Hear Demos & Outtakes of Joni Mitchell’s Blue on the 50th Anniversary of the Classic Album

When Joni Mitchell released Blue in 1971, she revealed her­self to the world as a poet with a hard-boiled inte­ri­or life. The album, writes Rolling Stone, chal­lenged the image many had of her as an inno­cent flower child. “The West Coast fem­i­nine ide­al” was a role “Mitchell hadn’t asked for and did not want.” Of her writ­ing of the album, she said in a 2013 inter­view, “They bet­ter find out who they’re wor­ship­ping. Let’s see if they can take it. Let’s get real.”

Get real she did, shock­ing the men around her, some of whom she’d writ­ten about can­did­ly, includ­ing Gra­ham Nash, Leonard Cohen, and James Tay­lor, who played on sev­er­al tracks. She wrote about the heart­break of leav­ing her daugh­ter and rewrote the breakup song as a con­fes­sion­al on “Riv­er.” The album’s cul­tur­al impact, 50 years after its release, has much to do with Mitchell as a lone female pro­tag­o­nist in a male-dom­i­nat­ed indus­try. “Along with its roman­tic melan­choly,” Rolling Stone writes, “Blue was the sound of a woman avail­ing her­self of the roman­tic and sex­u­al free­dom that was, until then, an exclu­sive­ly male province in rock.”

We lis­ten to Blue now and hear the voic­es of lat­er gen­er­a­tions of singer-song­writ­ers, from Tra­cy Chap­man and Tori Amos to Phoebe Bridgers, who seized their own pow­er. By the time of Blue’s release, Mitchell had become a pow­er­ful voice of her gen­er­a­tion, pen­ning “Wood­stock” just the year before. “Blue is Mitchell’s first song cycle where­by all the songs inter­re­late in their themes of loss and trans­for­ma­tion,” writes Clas­sic Album Sun­days. “The album reflects the dis­il­lu­sion­ment and dis­en­chant­ment felt by a gen­er­a­tion dur­ing the clos­ing of The Six­ties.”

“It’s a descrip­tion of the times,” Mitchell attests. “There were so many sink­ing but I had to keep think­ing I could make it through the waves. You watched that high of the hip­pie thing descend into drug depres­sion. Right after Wood­stock, then we went through a decade of basic apa­thy where my gen­er­a­tion sucked it’s thumb and then just decid­ed to be greedy and porno­graph­ic.”

As if cap­tur­ing the feel­ings of her own per­son­al loss­es and those of mil­lions of oth­ers weren’t enough, Mitchell’s song­writ­ing and musi­cian­ship on the album are con­sis­tent­ly aston­ish­ing, each word mar­ried to a sus­pend­ed note, an unex­pect­ed chord voic­ing, a preg­nant breath. “My words and music are locked togeth­er,” she says. She proved on Blue that she was a tal­ent to be reck­oned with and nev­er under­es­ti­mat­ed. On the 50th anniver­sary of Blue’s release, Mitchell is releas­ing a five song EP, Blue 50 (Demos & Out­takes), which you can hear above (see track­list below).

  1. A Case Of You (Demo) 0:00:00
  2. Cal­i­for­nia (Demo) 0:04:00
  3. Hunter (Out­take) 0:07:30
  4. Riv­er (Out­take with French Horns) 0:10:25
  5. Urge For Going (Out­take with Strings) 0:14:27

It’s a doc­u­ment of a dif­fer­ent album, one that might have includ­ed “Hunter” — a coun­try-like strum­mer  — and might have had french horns on “Riv­er,” per­haps the album’s best-known song and one of the most beloved Christ­mas songs of the past 50 years. Look for the next release cel­e­brat­ing a half-cen­tu­ry of Blue on Octo­ber 29th. Joni Mitchell Archives Vol. 2: The Reprise Years (1968–1971) “will explore the peri­od lead­ing up to Blue,” notes her offi­cial YouTube, “through near­ly six hours of unre­leased home, stu­dio, and live record­ings.” Or, you could just lis­ten to Blue over and over. It seems to reveal some­thing dif­fer­ent every time.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

How Joni Mitchell’s Song of Heart­break, “Riv­er,” Became a Christ­mas Clas­sic

How Joni Mitchell Wrote “Wood­stock,” the Song that Defined the Leg­endary Music Fes­ti­val, Even Though She Wasn’t There (1969)

Watch Joni Mitchell Sing an Immac­u­late Ver­sion of Her Song “Coy­ote,” with Bob Dylan, Roger McGuinn & Gor­don Light­foot (1975)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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