Joni Mitchell – My Secret Place
It might surprise you to learn that in a recording career spanning some 49 years, Joni Mitchell‘s sole UK top ten hit comes from a sample credit on Janet Jackson‘s Got ’til it’s Gone and that, other than Big Yellow Taxi reaching no.11 in 1970, she has never had another hit single. Yes, it’s time to look at the issue of the Albums Artist.
The term “albums artist” actually annoys me a fair bit – it tends to imply that someone is somehow too good for the singles chart, as if being commercial is a bad thing. Balderdash – Joni wrote plenty of hits, it’s just that other people – notably Judy Collins and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were the beneficiaries.
That old bugger perceived wisdom would have it that Joni’s early period was her best, but for me her purple patch came in the late eighties and early nineties. Had you last listened to Joni in 1974 when Court and Spark came out and then moved straight to 1988’s Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm you would receive an almighty shock, for her voice deepened quite spectacularly over the years – principally due to her smoking habit (she even wrote a song about it called Smokin’ (Empty, Try Another) in 1985.) The higher register so familiar from Help Me and Free Man in Paris was entirely gone, replaced by a deep, cracked and rich tone, and her music was all the better for it.
Having gone through a slightly awkward, noisy patch with the Thomas Dolby-assisted Dog Eat Dog, the first single from Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm was My Secret Place, a duet with Peter Gabriel – and it was absolutely gorgeous.
Call me an old romantic, but this look at mature lovers tentatively finding out about each other manages to melt me every time I listen to it. Joni and Peter trade alternate lines as if they’re filling the awkward gaps you get when something and someone is new to you. And If you’ve ever moved to somewhere entirely unfamiliar then this song will resonate strongly with you. “Why did you bring me to a place so wild and pretty? Are there pigeons in this park? Muggers after dark?” Joni’s plea “street bravado….carry me” has helped me out many a time.
Trying to score Joni a hit single at any point in time was always difficult – and by 1988 I don’t think there was any interest, either on the record company’s or radio’s part. Which meant that My Secret Place remains a secret to this day. It is, however, a wonderful secret.
Entered chart: did not chart
Who could sing this today and have a hit? DON’T SAY TAYLOR SWIFT DON’T SAY TAYLOR SWIFT. Taylor Swift.