Joni Mitchell started in the late 1960s as a folk artist, as did they all back then. It would be hard to think of another woman in the field who is still at it today. The Holy Trinity of singer / songwriters from back then would be Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Joni. And they're all still at it, as far as I know. I haven't checked the obits today, however. I know Joni smokes a couple of packs a day, so the dispatcher for time's winged chariot may be getting a call any day.
Lots of hippie chicks were listening to the first few albums, and that's how I found out about Ms. Mitchell. I liked hippie chicks. Most of 'em told me that Ladies of the Canyon (1970) and Blue (1971) were their favorites. I didn't agree. The first one that really caught my ear was Court and Spark (1974). This was the first one she put out with some real rock sensibilities. Of course, it's got Larry Carlton playing most of the hot guitar licks, but also Robbie Robertson on some songs on guitar, Joe Sample on piano, Tom Scott on sax, and some other high dollar studio guys from back then. I saw Joni play the whole album Court & Spark live one afternoon in concert, and it was sublime. Robben Ford was the guitarist who was on tour with her and he was playing those licks just fine, thank you.
There were a couple of other efforts after that which were memorable. I dearly loved Hejira (1976), with the melancholy weirdly tuned electric guitar. Don Juan's Reckless Daughter (1977) had its moments. But I had just about forgotten about Joni when, in 1985, she put out Dog Eat Dog.
I am not sure what made me buy this the first time I saw it. Maybe there was a dearth of good music out at the time. Maybe it was because my friend from Pittsburgh used to always get that phrase wrong and say, "It's a doggy dog world out there." (I don't think I ever bothered to correct him; it was so endearing when he said it with that honest Croatian face.)
Thomas Dolby produced this album and plays quite a bit of that weird synthesizer of which he was so fond back in those days. You can hear Don Henley doing some background vocal work. Wayne Shorter does the most noticeable sax work. James Taylor and Michael McDonald (Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan) chime in every once in a while. Steve Lukather is the primary guitarist, aside from Joni. The production is perfect for the mood she's setting with the songs. It's not a pretty world out there. In fact, it's fucking doggy dog.
- "Good Friends"
Sometimes change comes at you
Like a broadside accident.
There is chaos to the order:
Random things you can't prevent.
See shit disturber. When she ends this one with "Fiction of the monuments reduced to Zero," there is a noise which you may well hear when the end comes.
"The Three Great Stimulants"
And we call for the three great stimulants
Of the exhausted ones:
Artifice, brutality and innocence.
Artifice and innocence.
You anti-evangelical Christian zealots will love this one.
God's hired hands and the devil bands
Packing the same grandstands.
I don't find this overly electronic attempt to mimic a cigarette machine while trying to be ironic about her habit amusing, but you might.
"Dog Eat Dog"
The title song again delves into the hatred she has of the evangelists, politicians, and venture capitalists. You'll be running this line over again in your head a few times after you hear it.
In every culture in decline,
The watchful ones among the slaves
Know all that is genuine will be
Scorned and conned and cast away.
This is a rather silly song about the "one who dies with the most toys" concept. I usually fast forward past this one.
Want to get really depressed? The sound of this song is perfect for the mood. A desert chant of "Eth-i-op-i-a" as she describes the flies in the eyes syndrome.
One of those love songs which could have been written years before.
In the darkest part of the night
Blue shadows conjure you
And at the brightest height of the daylight
Sometimes I blink 'cause I think I see you
I never loved a man I trusted
As far as I could pitch my shoe.
And I doubt if she has. She sure loves her songs, though. As do I.