Joni Mitchell Rediscovers the Beauty in Her Earliest Work

Singer collects largely unheard songs from the 1960s for a new box set
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 27, 2020 6:07 PM CDT
'A Fool for Love' Rediscovers the Beauty in Early Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell is presented with a birthday cake onstage at "JONI 75: A Birthday Celebration," in November 2018 in Los Angeles.   (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Looking back at her earliest songs, Joni Mitchell has felt a little disconnected from them. "They’re like some ancient world," the singer-songwriter said in 2004. She didn't plan to ever release many of the tracks on her new box set, Joni Mitchell Archives Vol 1: The Early Years (1963-1967). "Some of the melodies are beautiful, but they're very ingenue-y," Mitchell told Cameron Crowe in that interview. "God, they're so vulnerable in these tough times." The project reacquainted her with a young Joni Mitchell, as well, the Guardian reports, and the lessons of life. On love, she tells Crowe in a new interview, nothing much has changed through the years. "I make the same mistake over and over again," Mitchell said. "I'm just a fool for love." The box set has 91 songs and 28 spoken introductions taken from radio broadcasts, live performances, and home demos, per American Songwriter. Two of the five CDs consist of performances at an Ann Arbor folk club, Canterbury House, in 1967.

After long resisting a visit to the early songs, Mitchell, a painter herself, changed her mind after attending a Van Gogh exhibition. "They had all his paintings arranged chronologically," she said, "and you'd watch the growth as you walk along." If the box set has a similar effect, she'd be happy. "The later work is much richer and deeper and smarter," Mitchell said, but when she played the early work, she found it beautiful. "It made me forgive my beginnings," she said. As for what it all means, Mitchell tells the story of a girl in Ireland terrorized by battalions of English helicopters flying over her home at bedtime. Someone gave her a Joni Mitchell tape, saying, "This is a song that you should know, a girl your age." The girl later wrote Mitchell, saying, "I survived the war by putting the wonky tape recorder up to my ear and listening to 'The Circle Game.'" As a reward for your work, Mitchell said, "It's hard to beat that." (More Joni Mitchell stories.)

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