PopOff! Commentary & Attack Of The Cover Versions: A Case Of Covers

PopOff! Bonus Beats, Attack Of The Cover Versions: A Case Of Covers

Hello Poppies please enjoy these bonus beats special edition of Attack Of The Cover Versions for Joni Mitchel’s 80s birthday. Plus some commentary below.

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1. Wynonna Judd & Bryan Adams – Raised On Robbery
2. The Spin Doctors – Woodstock
3. Aoife O’Donnovan – You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio
4. Phantoms Of Future – The Flight Tonight
5. Tim Curry – All I Want
6. K.D. Lang – Help Me
7. Los Lobos, Marisol, & Chaka Khan – Dreamland
8. Janet Jackson – The Beat Of Black Wings
9. Shemekia Copland – Black Crow
10. Prince – A Case Of You
11. Thomas Dolby – Jungle Line
12. Cyndi Lauper – Carey
13. Joni Mitchell – Both Sides Now

Joni Mitchell – Both Sides Now


It seems we all suddenly wake up to do proper tributes when an icon passes, blasting the songs from every cafe and club speaker but sleep on them for years or decades prior simply because they aren’t charting or they are old. So I figured I’d get this shout out in BEFORE the end.

I only new the name Joni Mitchell not the music for… gosh, well into my 20s maybe. Amy Grant had covered, “Big Yellow Taxi” in the mid 90s having a minor hit with it. But I don’t think I was aware it was a song by THE Joni Mitchell. I knew she was a musician from the 60s and part of the Laurel Canyon crew but had not heard her work, except the Amy Grant cover and MAYBE Judy Collins from my mother’s record collection. But again I didn’t recognize it as Joni Mitchell’s work.

But when The Rosie O’Donnell Show had it’s final bow in 2002 they played Joni Mitchell’s rerecording of, “Both Sides Now” from her 2000 album of the same name over the credits. It hit me hard for reasons unknown. And I sought out that song not knowing it was Joni and not knowing it was a new version she had recorded. So the song escaped me for years. There was no Shazam back then kiddos and no YouTube either if the dates in my brain are functioning right.

I found her original version easy enough but it was too youthful and pristine, whether it was Joni or Judy. Not to mention the countless others who have sung it that way. So it did not resonate with me outside of being a very pretty song. There was something about this other version from 2000 that I resonated with a lot more. I think it was because I was in a VERY dark place and the light and airy tone of the original was not my current mood. But eventually I found the version I wanted and hit just like I remembered… hard.

One YouTube comment of the remake read, “24 year old Joni wrote this for her 54 year old self to sing”. And when you hear Joni singing it in her older years the song achieves a level of nuance and poignancy that could NEVER be sung by somebody in their twenties or even thirties. It is why I never bought Jackie Evancho singing, “My Heart Will Go On” back in 2012. It takes years of experiencing emotions to be able to sing a song not just technically “right” but emotionally “right”.

Imagine a high school production of King Lear vs seeing the play performed by adults. It is something you just can’t act out until you know the emotions first hand. No high school student has had to deal with old age and daughters fighting over the leftovers of a dynasty. And this in part is what is stunning about this song and many of Joni’s songs, they evolved and became even deeper the older she got. And this is one aspect of Joni Mitchell’s work that for me makes her one of the twenty greatest musicians of all time in music any genre.

Was that song written with any inkling of an older self. No. It couldn’t have been written as such because somebody in their twenties just hasn’t logged the years to earn the life experience to know what the fifties feel like. Unless… unless you are dealing with mystical powers… Now I’m not going to say Joni Mitchell has divine powers beyond music. But you look at her best songs and even though the lyrics stay the same they evolve with the age and experience of whoever is singing it in a way that doesn’t happen in the majority of other songs making the rounds, even from the best songwriters.

Compare the original take to her live performance in 2000.


Currently Swift is rerecording her old albums and people comment about Swift being older and recording songs of her younger self and how she sings them with a more mature voice. But to me they sound more or less the same. And granted, that was her intent. But I don’t hear the maturity coming through as many others do I just hear pop songs sung adequately. Also, I don’t see a songs like, “Style” or “Bad Blood” or “All Too Well” or “Cardigan” or “Teardrops On My Guitar” evolving with an older Swift and gaining deeper meaning.

But Joni reworking her biggest hit into a more melancholy jazz vein and singing it at fifty plus years you her the wisdom and the history in it. It made me cry at twenty something and now hits even harder because while the lyrics stayed the same I evolved and matured to understand them better. And this is true for many of her songs I’ve heard over the years.

At the time Joni came upon the scene there were few other women writing and recording their own material. And even fewer writing, playing, producing and singing at her level.

Carole King would release the seminal Tapestry in the 1971. Carly Simon also debuted the same year having major pop hits. You also had Laura Nyro who had songs that became hits for others in the later 60s and early 70s but who largely flew under the radar. But that was more or less it when in came to women writing and singing, and in the case of Joni, producing, their own work. And Joni Mitchell was by all accounts mainstream despite producing very few radio hit singles.

Then there is her lyric structure, which on many songs defies the common practices of the day of; verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus out. The only other person I can think of that defied mainstream lyric structure while still being mainstream was Roy Orbison in the rock ‘n’ Roll era of the 50s.

But that kind of song structure allowed many of her songs to traverse that hazy line between lyrics and poetry. So many people think the two are interchangeable and even I have a hard time explaining the difference but I know it when I hear it. And I hear it in her lyrics.

Also, important to the lyrics was her vocabulary. Studies have shown that mainstream music since the 60s has gradually had less and less lyrical variety in word choices. And this is another reason why so many mainstream songs, even by different artists can sound like they run together to me because there is not as much variety in the word choices. I also think this is a result of education not being properly funded or taken seriously, at least in US. But that is another story.

And then there is Joni Mitchel’s phrasing, which sometimes takes on a scat like quality on songs like, “California”.

Or how she hangs on certain words just a touch longer than others in songs like, “Help Me”. And her phrasing style would only become more pronounced as she got older and all that smoking caught up with her voice.

If I knew more about guitars and music theory I could go into her unique tuning and playing styles and all the various chords and keys she uses on her records, which is also far less common than it was in the 60s/70s, in the mainstream. And not just over whole albums but single songs will have mutiple key changes or tempo changes. So since this is not my area of expertise I defer to the experts and this is a good example.

Now, I am by no means a devotee. Joni Mitchell is not one of all time favorite musicians but that is why I have made the distinction between “favorites” and “greatest” in my life over the years. Joni Mitchell has influenced many of my favorites like Cyndi Lauper and Annie Lennox and I understand why she is the greatest even if she is not MY favorite.

And I have to say even while not being a major fan. Listening to her albums really screwed me over because I can’t go back now. I have the music in my history and DNA. Knowing what is possible in music because of, “Case Of You” or River” or “Black Crow” makes me even more jaded with what people accept as passable or “good” in the world music today.

Go back and listen to any of these albums; Blue, Court and Spark, The Hissing Of Summer Lawns, Clouds, Hejira, Ladies Of The Canyon… You may not understand them. It may sound like a foreign language, especially if it is new to you. You may not even like them. Or they may grow on you. Or you may find yourself suddenly obsessed and overjoyed. Either way you can’t go back and you can’t, with any credibility, look at most mainstream modern music and give it the same high marks. For me Joni Mitchell is straight As from the late 60s up until 1976 or so. And if you add in other artists like Prince, Ellington, Bowie… it makes it makes even more of everything else I hear these days earn B, or more likely C, grades or lower.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) I have standards, and Joni Mitchell is one of them.

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