Joni Mitchell: 15 Great Artists Influenced by the 'Blue' Singer - Rolling Stone
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Joni Mitchell: 15 Great Artists Influenced by the ‘Blue’ Singer

Bob Dylan, Prince, Taylor Swift and more

Joni Mitchell

Portrait of Canadian musician Joni Mitchell wearing a loose-fitting white cotton dress, New York, November 1968. This image was from a photo shoot for the fashion magazine Vogue. Mitchell wears two rings on her hand and is in a white loose-fitting white cotton dress. (Photo by Jack Robinson/Getty Images)

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"The Blue album, there's hardly a dishonest note in the vocals," Joni Mitchell told Rolling Stone in 1979. "At that period of my life, I had no persona defenses. 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."

The record, released June 22nd, 1971, ranks Number 30 on Rolling Stone's 500 Best Albums of All Time list and it's just a single exemplar of why Mitchell is considered one of the greatest poets in 20th-century music – a visionary talent of achingly candid lyrics, fleet guitar lines and stirringly elegant vocals.

Musicians have long cited her as an inspiration and an example of how to break boundaries in their own work. Here are 15 major artists – from Bob Dylan to Björk – who have proclaimed her influence.


LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 794 -- Pictured: Musical guest Prince on March 1, 2013 -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

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The Purple One was a voluble fan of Mitchell. In 1985, he told Rolling Stone that The Hissing of Summer Lawns, her jazz-rock LP from a decade earlier, was "the last album [he] loved all the way through." His slow-burner "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker" (from his 1987 hit Sign o' the Times) also includes the lines, "Mind if I turn on the radio?/'Oh, my favorite song,' she said/And it was Joni singing 'Help me I think I'm falling'" – a reference to Mitchell's "Help Me," off Court and Spark.


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In 2011, the celestial being known as Björk cited Mitchell's 1977 double album, Don Juan's Reckless Daughter, as an all-time favorite. In 2015, she reaffirmed her admiration. "I really love Joni Mitchell," she told Pitchfork. "I think it was that accidental thing in Iceland, where the wrong albums arrive to shore, because I was obsessed with Don Juan's Reckless Daughter and Hejira as a teenager. I hear much more of her in those albums. She almost made her own type of music style with those, it's more a woman's world."

Taylor Swift

LAS VEGAS, NV - MAY 15: Recording artist Taylor Swift (C) performs during Rock in Rio USA at the MGM Resorts Festival Grounds on May 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Gabe Ginsberg/WireImage)

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Taylor Swift

The excitable Ms. Swift is such a Mitchell obsessive that she's devoted entire interviews to the topic. Around the release of Red in 2012, Swift sat with Rhapsody to extol her love for its immediate influence: Blue, Mitchell's seminal 1971 exploration of love in all its glory and ruin. "She wrote it about her deepest pains and most haunting demons," explained Swift, who went on to detail some tracks. "Songs like 'River,' which is just about her regrets and doubts of herself – I think this album is my favorite because it explores somebody's soul so deeply."

But while Swift has clearly taken a page from Mitchell's autobiographical songwriting, don't expect to see her in a silver-screen tribute anytime soon: In late 2014, Mitchell claimed that she had "squelched" the 25-year-old's chances of starring in an upcoming biopic.

Herbie Hancock

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 06: Musician Herbie Hancock rehearses onstage during The 57th Annual GRAMMY Awards at the Staples Center on February 6, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/WireImage)

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Herbie Hancock

The post-bop jazz virtuoso once raved, "One of the greatest experiences I ever had was listening to a conversation with Joni Mitchell and [saxophonist] Wayne Shorter. Just to hear them talking, my mouth was open. They understand each other perfectly, and they make these leaps and jumps because they don't have to explain anything." Hancock explained his own love for Mitchell's craft via the 2007 album River: The Joni Letters, a tribute disc that featured Leonard Cohen, Tina Turner and Mitchell herself – and bested the Foo Fighters and Kanye West to snag the Grammy for Album of the Year in February 2008.

The appreciation was mutual. "I've spent more time at jazz clubs, and I'm not a rock fan," Mitchell told Rolling Stone in 2000. "Most of the people that I hang out with have been, like, Herbie Hancock or Wayne Shorter. … White rock & roll, generally speaking, was never appealing to me. The stances of little white boys never really did it for me."

Bob Dylan

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Bob Dylan

Dylan, Mitchell's longtime folk contemporary, summed up his colleague ably in Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time: "Joni's got a strange sense of rhythm that's all her own." Dylan has a long history of collaborating with Mitchell, including a joint performance with her and Johnny Cash in Nashville in 1969 for Cash's first TV show. "Tangled Up in Blue," the opening track on his superb Blood on the Tracks, has long been rumored to have been inspired by Dylan's zealous repeat spins of Blue.

Mitchell and Dylan have shared a tempestuous friendship over the years – though she did once refer to him as a plagiarist. Incidentally, her impression of him is pretty hilarious.

Bonnie Raitt

NEW ORLEANS, LA - MAY 06: Singer/musician Bonnie Raitt performs with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band during the 2012 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival at the Fair Grounds Race Course on May 6, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jeffrey Ufberg/WireImage)

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Bonnie Raitt

No slouch herself when it comes to conveying the turmoil of love, Raitt bows down to Mitchell. "One of the biggest obstacles I've overcome in my life was thinking I didn't deserve to be successful," she's admitted. "Artistically, I'm not as much of a heavyweight as someone like Paul Simon or Joni Mitchell, because I'm not a creator of original music, and I worried about that for years." She put this deference on wax by covering "That Song About the Midway" (from Clouds) on her 1974 album Streetlights. Raitt and Mitchell also have a mutual friend in Jane Fonda, who has posted photos of their stylish clique and offered glimpses into their intellectual dinner party discourse.

Neil Diamon

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 29: Musician Neil Diamond performs a special concert at Erasmus Hall High School, where he attended school over 50 years ago, on September 29, 2014 in Brooklyn. (Photo by Debra L Rothenberg/Getty Images)

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Neil Diamond

Diamond and Mitchell shared a stage at one of the most legendary gigs in rock history: The Last Waltz, the Band's triumphant farewell in 1976. Diamond, who produced Robbie Robertson's album Beautiful Noise, took the stage after Mitchell, and he'd been vocal about her talent long before then. "'Chelsea Morning' is a great Joni Mitchell song," the soft-rock mainstay once enthused. "I guess I'm partial to her lyrics because they show me a slightly different perspective on life." He also covered her breakthrough "Both Sides, Now" on his 1969 album Touching You, Touching Me.

Maynard James Keenan

INDIO, CA - APRIL 13: Maynard James Keenan of Puscifer performs onstage during day 2 of the 2013 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at The Empire Polo Club on April 13, 2013 in Indio, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Coachella)

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Maynard James Keenan

The frontman for Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer may cut a scabrous post-metal figure onstage, but his musical influences trace back to the elegiac poetry of Mitchell. Years ago, when asked by MTV's Kurt Loder about the music he loved in his youth, Keenan replied succinctly, "Joni Mitchell. I think everything Joni Mitchell did for music was big. I was really influenced by her." His appreciation for melodicism – a staple of his bands' squall – is further elaborated in another Mitchell shout-out, this one from 2006: "I grew up listening to Joni Mitchell. The melody is what I gravitate to – and it's my job to listen to what's happening when those guys [in Tool] go down these staccato, rhythmic, insane mathematical paths. It's my job to soften it and bring it back to the center, so you can listen to it without having an eye-ache."

Chaka Khan

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - FEBRUARY 17: Chaka Khan attends the Skoda Presents New Skoda Superb on February 17, 2015 in Prague, Czech Republic. (Photo by Franziska Krug/Getty Images for Skoda)

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Chaka Khan

The funk-soul icon has covered Mitchell tracks many times, from "Ladies Man" (on the 2007 album Funk This) to "Hejira" (on shelved Mitchell tribute compilation). She's also gone on the record with her admiration of Mitchell's artistic honesty and business acumen. "I think women have definitely made progress since when I started in the business," she said in 1999. "Joni Mitchell was certainly a pioneer in many ways. I think the progress has been made with women being able to make music independently and maintaining a lot of freedom of expression in their art."

Annie Lennox

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Annie Lennox

In a 2011 interview, the Eurythmics iconoclast took a swipe at televised talent competitions while lauding Mitchell – a pretty efficient move, all told. "You wouldn't find a Joni Mitchell on X Factor; that's not the place," she told Absolute Radio. "X Factor is a specific thing for people that want to go through that process – it's a factory, you know, and it's owned and stitched-up by puppet masters." She then said of Mitchell, "She was writing these extraordinary songs with this extraordinary sort of commentary, poetic, special way, and this voice and this incredible playing. As soon as you heard the first chord and her voice … I thought 'I want to do that.'"

Donna Summer

OSLO, NORWAY - DECEMBER 11: Donna Summer performs at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert at Oslo Spektrum on December 11, 2009 in Oslo, Norway. (Photo by Sandy Young/Getty Images for Nobel Peace Prize)

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Donna Summer

Summer has been vocal about her appreciation of Mitchell's emotive songwriting. "One of my greatest frustrations was having people telling me what to say in my music," she told Billboard in 1999. "I grew up in the rock & roll era, and I was influenced by everything from Aretha Franklin to the Rolling Stones to theater to Bonnie Raitt to Joni Mitchell. I have no desire to do music that bores the living crap out of me. Whether or not the audience gets the music is not the issue. I won't make a certain kind [of] record unless it's what I feel I'm about at the time."


SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 25: Jewel performs an intimate show for The Starwood Preferred Guest Hear The Music, See The World Concert Series at US Grant, a Luxury Collection Hotel, San Diego on September 25, 2014 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Robert Benson/Getty Images for Starwood Preferred Guest)

Robert Benson


The singer-songwriter nods to Mitchell in her own folk-pop instrumentation and keening soprano, and she even penned an incisive essay on her hero for Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. "I remember a friend in high school playing me 'A Case of You,' from Blue," she wrote. "I could tell that Joni was a painter by the way she wrote lyrics. She describes smells and sounds and uses fewer words to transmit more feeling. Her melodies are about shapes. The singing lines are slow, steep plateaus."

Jewel also touched on Mitchell's command of her femininity: "Joni had an edginess that not many women expressed then. Joni Mitchell never made a big deal out of being a woman. She had such a strong sexuality, but she didn't feel the need to deny that part of her in order to be taken seriously. She also didn't play it up – although many of her songs are about sex."

Sara Bareilles

HOLLYWOOD, FL - JULY 25: Sara Bareilles performs at Hard Rock Live! in the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on July 25, 2014 in Hollywood, Florida. (Photo by Larry Marano/Getty Images)

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Sara Bareilles

Bareilles recorded a lovely cover of "The River" in 2008 and clearly kept tabs on the beloved artist: She was one of the first musicians to tweet out support for Mitchell after her hospitalization in March 2015. "Fiona Apple and Joni Mitchell are two of my most favorite role models," Bareilles had previously said. "As you can tell by that, I'm a junkie for great lyrics."

Chrissie Hynde

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 10: Musician Chrissie Hynde performs at Ryman Auditorium on November 10, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images)

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Chrissie Hynde

Most praise Mitchell for her open-hearted lyrics and nimble, affecting vocals, but Chrissie Hynde was quick to call out Mitchell's other, underrated gift. "She's a fuckin' excellent guitar player," the Pretenders singer told Rolling Stone. "I don't know any guitar player, any of the real greats, who don't rate Joni Mitchell up there with the best of them." (Clearly, Mitchell's music prompts a passionate side of Hynde: She famously brawled with Carly Simon at a 1995 Mitchell concert in New York.)

Chris Cross

AUSTIN, TX - SEPTEMBER 22: Musician Christopher Cross performs on stage as part of ALL ATX Presents: British Invasion! at ACL Live on September 22, 2014 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/WireImage)

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Christopher Cross

The "Sailing" crooner has consistently voiced respect for Mitchell's ironclad work ethic. "The writers that I aspire to, like Joni Mitchell and Randy Newman, they'll tell you that the work gets harder, not easier," he's told the press. "And they set that bar for us where we're always striving to do something better than the last time, whether it's the next song or just the next line." Over the years he has continued to offer praise. "Joni's made so many amazing records over the years," he said in 2009. "People who didn't follow Joni's work, it's their loss, because she only got more and more brilliant."

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