Monday, January 20, 2014

40 Year Itch: Passport Smiles

"The first truly great pop album of 1974" 
-Jon Landau, Rolling Stone

 On January 17, 1974 Joni Mitchell released her sixth, and arguably best, studio album, Court and Spark, to widespread critical acclaim and the best sales of her career. The double platinum album would be voted the best of the year by the Village Voice Pazz and Jop Critics Poll edging out Steely Dan's Pretzel Logic for the honor.

    At the time, critics didn't make such a big deal of Joni pairing up her amazing voice with jazz instrumentation. Robert Christgau goes so far as to say:

The first album she's ever made that doesn't sound like a musical departure -- it's almost standard rock.

   That's because anyone who had heard her criminally underrated 1972 album, For the Roses, already knew where she was heading. (Just listen to "Let The Wind Carry Me"). On Court and Spark Tom Scott, who played woodwinds and reeds on Roses, returnsed with his studio band The L.A. Express. The band included a good looking jazz drummer named John Guerin.

The hit single, "Help Me",  is the story of Joni and John's instant infatuation with each other.

  In Girls Like Us Sheila Weller quotes Guerin:

"Joan was a different kind of animal," he said. She created. "A lot of " what he fell in love with " had to do with her out-and-out-talent . I was amazed at her talent for most of our relationship. She didn't have patience for repetition or rules. I never paid attention to lyrics before ; I listed to a singer's timbre or phrasing or the quality of her voice. Boy, she changed that for me! She opened up my ears to words."

There's a pretty simple reason why this is the best selling and most critically acclaimed album in the Joni Mitchell catalogue: it's her most appealing. The pop songs are straight-forward; the love songs touching; and Joni even reveals her sense of humor on the first single "Raised on Robbery" and, with the help of Cheech and Chong,  her cover of the Lambert-Hendricks-Ross novelty tune "Twisted".

The only critic who didn't love Court And Spark was label mate Bob Dylan who pretended to fall asleep when she played it for him. It may have been a joke since their boss David Geffen was in the room but it's something for which Joni has never forgiven Dylan.

No comments:

Post a Comment