Happy 70th birthday to the legendary singer/songwriter/painter/soul of Saskatoon/Parisian free man Joni Mitchell. Props to the woman for years of candor about the music business and her own restless musical evolution. When both Charles Mingus and Prince care to toast your work, you might be awesome.
In the age of The Kids Are All Right, emotional Joni Mitchell covers may seem a tad trite, but let me remind you: The woman’s songs are unbelievable, and it’s often wonderful to hear him them sung and reinterpreted by other artists. It can also be a jarring experience as you’ll hear with a couple of entries on this list, but let’s explore: 10 Joni Mitchell covers worth hearing.
Well, that’s awesome. Mrs. Elvis Costello is still on her feet (or sitting on that piano bench?) after a remarkable version of Joni’s tenderest Blue moment.
2. Judy Collins, “Chelsea Morning”
Judy Collins’ voice is legendary, and this calming cover makes me wish she’d also cover Joni’s “Morning Morgantown.”
I miss VH1’s Storytellers (and VH1 VJ Rebecca Rankin, who appears at the end of that clip). Travis is a great band, and this cover of “River” is pained enough for inclusion in this exclusive tally.
Aimee Mann has plenty of great covers (Bruce Springsteen’s “Reason to Believe,” the Beach Boys’ “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times,” and Jackie DeShannon’s “What the World Needs Now,” just to name a few) and even another great Joni cover of “River” — but this live version of “Free Man in Paris” is perfect for Aimee’s plain-sung, yet droll delivery. Somehow, “I felt unfettered and alive” seems sincere coming from her deadpan vocal.
5. Crosby & Nash, “Urge for Going”
CSNY were obviously a big part of Joni’s world in the early ’70s, but this sweet cover of “Urge for Going” is a nice contrast to their fuller-sounding take on “Woodstock.”
6. Nazareth, “This Flight Tonight”
Uh, did you know this existed? I didn’t. One of the great evocative mood pieces in Joni’s catalog, “This Flight Tonight” gets a howling arrangement from Nazareth here.
The most emotional invocation of clarinets since Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” “For Free” is a loving testament to the joy of musicianship. James Taylor is perfect for this song, and in fact all of Ladies of the Canyon would sound great sung with his crystal-clear instrument.
I don’t know if this is an unpopular opinion, but “You Turn Me On I’m a Radio” is one of my favorite Joni songs. She wrote it somewhat cynically as a ploy to get on radio (and it worked), but its glumly serene feel (coupled with innocent longing, of course) is just gorgeous. Here, you have to give credit to Zooey Deschanel for using that throwback voice of hers to nail the crestfallen tone.
The Hissing of Summer Lawns is a no-joke, crazy-ass, jazz-cat experience and it’s only right that a musical genius like Bjork would toast Joni with a tribute to one of its more offbeat tracks. Would love to hear Bjork on Joni’s 90s gem “Come In From the Cold.” Perfect for her childlike, yet damning voice.
Before I slam this cover for being a bit unbearable, let me say: Carly Rae Jepsen’s debut album is a very good pop record. It is super bouncy, and she’s a buoyant enough personality to sell it. I’m posting this to prove that kids today are familiar with Joni’s work. Anyone with even a passing interest in songwriting knows a couple of Joni tracks, and in that way we should be grateful that people attempt poppy dance covers of even the saddest Joni songs. If this version doesn’t suit you, listen to the original and all is safe again.