Joni Mitchell Lester Bangs - Essay

Lester Bangs

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It took a while for a lot of people to get to Joni Mitchell. Listening to her albums was a frustrating experience if you weren't a convert in front. You could tell that Blue, for instance, was an important record and the songs were truly fine, but somehow it seemed almost too personal, too consistently down. Also, her propensity for seemingly cramming every syllable she possibly could into each line became irritating after awhile, at once melodically overcomplex and a conversation style taken to an extreme….

[For the Roses is] the best album Joni Mitchell has ever made and, even beyond the songs themselves, it's a sound record….

Joni takes the riskiest propositions and somehow pulls them off without a trace of banality. Whoever thought they'd wanna hear another song about groupies and musicians on the road? But "Blonde in the Bleachers" gets it down with some kind of wonder intact: "You're in rock and roll / It's the nature of the race / It's the unknown child / So sweet and wild." (p. 66)

Naturally the album has its share of songs about love gone bad, and nobody is better at this than Joni Mitchell: "Where are you now … Are you caught in a crowd / Or holding some honey / Who came on to you? / Why do you have to be so jive?"

Great lines! Old shit but time-tested, and somehow caught in a totally new way. And isn't it the genius of rock'n'roll or any music having anything to do with it to take the most hackneyed forms and situations and breathe some life into them? We need clarification of the same old muddles, and every once in awhile you find it: in Van Morrison, in the Stones, in Dylan and Lou Reed in their prime. I finally found it in Joni Mitchell with this album. She's so fine I don't even miss the backbeat. (p. 67)

Lester Bangs, in Creem (© copyright 1973 by Creem Magazine, Inc.), February, 1973.