Free Woman: Joni Mitchell’s ‘Court And Spark’ (50 Year Anniversary)

Joni Mitchell’s spark shines brighter than ever as we look back at her daring and honest ‘Court And Spark’ album and its impact 50 years on.

Joni finds that spark

As the star of the 70s, (and rightfully so) Joni Mitchell is known for her ability to make life’s most wearisome moments feel like an honour to experience. Capturing this feeling beautifully was her sixth studio album, ‘Court And Spark’, released on January 17th, 1974. The acclaimed album took time to perfect, making 1973 the first year since her professional career started that she hadn’t given the world a new record. However, she used that time to perfect her art and experiment with new sounds. Finding a way to mix her recognisable folk-rock style and intertwining her love of jazz created the perfect fusion of her usual frankness, and a scatty new style. The album’s first single, (released in December 1973) ‘Raised on Robbery’, was the perfect taster for listeners to delve into this new sound with its funky guitar and her captivating voice.

Ultimately becoming the backbone of the next steps within her music, it became her biggest album. Going on to hit Number 2 in the US charts and was deemed double platinum by RIAA. Joni even covered Annie Ross’s whimsical track ‘Twisted’ for the album, stating she felt the right to sing it. Whilst having a cameo from comedy duo Cheech & Chong, her work with sound engineer Henry Lewy proved the right choice.

People’s Parties

Despite this success solidifying her new style choices, there was also quite a backlash that the devoted Mitchell faced due to these unexpected changes. While A&M was the place to be as a musician throughout the 70s, it wasn’t unusual for these famous artists to crash into one another’s sessions. This could be to lend an ear or join in on a track. As a consequence of this, John Lennon wandered in one day, interrupting Joni. He told her that the music she was making was “a product of overeducation”. Whereas, the Canadian singer had spent the majority of her upbringing moving around due to her father’s job as an Air Force Flight Lieutenant and struggled greatly in school.

It seems these put-downs from her peers only proved the point of her music now more than ever. ‘Court And Spark’ was shaped by the exchange of a quiet art-filled life for one surrounded by rich experienced pros. As a result, this big change came with a whole new outlook on life. One that would allow her to explore these new experiences within her sound. The fourth track on the album ‘People’s Parties’ portrays this vision as clear as day. Including the story of a candlelit supper that took place in a room full of mirrors, transparent furniture, and wonton soup without the wontons. Additionally described by Joni herself as “it seemed like everybody was trying so hard you know”.

Time for change

Although Joni had faced disappointment despite the skyrocketing chart rankings, she took this as a way to fuel herself and be true to the art she was destined to make. Much like many female-identifying people in music, there is always the threat of becoming obsolete. Joni Mitchell was at a crossroads of knowing that the changes she sings so gracefully about were inevitable. Now she had to make a decision. Joni says it best herself in an interview with Cameron Crowe for Rolling Stone “You can stay the same and protect the formula that gave you your initial success. They’re going to crucify you for staying the same. If you change, they’re going to crucify you for changing. But staying the same is boring. And change is interesting. So, of the two options, I’d rather be crucified for changing.”

In a constantly evolving music scene, it is always a fight to be heard, luckily for us Joni’s voice has echoed through the ages. Even so, we have heard this narrative time and time again. Taylor Swift has spoken on this many times but most recognisably when accepting her Billboard Woman of the Decade award. Swift was speaking openly about the pressure to re-invent herself, only to be knocked down again. The passion and honesty that runs deep through artists like Taylor, Alanis Morissette, Lauryn Hill, Fiona Apple and so many more is what makes the importance of albums like ‘Court And Spark’ so crucial.

…because rather then fighting to be taken seriously in their fields, these women are still struggling to even have a chance to be in the room.

Taylor Swift – Acceptance Speech for Billboard’s Woman of the Decade, 2019

Thank you Joni for showing, even 50 years on, that without risk there is no reward and that everything you feel can be turned into art.

You can find Joni Mitchell on Instagram and X. You can read more anniversary articles like this one here.

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