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10 Gayest Joni Mitchell Songs Ranked by Lesbian Longing Print-ready version

by Stef Rubino
AutoStraddle
April 16, 2024

When the greedy overlords who run Spotify announced that Joni Mitchell's discography was going to be available on the app, I'll admit I wasn't very familiar with her work - other than knowing she is beloved by other queer people. Growing up, I was surrounded by music but my parents' tastes were specific, and I kind of followed suit. As a result, there are some older artists who I heard sometimes but never in their entirety and never enough to discuss them in any serious way.

For a music appreciator like me, some of these blindspots were a little embarrassing, so I came up with a self-imposed ongoing homework assignment I have simply titled "Discography Project." The Discography Project rules are simple: I pick an artist from my ever-expanding list and I listen to their discography - including live albums, special collections, and remasters - in chronological order. I also read criticism of the albums and try to gather any and all context regarding their creation.

Due to some initial judgments, Mitchell was pretty far down on my list. But with the explosion of excitement on social media about the Spotify news and a little nudge from my editor Drew, I decided to bump her up. Even though Mitchell is famously heterosexual, spending as many hours as I have with her revealed something quite fascinating: Some of her music feels extremely lesbian coded. Or, at least, the longing and wail of emotion explains why she has so many committed lesbian fans.

And so I present to you, as a new expert on her discography, the 10 gayest Joni Mitchell songs ranked by lesbian longing.

10. "Jericho" from Don Juan's Reckless Daughter (1977)

I'll be honest. There might be some bias involved in my decision making for this one because way before I even heard Mitchell's version of this song, I've known and loved k.d. lang's version. It's clear that it's about someone opening themselves up to love for the first time or, maybe, for the first time in a long time. There is no gendered language here, which does add to the ambiguousness of it all, but I think what really gets me is the chorus: "I'll try to keep myself open up to you / And approve your self expression / I need that, too / I need your confidence, baby / And the gift of your extra time / In turn, I'll give you mine / Sweet darling, it's a rich exchange / It seems to me / It's a warm arrangement." Sounds like someone experiencing their first real, queer relationship in a way, doesn't it?

9. "Woman of Heart and Mind" from For the Roses (1972)

Is there a Joni Mitchell album that wasn't born from some heartbreaking or devastating experience? For the Roses was produced and recorded right after Mitchell's tumultuous relationship with James Taylor, so I understand if upon first listen, all of these songs feel very straight. But hear me out. "Woman of Heart and Mind" is essentially an ode to a lover who isn't doing right by the speaker in the song. Mitchell, once again, doesn't not employ any gendered language except to compare the lover to a "small boy" in the beginning of the song. Partway through, the speaker realizes they just can't stop desiring this person - "I'm looking for affection and respect / A little passion / And you want stimulation, nothing more / That's what I think / But you know I'll try to be there for you / When your spirits start to sink" - and they'll put up with a lot just to be by their side. Most of the song kind of sounds like a type A femme speaking directly to a type B butch who's simply been playing her ass for too long, and it's "I'll still have your back" attitude makes it extra gay.

8. "Coyote" from Hejira (1976)

Hejira is another Mitchell album with a storied background, and the writing and recording of this song is especially intriguing. "Coyote" is technically an extremely heterosexual song. This one does specifically refer to a man, a ranch worker in particular, with whom the speaker shares a bumpy and brief relationship with. On the surface, it seems like a typical story we've all heard and seen before between two straight people, but it also gives rural butch/city femme a la Desert Hearts vibes to me. Using the metaphor of a coyote's behavior seems stereotypically masculine, but that masculinity doesn't have to belong to a man. The way desire and heartbreak are explored in the song feels very gay to me.

7. "Help Me" from Court and Spark (1974)

By the time I got to Court and Spark, I'll admit, I was feeling a little fatigued in regards to my Mitchell listening, but this album breathed some new momentum into me. "Help Me" isn't the only gay banger on here, but it is the hardest to explain of the two. Mitchell does seem to be addressing a man, ok, but the vibes here are extremely two people with strong feelings for each other who don't know what to do with them. And I don't know, to me, queer people have really mastered that specific scenario, so the atmosphere of this song is tinted with that gay filter.

6. "See You Sometime" from For the Roses (1972)

"See You Sometime" takes some of the ideas Mitchell was playing with in "Woman of Heart and Mind" and brings them to an even queerer dimension. Here, the speaker in the song seems to be addressing the jealousy they feel when their flighty lover is, well, flighty. When the lyrics "It hurts / But something survives / Though it's undermined / I'd still like to see you sometime" hit, it feels oddly familiar. Kind of like a text you'd get from your ex-girlfriend three months after the break-up because she's lonely and saw something that reminded her of you.

5. "Down To You" from Court and Spark (1974)

"Down To You" is the other track on Court and Spark that has lesbian vibes. According to Sean Nelson's 33 ⅓ book, Court and Spark, "Down To You" is supposed to have taken place in the immediate hours or day after a one night stand. This song isn't about the lover on the other end of the one night stand but about the speaker reminding themself of their worth. That's not gay per se but so many of the lyrics - like "You go down to the pick up station / Craving warmth and beauty / You settle for less than fascination / A few drinks later you're not so choosy" - delivered in the particular style Mitchell adopted for this album don't read as speaking to a distinctly straight experience; they feel much more fluid than that. As far as I can see, Mitchell was straight, but something about the ambiguity of who the speaker slept with and the fact that Mitchell once again doesn't use any pronouns for the lover gives it a familiar feeling.

4. "Both Sides Now" from Clouds (1969)

This is purely based on vibes. When you're listening to "Both Sides Now," every lyric sounds like a string of things a queer person would say after a bad heartbreak - maybe their first queer heartbreak. This one had me wondering if Mitchell somehow did have inside knowledge about the depths of queer pain. I think if you listen you'll wonder the same.

3. "A Case of You" from Blue (1971)

After listening to Blue all the way through last week, I finally understood why that album has so many of you queers in a headlock. Like any good, queer almost 36 year old person walking around right now, I mostly have fond memories of "A Case of You" from movies like Practical Magic. But now that I've listened closer, I can say this song is queer as hell. Aside from having the lyric "I met a woman / She had a mouth like yours," there's a few other gay things happening in this song. First, what straight man is going to say to a woman "You're as constant as a northern star" on the heels of a break up? None. None at all. Second, we can even go a little deeper here...the yearning in the lyric "I would drink a case of you" is absolutely wild. Sorry to the straights, but that specific brand of yearning feels unique to us.

2. "My Secret Place" from Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm (1988)

Mitchell said herself that this song is gay: "It's a love beginning song. The song's about the threshold of intimacy. It's a shared thing so I wanted it to be like the 'Song of Solomon,' where you can't tell what gender it is. It's the uniting spirit of two people at the beginning of a relationship." And she's not escaping the queer vibes allegations with lyrics like: "People talk to tell you something / Or to take up space / Guess I'm only talking / To be talking to / Your pretty face / I don't talk much to anyone, but / You're a special case / For my special place / My special place." The lyrics and the idea that the song's composition would make it so you couldn't tell Mitchell's voice from Peter Gabriel's at times? Sure, it might have been conceived by presumably straight people but this is gay gay gay.

1. "All I Want" from Blue (1971)

Blue is, undoubtedly, Mitchell's most highly regarded and critically acclaimed album, and the story of its evolution is equally as legendary. Given the extremely heterosexual circumstances surrounding the recording of the album, it's still shocking to me that it opens with "All I Want" - a song that has no gendered language and features the lyrics "All I really, really want our love to do / Is to bring out the best in me and in you / I wanna talk to you, I want to shampoo you / I want to renew you again and again." I want to shampoo you?? Ok. Ultimately, the song is about the speaker pining for an ideal relationship they don't have, and the specific choices in the songwriting make it feel even gayer - certainly gayer than Joni Mitchell ever intended.

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Added to Library on April 22, 2024. (657)

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