You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio

Joni Mitchell's "The Asylum Albums (1972-1975)" Coming from Rhino

by Joe Marchese
Second Disc
July 28, 2022

On Sunday, happy tears flowed at the Newport Folk Festival when Joni Mitchell took the Rhode Island stage for a surprise set - her first full-length concert in roughly two decades, performed alongside her longtime champion Brandi Carlile and a host of illustrious friends. Soon, those tears were flowing everywhere when audio and video from the thirteen-song show was shared worldwide. Joni Mitchell was back, tapping into a deep well of vivid emotion on her beloved standards such as "Both Sides Now" and "A Case of You," and commanding her guitar for an extended solo on "Just Like This Train" that put many younger players to shame. It was her first performance at the Festival in 53 years, and left fans hoping that an encore might happen sometime, someplace in the future. The train is soon to leave the station on another exciting release from the Joni Mitchell Archives collection: the second volume of her remastered album collections. The Asylum Albums (1972-1975), due on September 23, follows last year's debut box The Reprise Albums (1968-1971) and this 4-CD or 5-LP set contains three of the inspirational singer-songwriter's most acclaimed and beloved studio albums, all recorded for David Geffen's then-new Asylum Records label: For the Roses (1972), Court and Spark (1974), and The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975), as well as Joni's first live album, Miles of Aisles (1974). All four albums have been newly remastered by Bernie Grundman, and Mitchell's friend Neil Young has contributed an essay to the package.

Mitchell's fifth album, For the Roses, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. It followed the intimate, introspective Blue. As on its predecessor, its writing was intensely personal - from harrowing ("Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire") to biting ("You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio," written in response to the record company's request for a hit single). Featuring Graham Nash on harmonica, "Radio" became Mitchell's first top ten single in her native Canada and reached No. 20 Cash Box and No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100. With the evocative likes of "Barangrill" and the classically-inspired "Judgment of the Moon and Stars," For the Roses found Mitchell and musicians including Tom Scott, James Burton, and Stephen Stills delivering a vivid, powerful, and artistically uncompromising statement. It reached No. 11 on the Billboard 200 and set the stage for the artist's biggest commercial triumph.

Mitchell embraced pop on Court and Spark while continuing to develop her jazz stylings. Court and Spark defined the sound of the Southern California musical landscape with appearances from Tom Scott's L.A. Express, David Crosby, Graham Nash, and even Cheech and Chong, as well as The Crusaders and fellow Canadian Robbie Robertson. The seductive lead single "Raised on Robbery" was followed on 45 RPM by "Help Me," perhaps the most irresistible, breezy, and melodic slice of pure pop ever released by Mitchell. It was purely Joni - no concessions to current trends, but immediately accessible to radio. "Help Me" became her only U.S. top ten single and topped the AC chart, too, but the love song was far from the album's only triumph of composition, production, and arrangement from Mitchell. "Free Man in Paris," an effortlessly melodic portrait of David Geffen "stoking the starmaker machinery behind the popular song," struck another universal chord and reached No. 2 AC/No. 22 Pop. Court and Spark reflected Mitchell's many musical personalities, even paying homage to Annie Ross with the vocalese classic "Twisted." Court and Spark reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and has been certified 2x platinum. Mitchell had climbed another mountain - and did it her way.

Hopes were high for its follow-up. Joni followed her muse to once again surprise listeners with Hissing of the Summer Lawns. Far from a repeat of Court and Spark, Hissing found the singer-songwriter-producer continuing her journey into more expansive musical territory. "In France They Kiss on Main Street," featuring background vocals from Crosby, Nash, and James Taylor as well as guitar from Jeff "Skunk" Baxter (Steely Dan, Doobie Brothers), evoked the lush romance of Court and Spark while other tracks were far more experimental. "The Jungle Line" incorporated a sample of the African Drummers of Burundi, perhaps the first commercial pop recording to employ the now-commonplace practice of sampling. "Harry's House/Centerpiece" repurposed the jazz standard "Centerpiece" by trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison and Annie Ross' onetime musical partner Jon Hendricks while the captivating "Edith and the Kingpin" marked a further immersion into jazz. "Shadows and Light" was yet another track to innovatively use the studio, with an ARP string machine and multiple overdubs of Mitchell's voice. More challenging than Court and Spark but just as rewarding, Hissing was greeted by a mixed reaction from critics of the day even as it's come to be accepted as another milestone for the ever-adventurous artist and a fan favorite. (Those fans included Prince, who was vocal about his appreciation for the album.) Mitchell was rewarded with a Grammy nomination and the album reached No. 4 on the Billboard 200.

Joni's first live album rounds out the package. Miles of Aisles hit stores in November 1974, just months after Court and Spark but before Hissing. The double-LP documented her tour in support of Court and Spark and rode the wave of success inspired by the studio album, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. She was joined by Tom Scott's L.A. Express, who shared credit on the front cover. While its eighteen tracks (primarily recorded at Los Angeles' Universal Amphitheatre between August 14 and 17, 1974) didn't include either of the hits off Court, she did revisit such classics as "Woodstock," "A Case of You," "Blue," "Carey," "Both Sides Now," "(Real Good) For Free," and "The Circle Game" while her live recording of "Big Yellow Taxi" became her third consecutive top 40 single. It bested the studio version's chart success when it peaked at No. 24 Pop. Miles also introduced two new compositions, "Love or Money" and "Jericho." The complete album is presented on one CD or 2 LPs.

The Asylum Albums (1972-1975), featuring the albums from one of Joni Mitchell's most justly celebrated periods of music-making, is due from Asylum/Rhino on September 23 in 4-CD, 5-LP (pressed on 180-gram vinyl and limited to 20,000 units), and digital formats. You'll find the track listings and pre-order links below! Those who order directly from Mitchell's online store will receive an exclusive 7 x 10" print of Mitchell's cover painting. Want a sample? The remastered "You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio" is streaming now at YouTube and other services included Amazon Music, Apple Music, Tidal, and Deezer.

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