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In The Bath When Opportunity Knocked Print-ready version

Q Magazine
February 1999

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Doh! No. 14 The company that rejected Joni Mitchell to spare their art department's feelings.

In the latter half of 1967, young Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell was the hottest music business prospect in New York. Live reviews sang her praises, established performers like Tom Rush sang her songs and publishers courted her spark.

Danny Fields of Elektra Records brought her to the company, hoping to snap her up before the competition. With its roster of intelligent and respected folk artists, Elektra was the obvious home for Mitchell. It looked like a marriage made in heaven, and the happy couple were about to exchange vows when the relationship floundered, not because of contracts, ideologies or musical differences, but because Joni could paint.

Elektra's art department had forged a distinctive style for album covers which its head, William S. Harvey, was intent on preserving at all costs. In this case, the cost turned out to be the era's most talented female songwriter.

According to Fields, Mitchell said, "I'd love to make a record for you, but I'd like to do my own album cover."

At this point the company closed ranks with the art department. "They said, No way. Our art department does the covers. You write the songs, you sing the songs. That's as far as it goes."

Indeed it was. Mitchell signed to Reprise and Elektra had to make do with Judy Collins, whose biggest hit was Both Sides Now — a cover of a Joni Mitchell song.

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