1. 10. “River” from Blue (1971)
Taken from Mitchell’s most popular album, Blue, this Christmas-themed song has become a seasonal classic over the decades. Like most of the tracks on the record, “River” is a love song. Nevertheless, Joni’s lyrics tell a story of a painful breakup that still hasn’t settled in as Christmas comes.
3. 9. “Woodstock” from Ladies of the Canyon (1970)
Although the more popular version of this song was recorded by Crosby, Stills and Nash, Mitchell’s version of “Woodstock” is a scaled-down tribute the 1969 festival of love, peace, and music. Interestingly, she never attended the 3-day hippie fest. She could’ve fooled us.
5. 8. “Cactus Tree” from Song to a Seagull (1968)
The final track on her 1968 debut album, “Cactus Tree” explores the downside of a free-spirited approach to life, and the fear of committing to a relationship. Ironically, the song’s hopeful melody and pulsating guitar texture produce an optimistic feeling for listeners.
7. 7. “Free Man in Paris” from Court and Spark (1974)
Taken from her second most popular album, Mitchell wrote “Free Man in Paris” about her former roommate and longtime friend, David Geffen, the ultra-wealthy founder of the successful Asylum and Geffen record labels. The lyrics are captivating, and the song displays the new direction of sophisticated jazz arrangements Mitchell explored on the album.
David Geffen & Joni Mitchell are photographed for Life Magazine (Early ’80s).
9. 6. “California” from Blue (1971)
Musicians have written plenty of songs about their lonely lives on the road, but few have captured the feeling of being homesick like Mitchell’s “California.” She croons, “It gets so lonely when you’re walking and the streets are full of strangers.”
11. 5. “Both Sides, Now” from Clouds (1969)
One of Mitchell’s best-known songs, “Both Sides, Now” remains a highlight on her second album. The song’s lyrics tell of how difficult and confusing love (and life) can be. With lines like, “I really don’t know life at all,” Mitchell isn’t afraid to be honest to herself or her audience.
12. 4. “Amelia” from Hejira (1976)
It’s a road song, a motel song, a desert song…it’s a disappearance and death song. And it’s beautiful.
14. 3. “Help Me” from Court and Spark (1974)
“Help me, I think I’m falling in love again.” From the song’s first lyrics, “Help Me” is an instantly likable song and insatiable hit (it reached No.7 on the charts). Mitchell combines her melodic voice with soft rock and smooth jazz to produce a warm, glossy sound.
16. 2. “Big Yellow Taxi” from Ladies of the Canyon (1970)
One of Mitchell’s most accessible tunes, “Big Yellow Taxi” is a pro-environment song with a humorous side. The tune includes one of the most memorable rhymes in the history of popular music: “They took all the trees and put ‘em in a tree museum / And they charged all the people a dollar and a half just to see ‘em.”
18. 1. “A Case of You” from Blue (1971)
Hands down, a timeless masterpiece. Regarded by many fans as her most praised song, this highpoint of Blue is one of Mitchell’s most gorgeous and intimate ballads. With such dazzling skill and striking originality, Joni inspired legions of fellow musicians and songwriters to create their own versions of “A Case of You.” In fact, her website lists 211 different artists who have covered the song – everyone from Prince to Tori Amos.