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 #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (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 #xxx (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 #20: Case of You by Joni Mitchell.
“Case of You” by Joni Mitchell is a love song, a break-up song and an empowerment song, all rolled up into one song. But, as we all know from our own listening preferences, from an examination of some of the songs in this very countdown and from our own personal life experiences, there are plenty of love songs, break up songs and/or empowerment songs out there in the world. So, the question becomes, what is it that makes this particular song, “Case of You” by Joni Mitchell, that merits it being ranked as one of the very best songs of all-time? What is it about this love song, break-up song, empowerment song that has caused it to be covered by over 200 different artists; many of whom state that this song changed how they wrote their own music and how they listened to the music of others? What is it that makes “Case of You” so special? Let’s see if I can explain it in any satisfactory manner at all. Here goes.
“Case of You” comes from an album called, “Blue”. This album is hailed by many people as being Joni Mitchell’s best work. In her own words, Mitchell describes this period of her life as being one where her emotional defences were completely down and, as such, she was open to experiencing all manner of things that Life had to offer. Just prior to starting to write the songs for “Blue”, Mitchell had moved into her famous abode in Laurel Canyon, California, and was just starting to launch what would become her legendary career. As a woman, she had tried and failed to start her own career in Toronto. She had given birth to a child who was put up for adoption. She married a man who convinced her to move to the US and then, they divorced. Finally, Mitchell arrived in California and got to know a community of musicians such as Carole King, Buffy Ste. Marie, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Neil Young, David Crosby, Brian Wilson and Graham Nash, with whom she began a relationship. For many reasons, her relationship with Nash was Mitchell’s first taste of a love that felt genuine and true. With Nash, she felt safe…..safe enough to let her emotional defences down and allow him into her heart. With trust came commitment and for the better part of a year, they were a couple. With that portion of her life seemingly in order, Mitchell had the confidence to follow her musical muse wherever it took her. She produced great songs of her own and, as well, played with many of the musicians she called friends, on projects of their own. Those were heady days, personally and professionally, for Joni Mitchell. And then, just like that, it was over.
For a myriad of reasons, Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash broke up. From the ashes of that loss came the inspiration for the songs that ended up on the album, “Blue”. In particular, the song “Case of You” is directly inspired by her feelings for Graham Nash. To my mind, one of the things that makes “Case of You” stand out from the roster of similar-themed songs in the world…..yes, Taylor Swift, I am looking at you…….is the maturity with which Mitchell deals with the depth of emotions at play in her heart and mind. In the song, Joni Mitchell sings of how strong the bonds were and how she would readily do it all over again, even knowing how it would end, if it meant feeling the high of it all, one more time. Mitchell sings of the strain that caused the breakup and accepts her role in it, without denying Nash his part in their story. Finally, Mitchell sings of the gratitude she feels for having experienced what she has and that, the experience of it has made her stronger and will serve her well, going forward into an unknown future.
But, for the most part, I really think you have to watch and listen to her sing the lyrics of “Case of You” to get why it is different from all of the other love/breakup songs out there. When I listen, I hear a woman singing…..not a girl. I can feel how deep these emotions run and how close to the surface they still are. This song seems very real when Joni Mitchell sings it. My reaction to her performance springs from childhood stories such as “The Velveteen Rabbit” where the rabbit was all worn down and ragged but showed as beautiful because the rabbit had been loved. Love changes you. You grow in ways that can’t be drawn up as part of some marketing strategy. Loving someone and being loved in reply is not like being on-brand. It is so much deeper and richer and life-altering than that. It is everything. So, when Joni Mitchell sings:
“I would drink a case of you, darling
And I would still be on my feet.”
I feel everything, too. I am sure that many of those who view “Case of You” as being musical treasure come at it, first with their hearts and then, their ears, as I do. This isn’t a song about sex or body parts or money or fame….it is about Love. In my opinion, there is nothing better in life than that. For that reason, I think that Joni Mitchell has captured the essence of what Love means better than anyone ever has and, as such, that is why her song is revered as it is and why it finds itself so very near the top of this list of the best and most important songs of all-time. When Love exists, it causes you to let someone into your heart. Joni Mitchell has trusted us, as listeners, with her heart at its most vulnerable. We, in turn, have returned that trust in full. That’s what Love does. That’s why “Case of You” is such a special song.
The link to the video for the song, “Case of You” by Joni Mitchell, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Joni Mitchell, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.