Before Joni Mitchell emerged as a performer and demonstrated that she could sing her songs better than anyone else, she was known primarily as a songwriter. Her pieces were covered by a wide range of artists over the course of her musical career. This playlist of Joni Mitchell compositions as covered by other artists is highly incomplete and idiosyncratic.
I first knew who Joni was through the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young cover of her song “Woodstock,” which is perched on this list. Everyone knows how Judy Collins spread the word, and there are no Counting Crows to be counted here. There are a number of jazz musicians here, because so many of them are fascinated by her compositions. There are also two album length treatments: Herbie Hancock’s Grammy-winning River: The Joni Letters, and Tierney Sutton’s After Blue.
I can tell you that Joni liked covers by Prince and Bjork, but that I like things that she didn’t like, because by the time I got to know her, she was liking less and less. Some of these artists, like Chaka Khan, are friends. Others are friends of spirit. Yet I still used Joni’s criteria for looking for the real thing, which is not about perfection, but soul. These versions brim with authenticity in one way or another, from the primitive to the virtuosic. You may want to add, you may want to subtract. What do Courtney Love and Barbara Streisand and Prince have in common? Now you know. Joni’s songs are challenges, but in the right hands they are also gifts. Each sheds some new light on Joni Mitchell’s musical legacy in one way or another. Let these lights shine.
Bjork, “Boho Dance”
Elvis Costello, “Edith And the Kingpin”
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, “Woodstock”
Jack Dejonette, et al, “Woodstock”
Dave Douglas, “Roses Blue”
Bob Dylan, “Big Yellow Taxi”
Renee Fleming, “River”
Robert Glasper, “Barangrill”
Herbie Hancock, River: The Joni Letters
Fred Hersch, “Both Sides, Now,” “My Old Man”
Hole, “Both Sides, Now (listed as ‘Clouds’)”
Keith Jarrett, “All I Want”
Chaka Khan, , “Hejira,” “Ladies Man,” “Man From Mars”
Diana Krall, “Black Crow”
Aimee Mann, “River”
Brad Mehldau, “Roses Blue,” “Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow”
Natalie Merchant, “All I Want”
Karen Oberlin, “Love”
Danilo Perez, “Fiddle and the Drum”
Madeleine Peyroux and K.D. Lang, “River”
Cat Power, “Blue”
Prince, “A Case of U”
Bonnie Raitt, “That Song About the Midway”
Joshua Redman, “I Had a King”
Luciana Souza, “Down to You”
Barbara Streisand, “I Don’t Know Where I Sand”
Tierney Sutton, After Blue
Cassandra Wilson, “Black Crow,” “For The Roses”
Reckless Daughter, David Yaffe’s biography about Joni Mitchell’s life and legacy, was released this week.
David Yaffe was born in Dallas, Texas, in 1973. He is a professor of humanities at Syracuse University and a 2012 winner of the Roger Shattuck Prize for Criticism. His writing has appeared in many publications, including The Nation, Harper’s Magazine, The New York Times, Slate, New York, The Village Voice, The Daily Beast, and Bookforum. He is the author of Bob Dylan: Like a Complete Unknown and Fascinating Rhythm.
Art is Chan Marshall (Cat Power) performing Joni Mitchell’s “Blue.”