Joni Mitchell Blue Album Anniversary
Was it the first break up album ever? The most trailblazing album for a woman? What about the recording itself?
Andrew Welker reflects on the meaning and impact of Joni Mitchell Blue album's 50th anniversary: what was happening in Mitchell's life, and in the world in general at the time that made it such an impactful album. Part music history and part audio recording history, it's an interesting look at a great album.
1971 was an absolutely incredible year for recorded music. As witnessed by the fact that since the start of this year 2021, we've had nothing but a slew of 50th anniversary releases of some of these classic albums and also accolades and more modern or contemporary today musicians talking about the influence some of those albums had on them.
One album in particular, Joni Mitchell's Blue, was released originally on June 22nd, 1971, and it's celebrated its 50th anniversary. I was amazed by the amount in not only the mainstream or... I should say maybe the non-music or non-dedicated music press, how many articles there have been about this album.
It's no wonder the Rolling Stone on their top 500 albums of all time has Joni Mitchell's Blue listed as number three, the highest by a female artist. National Public Radio in the United States said that Joni Mitchell's Blue was the number one album by a female artist, of all time.
It's an incredible document, let's put it that way. I'm just going to say, before I go into a few details about this album, if you haven't heard it, please, please give it a listen. You will, I guarantee, be amazed, no matter what kind of music you like and you listen to.
On Blue, the creative process for it started just after Joni's breakup with Graham Nash from Crosby, Stills, Nash or Crosby, Stills and Young. During that period of writing and creating for the album, and even on its release date in 1971, she had started a very, in many ways, tumultuous relationship with James Taylor, who was just on the cusp and growing massively in popularity and becoming essentially, the star that he is today.
He also was in the midst of a fairly bad heroin addiction.
Now, why Blue is such a incredible album and so recognized both critically and just by music fans alike, is I think partially because Joni stripped everything out.
It's a very raw recording. Minimal musical accompaniment. She plays guitar or piano or dulcimer depending on the cut.
What's really amazing is that there's not only that audible exposure of her voice in the minimal instrumentation, but there's also the fact that she is laid bare and stripped everything, any walls, any barriers between her communicating her emotion in those songs to the listener. She's broken down the barriers.
Kris Kristofferson famously remarked that, "Hey, Joni," when he heard the album, "leave something for yourself here." She put too much on the table, in his opinion. She laid herself so bare emotionally.
Another reason that this album is important, is that many people consider it one of the first breakup relationship albums. We know over the years, with Taylor Swift and many other artists, this has been a focus of albums and songs for a long time, but many consider that the first complete album talking about not only break up, but the trials and tribulations of a new relationship and being a partner to someone suffering an addiction.
One other thing that's very, very important to note here is that today, that album would be an incredible thing. Back in 1971, think about where the world was in terms of women's position in the music industry in particular, and now consider the fact that Joni not only sings, performs on all the instrumentation, she wrote all of the songs on Blue and she produced the album herself.
Now, think about that.
Complete creative control, and every detail of that music is her. That's one of the reasons I think that it's such an important recording.
Congratulations to 50 years of that being an amazing recording when it originally came out and still respected today.
Because this is an audio site and not a dedicated music channel, I will also point out the fact that the recording, as I mentioned, is so minimal, so stripped, and minimally produced. No effects, multiple instrumentation, backing vocalists, none of that. It's a very pure and authentic recording in terms of the sound quality.
If you haven't heard it, please give it a listen. One other thing I'll point out, don't randomly go on AllMusic and pick the two or three listed best songs off the album.
This is another album that's meant to be listened to as an album in the original sequencing that came out on the LP.
That's important because you'll be taken on an emotional roller coaster ride as you go through the songs on side one and side two. Or your CD has the same lineup. I urge you to listen if you haven't heard it.
Congratulations to Joni. She's had some health issues lately. There's a great video where she did a very rare little snippet talking about her impressions and reflecting on the album, Blue that's available online, you can Google it. I urge you to check that out.
While we're on the topic of great music albums celebrating 50 years this year, what are your favorites? What was your favorite album that came out in 1971? I'd really love to hear about it.