Unfortunately, when people consider the greatest albums of all time, they are generally considering a catalog of music made mostly by men. In fact, in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the top 500 albums of all time there is not a single female musician in the entire top ten portion of the list. A female musician doesn’t even shop up on the list until number 13, and even then, it’s Nico, the co-lead singer for the all-male Velvet Underground. For a laundry list of societal reasons, female musicians are generally under-represented on the lists of the greatest musicians, albums, etc.
For the owner of a truly great record collection, this issue does not exist. A real record collector knows that great music is not bound by meaningless barriers like race or gender. To them, the only thing that matters is having the best, most important music in their collection, and ready to spin on the turntable. The boy’s clubs of the top-ten-best-whatever lists be damned, great music is what fills the shelves and milk crates of their record collection.
And no collector would be caught dead without one of the greatest singer-songwriter albums of all time, “Blue” by Joni Mitchell. The album, with its deep blue close-up shot of Mitchell on the cover is a must have for any serious collector. It’s one of the greatest break-up albums of all time, coming four full years before Dylan’s similarly themed “Blood on the Tracks.” Music fans have been arguing about which is the better ever since, and there may never be a definite answer. Mitchell’s lyrics are razor sharp and relentless, leaving little need for anything else.
As for the album, it’s absurdly intimate. It sounds like Mitchell and her small group of backing musicians are playing in a cafe outside your bedroom rather than through a speaker. It’s the perfect tone for Mitchell, who airs her vulnerabilities out like no other songwriter. Her troubled voice singing about her insecurities make for the some of the most honest songs ever put on vinyl. She leaves no thought, emotion, or hardship off this album. Giving the listener the purest idea of what the musician was feeling when she wrote the song.
The album begins with “All I Want” and immediately sets the tone of the album. Mitchell is grappling with the feeling of loneliness. She sings, “I am on a lonely road, and I am traveling” it is a perfect song to sum Mitchell at this point, she has been on the road performing, and on holiday overseas, traveling the world and feeling lonely. Now she states what she wants at home, her manifesto for happiness. Although it begins the album, it serves as a climax for the songs that are to follow.
The album continues with “My Old Man” and “Little Green.” The first of which offers beautiful piano playing on a love song about a relationship of free love, no signed pieces of paper are needed to keep Mitchell happy she sings, so long as her man is there to take her into his loving arms. “Little Green” is an intimate song with some classic skillful Mitchell guitar playing. By the next song, “Carey,” the album begins to pick up tempo. The upbeat guitars bouncing off the light drumming produce a magical sound. The song takes place on Mitchell’s holiday on the Mediterranean and in Europe. She sings about the joyful, in-the-moment love she finds there. Side one of the album closes out on a more somber note with “Blue.” “Songs are like tattoos” Mitchell sings, and this one is as unique and meaningful as any body art.
Side two of the album opens with one of the most well-known songs of Mitchell’s, “California.” If this song isn’t the state’s anthem someone needs to fix this immediately. Joni Mitchell is in Europe at this point in her album, Paris to be exact. She loves the fun, but she misses home and feels lonely “when the streets are full of strangers.” She is ready to head back home. Which she does nervously on the next song, “This Flight Tonight.” Mitchell sings of the anxiety of returning home over powerful guitars strumming. The next “River” is about loneliness during the holidays, featuring “Jingle Bells” in minor chords as the opening. But it’s the albums ending that may be the strongest. “A Case of You” and “The Last Time I Saw Richard” are where Mitchell’s lyrics are the sharpest and most memorable, bringing the album to a perfect ending that will have you picking up the needle to play the whole thing again.
When building an album collection, one may run to some of the male-dominated vinyl albums that everyone claims to be the greatest. But this album by Joni Mitchell is there, “waiting in the dark cafes” for those you know what albums are really great. And what albums truly belong in the best collections of vinyl.