Watch Joni Mitchell’s 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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Comments (7)
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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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