10 Essential Joni Mitchell Albums

Joni Mitchell Albums

Photo: Paul C. Babin [CC0]

Our 10 Essential Joni Mitchell albums list takes a look at a Canadian born musical artist who is hands down, one of Canada’s most treasured artists. However, Joni Mitchell is not just a Canadian treasure, Joni Mitchell is a World treasure. Joni Mitchell’s music sets the standard for all musicians and composers yearning to write music of substance and importance. Joni Mitchell albums are filled with songs that not only define music of quality, but also music that resonates on a global basis from both a harmonic and lyrical standpoint.

Besides her astonishing compositions, brilliant musicianship fuels the heart of all of Joni Mitchell’s albums. From the spiritual counterculture world of Woodstock, to the soulful jazz sounds of Blue Note, the musicians who appear on Joni Mitchell albums are legends in their own right. Musicians such Jaco Pastorius, Wayne Shorter, Tom Scott Larry Carlton, Glenn Frey, Herbie Hancock, Neil Young, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, Vinnie Colaiuta, Steve Lukather, Robbie Robertson, José Feliciano, Billy Preston and so many more have all graced the vinyl sides of Joni Mitchell albums.

Our 10 Essential Joni Mitchell Albums article is simply a start guide to help those who may not know Joni Mitchell’s work. We recommend all her albums, but if you’re looking for a place to start, this should help. For those who are big time Joni Mitchell fans, we think you will still find this an enjoyable read.

# 10 – Shine

We open our 10 Essential Joni Mitchell Albums list with the last album Joni Mitchell released as of this writing in 2019. It had been almost ten years since Joni Mitchell’s last studio album was released in 1998 entitled Taming the TigerThe wonderful album Shine was released in 2007. Joni Mitchell performed piano, keyboards, guitar and vocals on the album. While so many Joni Mitchell albums featured large lineups of famous jazz musicians, 2007’s Shine kept it more simple. On bass, was longtime Joni Mitchell collaborator and ex husband Larry Klein. Greg Leisz played pedal steel guitar, Brian Blade was on drums, Bob Sheppard on saxophones, Paulinho Da Costa on percussion, and a special appearance by James Taylor on the beautiful title track.

Stand Out Tracks: 

“Shine, If I Had a Heart, Bad Dreams.”

Joni Mitchell Albums

# 9 – Mingus

Joni Mitchell’s Mingus album was released in 1979. The album was named after legendary jazz bassist Charles Mingus. Joni Mitchell and Charles Mingus collaborated together on the album. The Mingus album would become the final album Charles Minges would be part off as he died just before the album’s release.

Mingus is a stunning album by Joni Mitchell. Like many other Joni Mitchell albums, critics were not always kind when her records were first released. Joni Mitchell had set such a high standard from her previous albums, many critics were too harsh. However, over time those same critical voices have come to realize just how brilliant the Mingus record was. The album featured an incredible cast of jazz greats starting with Jaco Pastorius on bass. Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock were reunited together on the album. The great Peter Erskine played drums. Don Alias contributed percussion, The album was also produced by Steven Katz known for his work producing the great Steely Dan albums of the 1970s.

Stand Out Tracks: 

“A Chair in the Sky, Sweet Sucker Dance, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.”


Joni Mitchell Albums

# 8 – Turbulent Indigo

In 1994, Joni Mitchell released the album Turbulent Indigo. The album won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Album of 1994. The album opens with the mesmerizing track “Sunny Sunday.” A single guitar riff introduces Joni Mitchell vocal and slowly, instrument by instrument join in for a very special ride. One of the album’s highlights was a cover version of Dan Hartman and Charlie Midnight’s wonderful song “How Do You Stop.” The version also featured backing vocals by Seal who was a very popular artist in the early 1990s.

The famous Dutch artist Vincent Willem van Gogh was very much on Joni Mitchell’s mind when she recorded the Turbulent Indigo album. The cover of the record was a self portrait of Joni Mitchell painted in the style of Vincent Willem van Gogh. On the track “Turbulent Indigo” Joni Mitchell also referenced the Dutch Post-Impressionist  painter Vincent Willem van Gogh.

Stand Out Tracks: 

“How Do You Stop, Sunny Sunday, The Magdalene Laundries.”

Joni Mitchell Albums

# 7 – Hejira 

As we continue the journey through our 10 Essential Joni Mitchell albums, we turn to an album that played a pivotal role in Joni Mitchell’s career. With the recording of Hejira, Joni Mitchell stepped further into the world of jazz music without leaving behind her pop and folk music sensibilities. As brilliant of a songwriter Joni Mitchell was, a composer still needs great musicians to make their music come to life on vinyl. Joni Mitchell’s hiring of jazz musicians to record with her on Hejira resulted in a sound that found the direction that Joni Mitchell seemed to be aiming for.

For the recording of Hejira, Joni Mitchell went out and hired some of the best jazz musicians on Earth. It all started with Jaco. Add musicians such as Tom Scott, Victor Feldman, Larry Carlton, Chuck Domanico, John Guerin and Bobbye Hall and one has an incredible sounding record bathed in musicianship that discovered the subtleties in Joni Mitchell’s deep writing.

Stand Out Tracks: 

“Coyote, Furry Sings the Blues, Song for Sharon.”

Joni Mitchell Albums

# 6 – For the Roses

Joni Mitchell’s For The Roses album was the songwriter’s fifth studio album. The record was released in 1972. For The Roses  also served as the follow up to her incredible album the year before entitled Blue. All of the album’s 12 songs do not disappoint the listener as each track is a beauty on its own. The album’s consistency has always been a highlight of the many favorable reviews the album has received over the years. The album featured Joni Mitchell’s first hit single in which she was the featured performer. The song “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio” reached number 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1972.

Stand Out Tracks: 

You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio, Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire, Judgment of the Moon and Stars, Banquet.”

Joni Mitchell Albums

# 5 – Clouds

Clouds was Joni Mitchell’s second studio album. The record was released in 1969. Clouds was an album that early on defined the multiple talents of Joni Mitchell. Every song on the album was written by Joni Mitchell, every song was produced by Joni Mitchell with the exception of Paul A. Rothchild, and the album cover was painted by Joni Mitchell.

The album closed with the song “Both Sides Now,” which was a huge hit for Judy Collins and would become Collin’s signature songs. Stephen Stills played a major role on the album contributing guitar and bass parts to the record.

Stand Out Tracks: 

“Chelsea Morning, Tin Angel, I Think I Understand, Both Sides, Now.”

# 4 – The Hissing of Summer Lawns 

Joni Mitchell’s album The Hissing of Summer Lawns was released in 1975. The album’s opening track “In France They Kiss on Main Street,” set the tone for an album of virtuoso playing. Max Bennett’s bass line and Jeff Baxter’s guitar solos were to die for on the killer opening track. The track also featured James Taylor, David Crosby and Graham Nash on backing vocals. The albums third track “Edith and the Kingpin,” also quickly became a fan favorite as the song’s depth was simply breathtaking. Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns is an extraordinary album that in 1975 set the bar for all singer songwriters.

There were many changes happening in music in 1975 as disco was beginning its attack on pop culture. However groundbreaking brilliant albums albums like Joni Mitchell’s  The Hissing of Summer Lawns  and Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run waged war in defending the airwaves against artists like Van McCoy and his “The Hustle,” and The Hues Corporation “Don’t Rock The Boat.” Two songs that set disco in motion.

Stand Out Tracks: 

“”In France They Kiss on Main Street, Edith and the Kingpin, Shadows and Light.”

Joni Mitchell Albums

# 3 – Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter (1977)

How could you not love the title of this album? It was a brilliant title as it defined the music on the album quite well. On Joni Mitchell’s 1977 album Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, the artist thrived to loosen it up a bit in exploring her improvisational side. The album is a two record set that became Joni Mitchell’s hallmark in exploration and improvisation. While still somewhat structured, the album had a much looser feel that her previous albums but moved further into the jazz world. And what better way to explore than by hiring musicians such as Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius, John Guerin, Alejandro Acuña, Don Alias and Larry Carlton to play on the album.

Stand Out Tracks: 

“Talk To Me, The Tenth World, Paprika Plains, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter.’

Joni Mitchell Albums

# 2 – Court and Spark (1974)

In 1974, Joni Mitchell celebrated her first top 10 single with the wonderful song “Help Me.” The song was released on Joni Mitchell’s soon to be iconic album Court and Spark. The album has become Joni Mitchell’s biggest selling album of her career. The Recording Industry Association of America has certified that the album has gone “Double Platinum,” which in simple terms means that Court and Spark has sold 2,000,000 copies in the United States. Every song on the album is a standout track which makes it impossible to even compose a list of standout tracks. If your going to buy only one Joni Mitchell album, buy at least two, this one and the next one on our ten Essential Joni Mitchell albums list.

Joni Mitchell Albums

# 1 – Blue (1971)

It would be hard to find a Joni Mitchell fan that would say that Blue was not their favorite Joni Mitchell album. It would probably be just as difficult to find any rock music fan who grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s to say that Blue was not one of their favourite albums of all time. There are simply not enough adjectives to describe the beauty of Joni Mitchell’s album Blue . It is Joni Mitchell’s Francesco Hayez’s Il Bacio, or perhaps her Pablo Picasso’s Melancholy Woman. It is simply a work of art unparalleled in the world of popular music. Where there is love, there is heartache, love leads one down so many paths and on Blue,  Joni Mitchell explored all of those joyous and desperate emotional avenues. It is, and always will be our favorite Joni Mitchell album.

Joni Mitchell Albums

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