River (Joni Mitchell song)

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Song by Joni Mitchell from the album Blue
Released June 1971
Genre Folk
Length 4:00
Label Reprise
Writer Joni Mitchell
Producer Joni Mitchell
Blue track listing
"This Flight Tonight"
"A Case of You"

"River" is a song by Joni Mitchell, from her 1971 album Blue. Although never released as a single, it has become one of Mitchell's most famous songs.


In the song, Mitchell ruminates on the recent breakup of a romantic relationship. Christmas is nearing, and Mitchell longs to escape her emotional bonds, openly wishing "I wish I had a river / I could skate away on", a river so long she "would teach my feet to fly." Furthermore, Mitchell's Canadian past is reflected upon, as her current warm (presumably Californian) climate does not offer her that ice or that chance. It is used in the 2000 film Almost Famous, the 2003 film Love Actually and in episodes of Alias, thirtysomething, The Wonder Years, Ally McBeal, New Girl and ER. There are also numerous discussions of Mitchell's songs by Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in the 1998 movie You've Got Mail.

Keeping with the Christmas theme of the lyrics, the arrangement of the song on Blue (and on many other covers of the song) starts with a theme reminiscent of "Jingle Bells", and this theme figures several times throughout the accompaniment.

Cover versions[edit]

Although merely set near Christmas time, rather than being about Christmas , the song has become something of a modern Christmas standard. "River" is the third-most widely covered of songs in Mitchell's oeuvre (227 recordings, behind only "Both Sides, Now" and "Big Yellow Taxi"),[1] frequently appearing on albums of Christmas music by pop, folk and jazz artists.

Artists who have performed the song include Rose Ranger, Ginny Reilly, Lara Fabian, Amy Kuney, Travis, Tori Amos, Michael Ball, Emilie-Claire Barlow, Tom Barman, Kathy Brier, Betty Buckley, Nick Buzz, Rosanne Cash, Charlotte Church, Holly Cole, Shawn Colvin, Allison Crowe, Robert Downey, Jr., Elisa and Terra Naomi, Catherine Feeny, Renée Fleming, Liam Frost, Guy Garvey, Grace Notes, Cee Lo Green, Heart, Herbie Hancock (featuring Corinne Bailey Rae), Indigo Girls, Ben Jelen, k.d. lang, Halie Loren, Rebecca Luker, Barry Manilow, Aimee Mann, Salyu, Sarah McLachlan, Sixpence None the Richer, Beth Orton, Overboard, Madeleine Peyroux, Dianne Reeves, Sara Bareilles, Linda Ronstadt on A Merry Little Christmas, Janis Siegel, Sister Hazel, The Swingle Singers, Angus Stone, James Taylor, Fran Healy, Michelle Branch, Rosie Thomas, Tracey Thorn, Rachael Yamagata, Marti Pellow, Dave Van Ronk, Kate Miller-Heidke, Angie Hart & Tim Freedman, Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, Hayley Westenra, Ronan Keating, Hana Pestle, Rita Wilson and Lea Michele on the "Extraordinary Merry Christmas" episode of Glee.

On the 2007 album A Tribute to Joni Mitchell James Taylor changes the intro from Jingle Bells to Good King Wenceslas.


  1. ^ [1] Joni Undercover: Most Recorded Songs by Other Artists, at Joni Mitchell's official site

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