Joni Mitchell: Ladies Of The Canyon

Now reissued on 180g vinyl, Joni Mitchell's third album found the singer-songwriter perfecting her confessional – and highly influential – style, says Steve Sutherland

It's complicated. There's a song on Blue, Joni Mitchell's fourth LP, which is not the album we're here to celebrate. The track's called 'A Case Of You' and compares the giddiness of getting drunk with being in love. But that's not the type of case I have in mind. The case I'm thinking about is the one associated with a courtroom when the prosecution and defence argue over someone's guilt. In other words, the case of Joni Mitchell.

Loved By Led Zep
The reason I'm mucking you about like this is because no other artist has mucked me about in recent years the way Joni Mitchell has. So much so that, quite frankly, I don't know what to think any more.

Her pros, of course, are many and rightly lauded. The late David Crosby reckoned that, if it wasn't for the sexism ingrained in the music industry, Ms Mitchell would be considered the match, if not a superior talent, to Bob Dylan. She's so revered by Lana Del Rey – surely one of our contemporary artists fully deserving of the term genius – that she covered Ms Mitchell's 'For Free' on her Chemtrails Over The Country Club album and name-checked Ladies Of The Canyon on 'Bartender' from Norman F***ing Rockwell.


Press shot of Joni Mitchell taken by Norman Seeff in 1998

Back in the 1970s, Led Zeppelin were so enamoured of Joni Mitchell they went acoustic in her honour on their third album, and penned 'Going To California' about her. 'She's able to look at something that's happened to her, draw back, crystallise the whole situation and then write about it', said Jimmy Page. 'She brings tears to my eyes.'

She's highly regarded not only as a pioneering musical inspiration but a role model too – a lone woman taking no bull in a macho arena. Consider the story behind 'Lead Balloon', a track off her 16th LP, Taming The Tiger. It seems she threw a glass of wine in the face of Jan Wenner, the founder of Rolling Stone magazine who she understandably considered a sexist pig after he printed a map detailing all the men Mitchell had supposedly slept with. (Note: Wenner has just been booted off the board of the Rock 'N' Roll Hall Of Fame Foundation for some sexist and racist remarks).

To her credit, Mitchell also followed Neil Young's lead in insisting all her music be removed from Spotify in protest against the streaming site hosting podcast shows by Joe Rogan that fuelled conspiracy theories about Covid treatments and vaccines.


Label of the original 1970 LP

High Opinion
However, all things considered, Ms Mitchell ain't no saint. For a start there's her 1977 LP Don Juan's Reckless Daughter where she is photographed in black face taking on the persona of Art Nouveau, a hipster character combining stereotypical elements of 1970s black culture, with the words 'mooslems mooooslems! Heh heh heh' printed on the inner gatefold. Mitchell has steadfastly refused to apologise down the years and has even claimed that she has a special kinship with black people and that they see her as a 'brother'.

And as much as her music is admirable, Mitchell is also kind of hard to like as a person. She has a high opinion of herself to the point of arrogance. 'There's no one like me. I'm as good as – and better than – most. But I'm not given my fair shake', she told The Guardian in 2007. 'The childish competitiveness, the lack of professionalism... I don't have a peer group. All of them, these spoiled children. It's not what I would have expected in an artistic community.'


The singer on stage in 1974

Golden Period
In the late 1990s she packed it in for a while and became a painter. 'I came to hate music', she later recalled, and only rejoined the fray after she was asked to compile a CD for Starbucks' 'Artist's Choice' series: 'I listened to everything I ever loved, to see if it held up, and much did. So I put together one that starts with Debussy, then takes a journey up through Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday and Miles Davis, and then Louis Jordan. That joyous music was conceived in such terrible times – and it was such a great relief to the culture at the time. Now we've got a horrible culture, horrible times and horrible music.'

One point Mitchell made during another grouchy interview does hit home, however. 'People thought that it was too intimate', she said recently about her golden period in the late '60s to mid '70s. 'I think it upset the male singer-songwriters. Of the moment when Blue first came out, she recalls, 'All the men around me were really nervous. Then people started calling me confessional, and then it was like a blood sport. I felt like people were coming to watch me fall off a tightrope or something'. Most famously, when she first played Blue for Kris Kristofferson, he said, 'Oh, Joni. Save something for yourself'.


Priced £34.99, the 180g reissue of Joni Mitchell's Ladies Of The Canyon is available online at

Digging Deep
And so to Ladies Of The Canyon, Mitchell's third album and the one that really began her ascent to singing/songwriting queen. It sounds as wide-eyed and innocent as its predecessors, but reaches deeper into her personal experiences. Okay, so the opener, 'Morning Morgantown', is 'Chelsea Morning' revisited and cute as a button, while 'Willy' is a squeamishly naff ode to her then partner Graham Nash – truly the stuff that punk was created to expunge.

Yet under the sweet confection of 'Conversation' and 'Blue Boy', Mitchell's jaundice is starting to show. She's better than his girlfriend, he's shallow in his pursuit of fame... the kind of superior, put-down thing perfected on 'The Last Time I Saw Richard' on Blue.

The hits are pretty great, too. 'Big Yellow Taxi' is as fun as it gets, blending themes of romance and environmentalism, while 'Woodstock', dreamy here, was taken up and given an electric shock by CSN&Y. 'The Circle Game' also debuts, but as evinced by its inclusion in Quentin Tarantino's excellent soundtrack to Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Buffy Sainte Marie's version is way more magical and poignant.


Mitchell pictured in 1979 while at her house in Laurel Canyon

The title track is a catalogue of new age Laurel Canyon privileged domesticity where you can almost smell the baking bread. It feels in sync with today's artists like Phoebe Bridgers who, accomplished as they are, consider everything they do worthy of widespread interest. Essentially they're diarists, and Ladies Of The Canyon – and Joni Mitchell – started the trend.

Re-Release Verdict
Newly remastered 'under the supervision of Joni Mitchell' by Los Angeles-based audio engineer Bernie Grundman, Reprise Records' reissue of Mitchell's 1970 album Ladies Of The Canyon [RR1 6376] comes on a single 180g black vinyl platter, and features the original artwork, track listing and printed lyrics in a gatefold cover. Also available and using the same Grudman remaster is a version pressed onto transparent green vinyl [Reprise Records RCV1 6376]. HFN