Music

Joni Mitchell: Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, a Ballet, Waiting to Be Danced

Love Has Many Faces is a great box set, but make no mistake: while it does tell Joni Mitchell's story, it may not be the exact one you've been wanting to hear.


Joni Mitchell

Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, a Ballet, Waiting to Be Danced

Label: Elektra
US Release Date: 2014-11-24
UK Release Date: Import
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No one will argue against the notion that Joni Mitchell is one of the most revered artists of our time, but few people outside her circle of devout followers truly understand her reputation as a historical revisionist. In other words, boy howdy does Mitchell make sure her legacy is represented just how she wants it to be.

It all started in 1996 when, upon her label's insistence that Mitchell release a greatest hits compilation, she agreed to so long as another album of "greatest misses" was manufactured as well, leading to the aptly-titled compilations Hits and Misses being released on the same day. Then, starting with 2000's Both Sides Now and continuing with 2002's Travelogue, Mitchell became obsessed with doing jazzier, full-orchestra recreations of her own catalog, twisting and subverting her own hits in new and sometimes perplexing ways. While Travelogue especially remains an alternately fascinating and frustrating document of career revisionism, its existence is very important. For the four-disc box set Love Has Many Faces -- which Mitchell compiled herself -- she has decided to construct her legacy as she sees fit, culling deep cuts few would have ever thought warranted inclusion while also upsetting the status quo by substituting the orchestral versions of some of her hits over the studio originals. Ultimately, this makes for a sonic document that winds up telling Joni Mitchell's story, but not the Joni Mitchell story.

As the title indicates, this compilation deals with songs about love in all its forms. However, even with that loose guiding principle, there are some questionable inclusions. When one thinks of Mitchell's peons about love, the breezy sway of "Ray's Dad's Cadillac" from 1991's Night Ride Home does not immediately spring to mind. Although it's not a "hits" compilation per se (i.e. no "Big Yellow Taxi", "Woodstock", or even "Free Man in Paris"), a lot of the agreed-upon must-haves can be found here: "Car on a Hill", "You Turn Me On I'm a Radio", "River", "Court and Spark", "Blue", "All I Want", "Just Like This Train", "Down to You", "A Case of You", "Raised on Robbery", etc. Yes, "Both Sides Now" is included, albeit in sweeping late-period orchestral form. While some may question as to the inclusion of this version over the studio original, the case can be made that given this was the cut used in Love, Actually, so it would be the one younger fans are more familiar with.

Keep in mind, however, that these hits are strewn about the four entire discs, interspliced with deep cuts culled from albums ranging from 2007's polarizing Shine ("Hana") to 1971's Blue (but, strangely, nothing from her first three albums). Given that this is Mitchell basically rewriting her own history, it's fascinating to see how she views her own strengths. Three cuts are culled from 1979's Mingus and 1975's The Hissing of Summer Lawns, one from 1977's Don Juan's Reckless Daughter, etc. Overall, Mitchell calls upon songs that aren't so much "difficult" as they are heavy on artistic intent, as the spoken-word breakdown of "Harry's House/Centerpiece" from Hissing doesn't usually come up in first round discussions of Mitchell's greatest achievements.

Regardless, the exclusion of songs like "Help Me" in favor of the painfully dated Billy Idol duet "Dancin' Clown" and the regrettable "Tax Free" are definitely curious calls. Yet fans both casual and devout can still enjoy uncovering lesser-known fare like "The Only Joy in Town" and the woefully underappreciated 1991 Canadian hit "Come in From the Cold". Through this box set, someone may get to uncover something like a quiet charmer like "Yvette in English", but, again, this is only a portion of Joni Mitchell's story, and the lack of songs like "Coyote", "Night in the City", and "Chelsea Morning" make for a frustrating portrait, and even if using the "love songs" dictum, there is still no reason why "Help Me" is shut out while 1988's veiled showbiz lament "Number One" makes the final cut.

Then again, in 2004, Mitchell commissioned a triptych of compilations of her work, and between those three discs (the '80s-heavy The Beginning of Survival, the "classic hits"-focused Dreamland, and 2005's Canadian-oriented Songs of a Prairie Girl), one thing became clear: Mitchell's legacy is one that intensely hard to define. Chart hits alone won't tell her story, nor will her own deep cut diving, which she again attempts with Love Has Many Faces. Sure, she gets closer to providing a definitive portrait here than with those 2004 comps but by holding on to some precious darlings that mean something to her but little to everyone else, she still doesn't manage to stick the landing. Despite her obvious pop instincts, Mitchell prefers to remain an enigma, and Love Has Many Faces, while noble in intent, only furthers the idea that she is a capital-A artist, one who refuses to compromise her vision on what her own legacy should consist of, both for the better and for the worse. Love Has Many Faces is a great box set, but make no mistake: while it does tell Joni Mitchell's story, it may not be the exact one you've been wanting to hear.

7

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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