Blue TURNS 50

In May, Apple TV+ released the eight-part docuseries 1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything. One might argue that any year from the late 1960s through the mid-1970s could be rightfully swapped into the title, but the list of albums released in 1971, along with projects that were being recorded in 1971 for release the following year, is pretty impressive.

For a taste of what’s on tap, here’s the official trailer.

Together with Carole King’s Tapestry, the fourth episode highlights Joni Mitchell’s Blue, released on Reprise Records exactly 50 years ago today. One of the seminal albums of that year–of any year–it’s been a touchstone for countless individuals. I was nine years old when it came out, still oblivious to the complexities of ‘grown up’ music. When I crossed its path as an impressionable nineteen-year old, it stuck. Even though I haven’t owned a turntable in years, I still have my Blue LP (pictured at the top of the post). (I did buy a CD version at some point). The third post I wrote for this blog, back in March of 2013, was about one of the songs on Blue.

On its website, The New York Times recently posted a tremendous article celebrating Blue‘s 50th anniversary; it’s a song by song overview of the album, which not only includes several audio clips strategically nestled throughout the text, but comments from twenty-five other artists–James Taylor and Graham Nash (both of whom were romantic partners of Mitchell’s), Bonnie Raitt, and Chaka Khan, among others–about the legacy of the work.

Critic Lindsay Zoladz contributed an insightful introduction to the article; because it conveys some key points far better than I ever could, I’ll quote some of it here:

[Mitchell] left the loving comfort of her domestic life with fellow musician Graham Nash in Los Angeles’s Laurel Canyon neighborhood, booked a single plane ticket abroad and plunged into the uncharted blue — the cerulean melancholy of the album’s title track, the aquamarine shimmer of “Carey,” the frozen-over lazuline of “River” — all the while staining her hands with the indigo ink of poetic observation and relentless self-examination.

Half a century later, Mitchell’s “Blue” exists in that rarefied space beyond the influential or even the canonical. It is archetypal: The heroine’s journey that Joseph Campbell forgot to map out. It is the story of a restless young woman questioning everything — love, sex, happiness, independence, drugs, America, idealism, motherhood, rock ’n’ roll — accompanied by the rootless and idiosyncratically tuned sounds she so aptly called her “chords of inquiry.”

Though she was just 27 when it came out, Mitchell had already done more than enough living to know how much suffering and sacrifice is required for a woman to rip up the traditional script and pursue freedom on her own terms.

For the past five decades, “Blue” has been passed down like a ceremonial rite, a family heirloom, a holistic balm for the rawest kind of heartbreak.

If you’re a fan of Joni, and of Blue, the full article is a must read.

My March 2013 blog post, with minor changes, is below.


In June of 1981, exactly a decade after it was released, I discovered Joni Mitchell’s classic album, Blue. In September, I would begin my junior abroad in what was then still West Germany, and I’d been fortunate to line up a good job for the summer at Chesebrough-Pond’s (since subsumed into the Anglo-Dutch conglomerate, Unilever). I met some great people, a couple of whom I’m still in touch with lo these many years later.  In a conversation about music one day, one of them mentioned Blue.  On my next trip to the local Caldor, I bought the LP.

Joni collage
The incomparable Ms. Mitchell.

“A Case of You” is the second to last cut on the album’s second side.  The arrangement is simple: Mitchell on Appalachian dulcimer, James Taylor on acoustic guitar, and Russ Kunkel on drums.  There’s an entire world–of vulnerability, of loss–in this song; I’ve returned to it again and again over the years, and have always been especially attuned to the second verse and to the second time she sings the refrain, “Oh you’re in my blood like holy wine…” (highlighted in blue).  When she sings the ‘my’, highlighted in red, in the last line, she holds the note two beats longer than she did in the refrain the first time around…and in that tiny variation, I hear an additional layer of depth and longing.

On June 25th, Rhino Records is releasing THE REPRISE ALBUMS (1968-1971), newly remastered versions of Mitchell’s four albums on Reprise, of which Blue was the last. The others were: Song To A Seagull (1968), Clouds (1969), and Ladies Of The Canyon (1970). The cover artwork is one of Mitchell’s many self-portraits.

Just before our love got lost you said
“I am as constant as a northern star”
And I said “Constantly in the darkness
Where’s that at?
If you want me I’ll be in the bar”

On the back of a cartoon coaster
In the blue TV screen light
I drew a map of Canada
Oh Canada
With your face sketched on it twice

Oh you’re in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet
Oh I could drink a case of you darling
And I would still be on my feet
Oh I would still be on my feet

Oh I am a lonely painter
I live in a box of paints
I’m frightened by the devil
And I’m drawn to those ones that ain’t afraid

I remember that time you told me you said
“Love is touching souls”
Surely you touched mine
‘Cause part of you pours out of me
In these lines from time to time

Oh, you’re in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet
Oh I could drink a case of you darling
Still I’d be on my feet
I would still be on my feet

I met a woman
She had a mouth like yours
She knew your life
She knew your devils and your deeds
And she said
“Go to him, stay with him if you can
But be prepared to bleed”

Oh but you are in my blood
You’re my holy wine
You’re so bitter, bitter and so sweet
Oh, I could drink a case of you darling
Still I’d be on my feet
I would still be on my feet

If you’ve never seen someone play a dulcimer, here’s Mitchell performing the song at Wembley Arena in April of 1983. You can hear the toll taken by a heavy smoking habit, and a lot of touring, in the 12 years since recording Blue: her voice is noticeably lower.

The Refuge World Tour; Wembley Arena – London, England, April 24, 1983

I’ll close with a quote from David Crosby: “Picking a song from [Blue] is like choosing between your children. Can you imagine a better song than A Case of You? She was so brilliant as a songwriter, it crushed me. But she gives us all something to strive for.”

Indeed she does.


Miscellany:

The line “I am as constant as a northern star” is a slight variation on a line spoken by Julius Caesar in Act III Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:

“I am constant as the northern star,
Of whose true-fix’d and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament.”


If you’re aligned with AppleTV+’s choice of a transformational year in music, you’ll enjoy Vinyl Connection‘s multi-post exploration of 1971’s offerings.


I’ve written about Joni in this post as well.

7 comments

  • Congratulations,- another impressive blog- not the kind of music I really dig, but interesting nonetheless.

    Like

  • There is something particularly satisfying about a music post that includes memoir. Thank you for this one, JDB, and thanks for the shoutout too.

    We just bought a new iMac, which gave us a free year of Apple+ TV. This morning, while my body does a fairly ordinary job of processing the first Astra Zeneca shot, I watched episode 1 of the ‘1971’ series. There was a degree of challenge in getting past the hagiography of the title (being an opinionated bustard doesn’t help) but once I stopped huffing about 1967 and puffing about 1969, I found it very enjoyable despite covering familiar ground for the most part. The family who broke into the FBI office was a new component. Amazing.

    Anyway, I’m still trying to work out a scheme to cover the hundreds of 1971 releases still untouched at the half-way point of 2021, but some list of the ‘best’ seems demanded by the sheer depth and quality of the year’s albums and it is certain ‘Blue’ will be there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s one of the things I think you understand better than many: the powerful, evocative nature of music: the way a song (or a live jam, or an orchestral work) transports you back to the time you first heard it…

      Liked by 1 person

  • Jeanne,
    Thanks for another attention-getting post – attention-getting in my case because I’ve never listened carefully to Joni Mitchell, but I will now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it’s interesting how far in advance the print pieces are posted on-line. The article celebrating Blue was available on the website on either the 21st or the 22nd of June…

      Like

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