Blue (Joni Mitchell album)
Studio: A&M, Hollywood, California
Genre: Folkfolk rock
Producer: Joni Mitchell
Blue is the fourth studio album by Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, released on June 22, 1971 by Reprise Records. Written and produced entirely by Mitchell, it was recorded in 1971 at A&M Studios in Hollywood, California. Created just after her breakup with Graham Nash, and during an intense relationship with James Taylor, Blue explores various facets of relationships from infatuation on “A Case of You” to insecurity on “This Flight Tonight”. The songs feature simple accompaniments on piano, guitar and Appalachian dulcimer. The album peaked at number 3 on the UK Albums Chart, number 9 on the Canadian RPM Albums Chart and number 15 on the Blllboard 200.
Today, Blue is generally regarded by music critics as one of the greatest albums of all time; the way Mitchell’s songwriting, compositions and voice all work together are frequent areas of praise. In January 2000, The New York Times chose Blue as one of the 25 albums that represented “turning points and pinnacles in 20th-century popular music”. In 2020, Blue was rated the third greatest album of all time in Rolling Stone’s list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”, the highest entry by a female artist. It was also voted number 24 in the third edition of Colin Larkin’s All Time Top 1000 Albums (2000). In July 2017, Blue was chosen by NPR as the greatest album of all time made by a woman.
Despite the success of her first three albums and songs like “Woodstock”, January 1970 saw Mitchell make a decision to break from performing. In early spring 1970, she set off on a vacation around Europe. While on the island of Crete and staying in Matala she wrote some of the songs that appear on Blue. This journey was the backdrop for the songs “Carey” and “California”—”Carey” was inspired by her relationship with an American named Cary Raditz, who was the “redneck on a Grecian Isle” in “California”. Some of the songs on Blue were inspired by Mitchell’s 1968–1970 relationship with Graham Nash. Their relationship was already troubled when she left for Europe, and it was while she was on Formentera that she sent Nash the telegram that let him know that their relationship was over. The songs “My Old Man” and “River” are thought to be inspired by their relationship.
Another pivotal experience in Mitchell’s life that drove the emergence of the album was her relationship with James Taylor. She had begun an intense relationship with Taylor by the summer of 1970, visiting him on the set of the movie Two-Lane Blacktop, the aura of which is referred to in “This Flight Tonight”. The songs “Blue” and “All I Want” have specific references to her relationship with Taylor, such as a sweater that she knitted for him at the time, and his heroin addiction. During the making of Blue in January 1971, they were still very much in love and involved. Despite his difficulties, Mitchell evidently felt that she had found the person with whom she could pair-bond in Taylor. By March, his fame exploded, causing friction. She was reportedly devastated when he broke off the relationship.
The album was almost released in a somewhat different form. In March 1971, completed masters for the album were ready for production. Originally, there were three old songs that had not found their way onto any of her previous albums. At the last minute, Mitchell decided to remove two of the three so that she could add the new songs “All I Want” and “The Last Time I Saw Richard”. “Little Green”, composed in 1967, was the only old song that remained. The two songs removed were:
“Urge for Going” – her first song to achieve commercial success when recorded by country singer George Hamilton IV. It was later released as the B-side of “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio” and again on her 1996 compilation album, Hits.
“Hunter (The Good Samaritan)”, which was released in 2021 on her EP, Blue 50 (Demos & Outtakes).
In 1979 Mitchell reflected, “The Blue album, there’s hardly a dishonest note in the vocals. At that period of my life, I had no personal defences. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world and I couldn’t pretend in my life to be strong. Or to be happy. But the advantage of it in the music was that there were no defences there either.”
Mitchell continued to use alternate tunings on her guitar to allow easier access to augmented chords and notes in unexpected combinations. Due to the stark and bare revelations in the album, when it was first played for Kris Kristofferson he is reported to have commented, “Joni! Keep something to yourself!”
Critical reception and legacy
Professional ratings, Contemporary reviews, Review scores, Source Rating
About.com 5/5 stars.
AllMusic 5/5 stars.
Christgau’s Record Guide A.
MusicHound 5/5 stars.
Rolling Stone Favourable.
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 5/5 stars.
Sputnikmusic 5/5 stars.
Today, Blue is generally regarded by music critics as one of the greatest albums of all time; Mitchell’s song writing, and compositions are frequent areas of praise. In January 2000, The New York Times chose Blue as one of the 25 albums that represented “turning points and pinnacles in 20th-century popular music”.
Jason Ankeny of AllMusic describes Blue as “the quintessential confessional singer/songwriter album”. Praising the songs as “raw nerves, tales of love and loss etched with stunning complexity”, Ankeny concludes writing “Unrivalled in its intensity”. The writers of Pitchfork gave the album a perfect 10-out-of-10 rating, calling it “possibly the most gutting break-up album ever made”.
Accolades for Blue
Publication Country Accolade Year Rank
Consequence of Sound United States The 100 Greatest Albums of All Time 2007 28
Entertainment Weekly Greatest Albums Ever 2013 11
Grammy Hall of Fame N/A 1999 N/A
Kitsap Sun Top 200 Albums of Last 40 Years 2005 57
Paste The 70 Best Albums of the 1970s 2012 21
Pitchfork The 100 Best Albums of the 1970s 2004 86
Radio WXPN Greatest Albums 2005 13
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die N/A 2018 N/A
Rolling Stone 50 Essential Female Albums 2002 2
The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time 2012 30
Top 100 Albums of Last 20 Years 1987 46
Women Who Rock: The 50 Greatest Albums of All Time 2012 2
Stylus Top Albums of All Time 2004 109
Time Top 100 Albums of All Time 2006 N/A
VH1 100 Greatest Albums of Rock and Roll Era 2001 14
Vibe Essential Albums of the 20th Century 1999 N/A
Hot Press Ireland The 100 Best Albums of All Time 1989 37
The 100 Best Albums Ever 2006 12
Mojo United Kingdom The 100 Greatest Albums Ever Made 1996 18
The 100 Records That Changed the World 2005 65
NME 101 Albums To Hear Before You Die 2014 N/A
All Times Top 100 Albums 1974 67
The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time 2013 63
Q The 50 Best Albums of 70s 1998 23
The Guardian Top 100 Best Albums Ever 1997 35
The Observer The 50 albums that changed music 2006 14
The Times The 100 Albums of All Time 1993 26
Times Online Most Influential Albums 2008 20
Uncut 200 Greatest Albums of All Time 2016 33
Bob Merserau Canada The Top 100 Canadian Albums 2007 2
ChartAttack Top 100 Canadian Albums of All Time 1996 3
Top 50 Canadian Albums of All Time 2000 1
The album was a commercial success. In Canada, the album peaked at number nine on the Canadian RPM Albums Chart. In the United Kingdom, the album peaked at number three on the UK Albums Chart and was certified double platinum by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) for sales over of 600,000 copies in the UK. In the US, the album peaked at number 15 on the Billboard 200 chart. The album was later certified platinum for sales over a million copies. The single “Carey” reached number 93 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
All tracks are written by Joni Mitchell.
No. Title Length
- “All I Want” 3:34
- “My Old Man” 3:34
- “Little Green” 3:27
- “Carey” 3:02
- “Blue” 3:05
No. Title Length
- “California” 3:51
- “This Flight Tonight” 2:51
- “River” 4:04
- “A Case of You” 4:22
- “The Last Time I Saw Richard” 4:15
Joni Mitchell – production, Appalachian dulcimer, guitar, piano & vocals.
Henry Lewy – engineer.
Gary Burden – art direction.
Tim Considine – cover photography.
James Taylor – guitar (tracks 1, 4, 6, 9).
Russ Kunkel – drums (tracks 4, 6, 9).
Stephen Stills – bass and guitar (track 4).
Sneaky Pete Kleinow – pedal steel guitar (tracks 6, 7).
Certifications for Blue
Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI) 2× Platinum 600,000^
United States (RIAA) Platinum 1,000,000^
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.