The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #52: Both Sides, Now by Joni Mitchell/Judy Collins (RS)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song and going until I reach Song . When you see the song title listed as something like: Song (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #52: Both Sides, Now by Joni Mitchell/Judy Collins.

As mentioned in a previous post *(which you can read here), Joni Mitchell had gotten off to a somewhat difficult start to her life. She had moved away from her family. She had tried to start a music career for herself in Toronto and failed. She had become pregnant and had given her child up for adoption. Finally, she had moved to the US to marry a man named Chuck Mitchell; a marriage that quickly ended in divorce. So, Joni Mitchell found herself sitting on an airplane, reading a book by Saul Bellow about giving up one’s traditional life and starting anew, far from where you had been. In Joni’s case, she was heading to California, eventually settling in Laurel Canyon. But, at the time she was reading the book, she came to a passage about clouds that gave her pause. As she absorbed Bellow’s words about clouds and the images they possess and the meaning that may have for the observer, Mitchell gazed out of her airplane window and saw the most beautiful cloud formations, too. She was immediately inspired to write down the myriad of thoughts that were forming in her mind. Those thoughts ended up taking the form of a song called, “Both Sides, Now”.

When Joni Mitchell settled into her new home in California, she wasn’t the star that she would become. Instead, Mitchell was just another young singer with a passion for music and a few original songs in a notebook. However, once ensconced in her new home, she began travelling to local coffee houses and cafes and soon met a man named Al Kooper, who was in the music business. Mitchell told him she had a notebook of songs in her home and if he wanted to hear them, she would sing for him. He agreed. One of the songs her heard was, “Both Sides, Now”. Immediately, Kooper recognized the potential of the song. He knew Judy Collins and asked Mitchell if she wanted him to contact Collins, on her behalf. Mitchell was said to have been very excited. So, Kooper got Collins on the phone and had Joni Mitchell sing her “Both Sides, Now”. Like Cooper, Judy Collins loved the song the first time she heard it, too. Collins thought it was a beautifully written song and that it captured the world as seen through a woman’s eyes better than anything she had ever heard before. Mitchell agreed to let Judy Collins record the song. It was her first major song sale. Under Judy Collins skilled watch, her rendition of “Both Sides, Now” raced up the charts and became one of her signature tunes. In doing so, it opened the door for Joni Mitchell to enter the music business in a formal way. From that point on, Mitchell began making many industry connections, which lead to an offer to record an album. Her second album ended up being called, “Clouds”, based upon the song, “Both Sides, Now”. Joni recorded her own version of the song for that album and it scored a chart success as well. Several decades later, Joni Mitchell re-recorded “Both Sides, Now” for a retrospective album. Many people; especially, many women, like her second version better because, as they say, she sings those lyrics with greater wisdom and weariness from having lived a woman’s life lo, those many years.

As time passed, Joni Mitchell went on to become the legendary performer that we have all come to know her as. However, during that time, she has been often asked about how she got her start and how Judy Collins singing her song helped jumpstart her career. With each interview, Joni Mitchell has grown more bitter and resentful of the attention given to Judy Collins. Mitchell has even gone so far as to publicly claim that she does not even like Collins’ version of the song and never has. When Judy Collins was asked for her reaction to Joni Mitchell’s change of tune, she could only express her sadness, saying that it is always it is always disappointing when a song’s original writer proclaims a dislike for your interpretation of their song. But, aside from that, Judy Collins has not backed down and has left Joni Mitchell to stew in her own bitterness.

That the two principal performers in this story have chosen to remain estranged is too bad because it detracts from the beauty of the message contained within the lyrics of this song. “Both Sides, Now” is a lovely song. Its’ lyrics are wispy and ethereal, evoking images of lives lived, choices made, with regrets and affirmations being collected along the way. It is not surprising that “Both Sides, Now” has been covered by countless singers and has been played in numerous movies and television series. It is a song about Life’s journey, as told by a woman. That the point of view is from the female perspective means everything. It is a song with a message that continues to resonate almost sixty years after it was first written by a young woman on a plane, above the clouds, in search of a new life in a far away land.

Without further delay, here is “Both Sides, Now” by both, Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins. Enjoy both versions. They are equally terrific.

The link to the video for the song, “Both Sides, Now” by Joni Mitchell, can be found here.

The link tot he official website for Joni Mitchell, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Both Sides Now” by Judy Collins, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Judy Collins, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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