Joni Mitchell is one of my all-time favorite singer-songwriters. Her brilliant and complex lyrics are married to interesting  melodies and complicated chord progressions blending folk music and jazz. The melodies are so idiomatic that they seem to be improvised, and they fit her voice so perfectly that no one else could really do them justice. I have almost all of her albums, but my favorite has to be Court and Spark.

Court and Spark, Joni Mitchell (1974)

court

This album contained two hits for Mitchell: “Free Man in Paris” and “Help Me.” I was immediately in love with both of those songs, but I listened to the album so frequently that at one time I was able to sing every word of the album from memory. In fact, to prove to myself that I really knew the words, I once typed out the lyrics to every song in order, without looking at the album or listening to the music. (That’s a word nerd’s way of expressing devotion, I guess.) One thing that made this album unique (but was a killer back when we listened to 8-track tapes) was that most of the songs led one right into the next, seamlessly, without interruption. The CD version allows that to happen in the way Mitchell intended it. (I remember driving around listening to it on the 8-track tape, and it would stop and click in the weirdest places…)

I couldn’t decide which song I would choose to provide lyrics for, so I finally settled on the title track. Here are Mitchell’s thoughtful and quirky words:

Love came to my door
With a sleeping roll
And a madman’s soul
He thought for sure I’d seen him
Dancing up a river in the dark
Looking for a woman
To court and spark
He was playing on the sidewalk
For passing change
When something strange happened
Glory train passed through him
So he buried the coins he made
In People’s Park
And went looking for a woman
To court and spark
It seemed like he read my mind
He saw me mistrusting him
And still acting kind
He saw how I worried, sometimes
I worry sometimes
“All the guilty people, ” he said
They’ve all seen the stain
On their daily bread
On their christian names
I cleared myself
I sacrificed my blues
And you could complete me
I’d complete you
His eyes were the color of the sand
And the sea
And the more he talked to me, you know
The more he reached me
But I couldn’t let go of L.A.
City of the fallen angels

 

I love the way Mitchell tells stories, leaving details open to interpretation, letting us fill in the missing pieces. Her story in this song is melancholy, and at the end, a little bit bitter, especially when you hear her voice singing the last line. The next song on the album, “Help Me,” is a song about falling in love in spite of yourself–not wanting to go down that painful path again, but knowing that you can’t stop. It seems so fitting after this introduction to painful romance, especially in the repeated lines “We love our loving, but not like we love our freedom.” You can listen to “Court and Spark” on YouTube. Here is a link to the song, but there are also links available for the entire album. Although, if I were you, I would listen to it on Spotify–better sound and a more legal, copyright-approved way of listening.

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