The Thomas Ford Memorial Library is celebrating songs on its blog Thommy Ford Reads this year. I wrote this piece recently for Thommy Ford's Playlist.
By 1974, Canadian singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell had plenty of loyal fans and had won much praise from music critics for her inventive lyrics and strange chords. Young women admired her feminist stand and her ability to perform and record mostly alone. Her five albums had charted well, but she did not have a top ten hit record. Whether she really cared about the charts is debatable, but her studio was certainly interested. With backing of musicians from the jazz band LA Express, she worked for a brighter sound on her sixth album Court and Spark. She succeeded and the album was both a critical and commercial hit. It also included her biggest single ever “Help Me” which peaked at #7 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The sound of “Help Me” might have been new but Mitchell stuck to the message she had been touting since her debut album Song to a Seagull. She was interested in love but not as much as her freedom. It was a seductive anthem that played well in the 1970s.
More than any other Mitchell album, Court and Spark had a consistent theme, that being a look at life in Los Angeles. Listeners will notice that the next track “Free Man in Paris” has almost the same tone and again romanticizes freedom. It also ridicules the seeking of pop music fame, exactly what the producers of her album wanted for her.
In addition to the compact disc of the album, my library has a small book about it, Court and Spark by Sean Nelson. Mitchell fans wanting to learn more about the individual songs and the place of the album in the artist’s chronology will want to check it out.