Clouds (Joni Mitchell album)

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Clouds
Studio album by Joni Mitchell
Released May 1, 1969 (1969-05-01)
Recorded A&M Studios
(Hollywood, California)
Length 36:52
Label Reprise
Producer Joni Mitchell, Paul A. Rothchild
Joni Mitchell chronology
Song to a Seagull
(1968)
Clouds
(1969)
Ladies of the Canyon
(1970)

Clouds is the second studio album by Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, released on May 1, 1969, by Reprise Records. After releasing her debut album to considerable exposure, Mitchell recorded the album at A&M Studios in Hollywood. She produced most of the album and painted a self-portrait for its cover artwork. Clouds has subtle, unconventional harmonies and songs about lovers, among other themes.

The album charted at number 22 in Canada and number 31 in the United States. It has been certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America, for shipments of 500,000 copies in the US. Clouds was generally well received by music critics.

Background[edit]

After moving to New York City and signing to Reprise Records in 1967, Mitchell recorded her 1968 debut album Song to a Seagull with producer David Crosby. The album was a mostly acoustic set of songs, some of which were subsequently covered by more successful singers. Consequently, Mitchell received more outside exposure and began to earn a strong cult following.[1]

Mitchell recorded Clouds at A&M Studios in Hollywood and played acoustic guitar and keyboards; she was joined by Stephen Stills on guitar.[2] She produced all of the album's songs, except "Tin Angel", which was produced by Paul A. Rothchild.[3] She also painted the album's cover artwork—a self-portrait.[4]

Composition[edit]

Clouds is a contemplative album,[5] with songs such as "Tin Angel", "That Song About the Midway", and "The Gallery" presenting sketches of lovers.[4] "I Don't Know Where I Stand" is about the uncertainty of new love, "The Fiddle and the Drum" likens a warmongering U.S. government during the Vietnam War to a bitter friend, "Roses Blue" discusses the misuse of the occult, and "I Think I Understand" deals with mental illness.[4] Jessica Hopper of Pitchfork Media feels that, "lyrically, [Mitchell] was transitioning from the era's de facto hippie sensualism (colors! the weather! vibes!) to the classically prosodic style (Keats! Cohen!) she'd become known for."[6]

Along with "Chelsea Morning", "Both Sides, Now" was previously covered by other singers—most notably Judy Collins's 1967 hit cover—but sung by Mitchell for the first time on Clouds.[7] Mitchell wrote the song after reading Saul Bellow's 1959 novel Henderson the Rain King on a plane and drawing on a point in the novel where the protagonist is looking at clouds from a plane.[8] The coincidence inspired the song's lyric about looking at clouds from both sides as a metaphor for life's ambiguities and mysteries, as she explained in a 1967 interview, "I dreamed down at the clouds, and thought that when I was a kid I had dreamed up at them, and having dreamed at the clouds from both sides as no generation of men has done, one should be able to accept his death very easily."[8]

Clouds mostly features Mitchell's vocals and acoustic backing.[9] Songs on the album feature unconventional, subtle harmonies, particularly "Songs to Aging Children Come",[4] which employs chromatic harmonies.[10][11]

Reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars[4]
Robert Christgau C[9]
Pitchfork Media 7.0/10[6]
Rolling Stone 3.5/5 stars[5]

Clouds was released by Reprise Records on May 1, 1969,[12] and reached number 22 on the RPM albums chart in Canada.[13] In the United States, the album peaked at number 31 on the Billboard 200.[14] It won a Grammy Award for Best Folk Performance for 1969.[14] In a contemporary review, Robert Christgau of The Village Voice felt that "without David Crosby's production ... Joni's voice sounds malnourished, which it is."[9] He observed three "excellent" songs—"Roses Blue", "Both Sides, Now", and "Chelsea Morning"—but critiqued that the latter two "have been done better elsewhere", particularly Gloria Loring's cover of "Chelsea Morning".[9]

The album was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America on August 28, 2001, having shipped 500,000 copies in the United States.[12] In a retrospective review, Allmusic editor David Cleary called Clouds an "essential release" and "a stark stunner, a great leap forward for Joni Mitchell", commenting that her vocals "are more forthright and assured than on her debut and exhibit a remarkable level of subtle expressiveness."[4] Although she found Mitchell "a bit too young and chipper to be singing about disillusionment", Pitchfork Media's Jessica Hopper nonetheless viewed the album as a "landmark" for Mitchell and an "introduction to [her] real deal, shaking folk tradition and giving off a little humor and spirit."[6] Rolling Stone observed an "older-and-wiser tone" and "much-improved second album" after Mitchell's 1968 debut.[5] The magazine ranked the song "Both Sides, Now" number 171 on their list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.[15]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Joni Mitchell. 

Side one
No. Title Length
1. "Tin Angel"   4:09
2. "Chelsea Morning"   2:35
3. "I Don't Know Where I Stand"   3:13
4. "That Song About the Midway"   4:38
5. "Roses Blue"   3:52
Side two
No. Title Length
1. "The Gallery"   4:12
2. "I Think I Understand"   4:28
3. "Songs to Aging Children Come"   3:10
4. "The Fiddle and the Drum"   2:50
5. "Both Sides, Now"   4:32

Personnel[edit]

Credits for Clouds adapted from liner notes.[3]

Charts[edit]

Chart (1969) Peak
position
Canadian Albums Chart[13] 22
U.S. Billboard 200[14] 31

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Joni Mitchell - Music Biography, Credits and Discography". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 2012-11-04. 
  2. ^ "Joni Mitchell - Clouds CD Album". CD Universe. Retrieved 2012-11-04. 
  3. ^ a b Clouds (CD booklet). Joni Mitchell. Reprise Records. 1990. 6341-2. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Cleary, David. "Clouds - Joni Mitchell". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 2012-11-04. 
  5. ^ a b c "Joni Mitchell Album Guide". Rolling Stone. Jann S. Wenner. 2004. Retrieved 2012-11-04. 
  6. ^ a b c Hopper, Jessica (November 9, 2012). "Joni Mitchell: The Studio Albums 1968-1979". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved November 9, 2012. 
  7. ^ Joni Mitchell, Biography: 1968–1970 Emerging Popular Artist, JoniMitchell.com.
  8. ^ a b "Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell". Rolling Stone. Jann S. Wenner. Retrieved 2012-11-04. 
  9. ^ a b c d Christgau, Robert (August 14, 1969). "Consumer Guide (3)". The Village Voice (New York). Retrieved 2012-11-04. 
  10. ^ "Harmonic Palette in Early Joni Mitchell", p.173. Author(s): Lloyd Whitesell. Source: Popular Music, Vol. 21, No. 2, (May, 2002), pp. 173–193. Published by: Cambridge University Press.
  11. ^ For the 1969 film Alice's Restaurant by Arthur Penn, Arlo Guthrie and Venable Herndon, Songs To Aging Children Come was re-recorded and performed by Tigger Outlaw in an arrangement for solo vocals and guitar as diegetic music during a funeral service. Mitchell's composition was seen as pivotal for the "extraordinarily cinematic" and "beautiful" character of the scene (cf. Vincent Canby, "Movies: Alice's Restaurant", New York Times, 08-25-1969). Mitchell was originally cast to perform the song herself, but declined after unsuccessful royalties negotiations with the film's producers (cf. Joni Mitchell, Biography: 1968–1970 Emerging Popular Artist).
  12. ^ a b "Gold & Platinum Searchable Database". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved 2012-11-04. 
  13. ^ a b "Top Albums/CDs". RPM (Toronto) 11 (25): 13. August 9, 1969. Retrieved 2012-11-04. 
  14. ^ a b c "Clouds - Joni Mitchell : Awards". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 2012-11-04. 
  15. ^ "500 Greatest Songs of All Time: Joni Mitchell, 'Both Sides Now'". Rolling Stone. Jann S. Wenner. Retrieved 2012-11-04. 

External links[edit]