For Joni Mitchell’s 70th Birthday, Watch Classic Performances of “Both Sides Now” & “The Circle Game” (1968)

Joni Mitchell turns 70 today. A child of rural western Canada, Mitchell endured a series of early hardships that might have crushed a more timid soul — polio, teen pregnancy, an unhappy marriage — but she always managed to follow her muse.

Mitchell made a lifelong habit of guarding her artistic freedom and turning adversity into advantage. When a childhood piano teacher slapped her on the wrist with a ruler for the offense of playing by ear, Mitchell decided she didn’t want any more formal music education. When she found it difficult to form guitar chords with her polio-weakened left hand, she learned to explore alternative, open-chord tunings that have given her music an extra dimension of richness and variation.

As a folk singer in the 1960s, Mitchell managed to fulfill both sides of the Bob Dylan/Joan Baez dichotomy: In one person she was both the songwriter of genius and the woman with the golden voice. And like Dylan, Mitchell didn’t remain a folk singer for long. “I looked like a folk singer,” she once said, “even though the moment I began to write, my music was not folk music. It was something else that had elements of romantic classicism to it.” She went on to explore jazz, collaborating with Charles Mingus, Jaco Pastorius, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and others. “Impossible to classify,” says her biography at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, “Mitchell has doggedly pursued avenues of self-expression, heedless of commercial outcomes.”

As a musician, Mitchell is mostly retired now. She continues to paint and write poetry. To celebrate today’s milestone we bring you a pair of great performances from her younger years. In the clip above, from the January 21, 1968 episode of the CBC’s The Way it Is, a 25-year-old Mitchell plays her classic early songs “Both Sides Now” and “The Circle Game.” Even after 45 years, the songs can send a shiver down your spine. And below, from the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, Mitchell’s evolution as a writer and performer are evident in the lilting, melodically inventive “Big Yellow Taxi.” In a previous post, we have also highlighted Mitchell playing a 30-minute set on British TV in 1970.

Related Content:

The Music, Art, and Life of Joni Mitchell Presented in a Superb 2003 Documentary

Joni Mitchell: Singer, Songwriter, Artist, Smoking Grandma

James Taylor Performs Live in 1970, Thanks to a Little Help from His Friends, The Beatles

Dick Cavett’s Epic Woodstock Festival Show (August, 1969)


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  • Jean Burcombe says:

    Completely spoiled and overjoyed that I’ve been turned on to this site , and its celebrating of a living legend and great composer and singer Joni Mitchell xo

  • Zennoby says:

    Happy Birthday! Joni is one of the big loves of my life! I think her music saved my life during a divorce.nThank you!

  • Gilla says:

    Hearing her sing makes me feel so young!

  • Melissa says:

    I totally LOVE Joni! Enjoyed the article and learned some things about her I had never heard before. Her songs bring back many memories, and I feel as if she’s a personal friend, as I listen to her music! <3

  • Matthew says:

    I grew up on Joni’s music, and it will forever be an integral part of my internal self… So many thanks to you Joni…nMatt

  • bobby jett says:

    Still no one touches her

  • bill snead says:

    Joni Mitchell…seeing her on video, moving smiling in front of that beautiful voice certainly takes me back and at the same time focusing on a beautiful icon.

    Thanks so much OpenCulture

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