Best Joni Mitchell Songs That Made Her Rich, Ranked
Legendary Canadian singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell is still going strong. Mitchell, at 78, surprised concertgoers at the 2022 Newport Folk Festival in July by playing her first full show in 20 years. It was her first appearance at the festival since 1969.
With a net worth of $100 million, Mitchell is one of the greatest musicians of all time. Her songs have been covered by hundreds of artists, and she's won nine Grammys, received a Kennedy Center Honor, and been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
Mitchell has influenced generations of musicians, and some notable fans include Prince, Bjork, Taylor Swift, Janet Jackson and Bob Dylan. These are the best Joni Mitchell songs.
Year released: 1976
Bottom line: When Mitchell joined Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue tour in 1975, she met playwright and actor Sam Shepard ("The Right Stuff," "Paris, Texas," "The Notebook"). They had a brief affair, and their fling is said to be the inspiration for "Coyote."
The song is written from the view of a woman who has an affair with a "coyote," or ranch worker. The short and sweet relationship is passionate, but the's couple different backgrounds makes it difficult for them to find common ground.
Most people remember Mitchell performing this song in Martin Scorsese's documentary "The Last Waltz."
'Coyote' From The Band's 'The Last Waltz'
Year released: 1971
Bottom line: "River" has become an unofficial Christmas song over the past few decades, but it's really a song about a breakup that takes place around Christmas.
It is believed to be inspired by the end of Mitchell's two-year relationship with Graham Nash. At that time (1970), Mitchell was feeling uncomfortable with her burgeoning fame and metaphorically hoped to "skate away" on a river. Instead, she went to Europe and broke up with Nash via telegram.
"River" is one of Mitchell's most covered songs. There are 432 recordings by a variety of artists in nearly every genre.
Nash said that he couldn't listen to the song for years afterward. "When Joni and I were breaking up, we both knew it was going to be difficult. We both loved each other tremendously. We had spent a couple of years lighting up rooms when we walked in. It was painful."
'River's' Official Music Video
8. Chelsea Morning
Year released: 1969
Bottom line: "Chelsea Morning" references the neighborhood in New York City where Mitchell lived after divorcing her husband Chuck Mitchell in 1967, right before she became famous.
She said: "I wrote that in Philadelphia after some girls who worked in this club where I was playing found all this colored slag glass in an alley. We collected a lot of it and built these glass mobiles with copper wire and coat hangers. I took mine back to New York and put them in my window on West 16th Street in the Chelsea District. The sun would hit the mobile and send these moving colors all around the room. As a young girl, I found that to be a thing of beauty. There's even a reference to the mobile in the song. It was a very young and lovely time ... before I had a record deal."
According to Hillary Clinton, Chelsea Clinton is named after the Judy Collins' version of the song, which she performed at Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1993.
Mitchell Performing 'Chelsea Morning' on 'The Dick Cavett Show'
7. You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio
Year released: 1972
Album: For the Roses
Bottom line: Joni Mitchell has always gone against the grain of what was considered popular music, so she doesn't have many chart hits. However, "You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio" was written specifically for radio airplay.
At just 2:40, it has a 19-second intro, allowing DJs to introduce it, and a outro that lingers a bit, giving the DJ time to, once again, mention the artist.
Mitchell later said of its composition: "I decided there were some ways to make a hit, increase the chances. DJs have to like it, so you put a long part at the beginning and the end so the DJs can talk over it. Take a tender situation and translate it into commonly appealing songs for the DJs. It'd have to be a bit corny, so I wrote this little song called 'Oh Honey, You Turn Me On, I'm A Radio.'"
Her idea paid off. In 1972, the song became a top 40 hit in the United States.
Listen to Mitchell's 'You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio'
6. A Case of You
Year released: 1971
Bottom line: "A Case of You" is another song from "Blue'' that's about Mitchell's breakup with Graham Nash and details their deteriorating relationship and promises never kept. "You said, I am constant as a northern star. And I said, constantly in the darkness."
This song has been covered by over 200 artists, including Nash. In 2011, BBC Radio 4 Desert Island Discs listeners voted Mitchell as the top female artist of all time and "A Case of You" was their favorite song.
Mitchell Performing 'A Case of You' Live in London
5. Free Man in Paris
Year released: 1974
Album: Court and Spark
Bottom line: "Free Man in Paris" is about philanthropist and music impresario David Geffen. In the early 1970s, he ran Mitchell's label, Asylum Records.
Geffen often related the pressure he was under to produce hitmakers and hit songs to Mitchell and confided the only place he felt free was in Paris where no one could contact him for favors. Of course, this was long before email, social media, and cell phones.
Geffen never thought this song would be a hit, but released it as it a single anyway. It reached number 22 on the charts and became one Mitchell's most well-loved songs.
Mitchell Performs 'Free Man in Paris'
4. Help Me
Year released: 1974
Album: Court And Spark
Bottom line: In "Help Me," Mitchell bemoans falling in love with the wrong guy, who she refers to as a "rambler and a gambler, and a sweet talkin' ladies man."
Mitchell has referred to "Help Me," as "throwaway" track, but admitted it worked for radio. "My record companies always had a tendency to take my fastest songs on album for singles, thinking they'd stand out because they did on the LPs. Meantime, I'd feel that the radio is crying for one of my ballads."
"Help Me" became a big hit, reaching number 7 on Billboard's Hot 100 and was in the top spot on its Adult Contemporary charts.
Listen to Mitchell's 'Help Me'
Year released: 1970
Album: N/A (single release)
Bottom line: Despite writing this iconic song about the Woodstock Festival, Mitchell never made it to the Bethel, New York, site. David Geffen booked her for "The Dick Cavett Show," which was the day after the festival. He believed television would get her more exposure, and she might not make the show if she went to the festival.
Graham Nash, who played the festival with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, came home to Mitchell and described his experiences in detail, specifically how it felt like the dawn of new age in which anything was possible. It was from this description she wrote the song.
Mitchell later confessed that while she would have liked to have been there, she didn't "know if I would have written the song 'Woodstock' if I had gone. I was the fan that couldn't go, not the performing animal. So it afforded me a different perspective."
First Performance of 'Woodstock' by Mitchell at Her 'Celebration at Big Sur' appearance in September 1969
2. Big Yellow Taxi
Year released: 1970
Album: Ladies of the Canyon
Bottom line: "Big Yellow Taxi" is a song about the environment, and how once it has been destroyed, we cannot get it back.
Mitchell wrote it after going to Hawaii for the first time. "I took a taxi to the hotel and when I woke up the next morning, I threw back the curtains and saw these beautiful green mountains in the distance. Then, I looked down and there was a parking lot as far as the eye could see, and it broke my heart ... this blight on paradise.
"When it first came out, it was a regional hit in Hawaii because people there realized their paradise was being chewed up. It took 20 years for that song to sink in to people most other places. That is a powerful little song because there have been cases in a couple of cities of parking lots being torn up and turned into parks because of it."
"Big Yellow Taxi" reached number 11 on the U.S. charts and was later a hit for the Counting Crows and Amy Grant.
'Big Yellow Taxi's' Official Lyric Video
1. Both Sides, Now
Year released: 1970
Bottom line: This was the first hit song written by Mitchell, and she won a 1969 Grammy for Best Folk Performance. She wrote it from the perspective of a young woman who was curious and eager to begin the journey ahead.
She reworked the song in 2000, with a life well-lived behind her, a voice that reflected it, and all wisdom, memories and regret that come with older age.
When she performed the song at the Newport Folk Festival in July 2022, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
Mitchell Performing 'Both Sides, Now' at the Newport Folk Festival