Released early in the year 2000, the Both Sides Now album saw Joni Mitchell do something uncharacteristic. After decades of musical innovation and relentless examination of herself and the wider world, she looked back to the past with a record mostly comprised of covers of pop standards from the 30s and 40s.
Still, this being Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now wasn’t quite as straightforward as the Great American Songbook album that many of her peers (Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan) have since made. Firstly, it featured reimaginings of two of the best Joni Mitchell songs – Both Sides, Now itself, originally released on her 1969 album, Clouds, and A Case Of You, first released on 1971’s Blue.
Listen to ‘Both Sides Now’ here.
Secondly, the songs were arranged to form the narrative of a romantic journey, as Mitchell explained to The Los Angeles Times in a February 2000 interview: “It’s the one we’ve all been on. First, you are smitten, which is the first song, You’re My Thrill, which was a Billie Holiday recording. Then you go through facets of pleading and making concessions along the way, then the romantic love goes away, and the album ends with Both Sides, Now, which says you don’t know love at all.”
“It was liberating just to sing someone else’s music”
The idea for the album took hold when Mitchell sang the Lena Horne staple Stormy Weather at a fundraiser concert held in Los Angeles and organised by Eagles’ Don Henley, in 1998. “It was liberating just to sing someone else’s music,” she later recalled. “Plus, I wanted to make an album that represented a romantic journey with [musical ideas] culled from some of the most creative music of the 20th century.”
That performance was followed up by her takes on The Man I Love and Summertime, for Herbie Hancock’s 1998 album, Gershwin’s World, the jazz icon and Mitchell collaborator’s tribute to the US pianist and composer George Gershwin. The following year, while touring with Bob Dylan, Mitchell surprised fans once again by performing the jazz standard Comes Love, most closely identified with Billie Holiday.