There’s no question that Joni Mitchell is an albums artist. Though she has enjoyed some success with singles, notably Big Yellow Taxi and Help Me, it’s the longer form where her complicated ideas can fully breathe. Both lyrically and musically, Mitchell’s music offers challenges; yet she still channels enormous warmth that draws worldwide devoted audiences. As the best Joni Mitchell albums prove, she can be accessible and mind-bendingly difficult; she can be pared-back and multi-layered; she can be folk, rock, jazz and every waypoint between.
“People thought that it was too intimate,” Mitchell said in 2022, in conversation with Elton John. She was looking back at her earlier albums and how she was viewed. “I think it upset the male singer-songwriters,” she continued. “I think it made people nervous.”
Mitchell has never worried about making people nervous. She revels in unexpected – and even uncomfortable – listening experiences. “I thrive on change,” she once said. “That’s probably why my chord changes are weird, because chords depict emotions. They’ll be going along on one key and I’ll drop off a cliff, and suddenly they will go into a whole other key signature. That will drive some people crazy, but that’s how my life is.”
Here, then, are the best Joni Mitchell albums – records that track those changes, and which cement their creator’s place among the best songwriters of all time.
Listen to the best of Joni Mitchell here, and check out our best Joni Mitchell albums, below.
10: ‘Song To A Seagull’ (1968)
A folk album from someone who resented being called a folk singer, Song To A Seagull was Mitchell’s assured debut. She was already an experienced songwriter and performer by the time of the album’s release, and on Song To A Seagull she is tugging at the frayed edges of folk music. She has described the album as “scratched, like an old silent movie negative”.
Lyrically, though not as complex as subsequent entries among the best Joni Mitchell albums, there is already a questioning, deep quality to her work; relationships are represented in nuanced and often confrontational terms. The original 1968 release of Song To A Seagull was, however, plagued by bad luck, with production work by an inexperienced David Crosby flattening out its sound, and poor cropping of the artwork obscuring the title. However, 2021 saw a Mitchell-approved remaster, and the foundation stone for one of music’s most complex mavericks can now be heard in its original vision.
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