[They recently remixed the record] and when they did, Joni said to me, ‘I listened to the whole song, and just listened to your guitar in it. The rhythm is incredible. And so when we remixed it, we turned it up.’” Robertson recalled. “She and I have dinner every once in a while,” he happily added. Clearly, being part of the song is a mark of great artistic pride for Robertson and why wouldn’t it be? The track is a timeless beauty that exhibits a humorous side to the often solemn Mitchell.