Even if you like the right music at the wrong time, there's never a wrong time to discover Joni Mitchell
I liked all the right music. Just not always at the right time. Bowie was already clean and dull by the time I discovered him; ditto Lou Reed, Bryan Ferry and Neil Young. I didn't get the Smiths first time around. I was too busy with prog rock. In the summer of 88, when my generation was off on one long acid trip, I was upstairs locked in my room with 10cc's third album.
And then there was Joni. Not the folksy Joni of Clouds and Blue or the disastrous Joni of the 80s, Dog Eat Dog and all, but the bit in between when for five glorious years and five glorious albums she hit her creative peak. From the moment I put on the first side of The Hissing of Summer Lawns, something changed.
It was as if I'd suddenly been given new senses. Everything I'd heard until that point now appeared infantile and flat. As if people had only been speaking using words of one syllable; and now there was this whole new vocabulary to enjoy. Basslines walked, kicked and slid around to sweet modulations I'd never heard before. Guitars seemed to cut new shapes out of thin air. Sadness. In that pre-internet age, I sat down to write down all the words and try to make sense of them ("all these vain promises on beauty jars"). I tried to make sense of the chords too but they were muddy, and kept changing shape (now you can download all the changes from the Joni Mitchell site ). So I just let myself slowly fall in love with the record. Twenty years later I still can't get it out of my mind.
It's hard to pick out a track. So let's go with Edith and the Kingpin, because Larry Carlton's guitar is sweet and Wilton Felder's bass is urgent and the whole piece really epitomises what this proto-feminist album is all about. Bad men, violated, resigned women, and a poet raising her songs of despair to the night.
I'm not sure Hissing is Joni's best album. If I'd heard Court and Spark or Hejira first, perhaps I'd like them more. No matter. They are all gems. And I envy anyone who still has to discover them.