Joni Mitchell: "Court and Spark" Song by Song Thread

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Parachute Woman, Sep 19, 2018.

  1. Parachute Woman

    Parachute Woman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    We have completed another wonderful discussion focused on For the Roses and today we begin our dive into Joni's sixth studio album Court and Spark--the biggest seller of her career. Thank you as always to everyone participating in our journey through Joni's discography one record at a time.

    Previous threads in this series
    Joni Mitchell: "For the Roses" Song by Song Thread
    Joni Mitchell: "Blue" Song by Song Thread
    Joni Mitchell: "Ladies of the Canyon" Song by Song Thread
    Joni Mitchell: "Clouds" Song by Song Thread
    Joni Mitchell: "Song to a Seagull" Song by Song Thread

    Court and Spark

    Album Notes
    Released: January 17, 1974
    Drums and percussion - John Guerin
    Bass - Max Bennett (on Trouble Child), Jim Hughart (on People's Parties and Free Man In Paris), Wilton Felder
    Chimes (on Court and Spark) - Milt Holland
    Woodwinds & reeds - Tom Scott
    Trumpet (on Twisted and Trouble Child) - Chuck Findley
    Piano - Joni Mitchell
    Electric Piano - Joe Sample
    Clavinet (on Down To You) - Joni Mitchell
    Background voices - Joni Mitchell, David Crosby and Graham Nash (on Free Man In Paris), Susan Webb and David Crosby (on Down To You), Cheech and Chong (on Twisted)
    Electric Guitar - Wayne Perkins (on Car On A Hill), Dennis Budimir (on Trouble Child); Robbie Robertson (on Raised on Robbery), Jose Feliciano and Larry Carlton (on Free Man in Paris), Larry Carlton on all others

    The strings on the 'Same Situation' were arranged by Tom Scott; 'Down To You" arranged by Joni Mitchell and Tom Scott; 'Car On A Hill' arranged by Joni Mitchell

    Sound Engineer - Henry Lewy
    Mastering Engineer - Bernie Grundman

    All songs composed by Joni Mitchell, © 1973 Crazy Crow Music/BMI. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Except 'Twisted,' written by Ross and Grey, © 1965 Prestige Music/BMI. All rights reserved. Used by permission

    Art Direction / Design - Anthony Hudson
    Photography - Norman Seeff
    Cover Painting - Joni Mitchell


    Court and Spark is the sixth studio album by Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell. It was an immediate commercial and critical success—and remains her most successful album. Released in January 1974, it infuses her folk rock style, which she developed throughout her previous five albums, with jazz inflections.

    It reached No. 2 in the United States and No. 1 in Canada and eventually received a Double Platinum certification by the RIAA, the highest of Mitchell's career.[5] It also reached the Top 20 in the UK and was voted the best album of the year for 1974 in The Village Voice Pazz & Jop Critics Poll.[6] In 2003 it was listed at #111 in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[7]

    1973 was the first year since she began recording that Mitchell did not release a new album. Her previous offering, For the Roses, was released in November 1972 to critical and commercial success, and Mitchell decided to spend the whole of the next year writing and recording a new album that revealed her growing interest in new sounds—particularly jazz. During 1973, her stage appearances were fewer than in previous years. She performed in April in a benefit concert at the Sir George Williams UniversityAuditorium and then appeared live again in August, twice at The Corral Club, accompanied by Neil Young.

    Mitchell spent most of 1973 in the recording studio creating Court and Spark. Mitchell and producer/engineer Henry Lewy called in a number of top L.A. musicians to perform on the album including members of The Crusaders, Tom Scott's L.A. Express, cameos from Robbie Robertson, David Crosby & Graham Nash and even a twist of comedy from Cheech & Chong.

    In December, Asylum Records released a single, her first in over a year, "Raised on Robbery". The single reached No. 65 on the Billboard Singles Chart.

    Court and Spark was released in January 1974. Critics and the public enthusiastically embraced the album, and its success was reaffirmed when the follow-up single, "Help Me", was released in March. It received heavy radio airplay and became Mitchell's first and only Top 10 single in the Billboard charts, peaking at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the first week of June, and reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary charts. Court and Spark went on to be a big seller that year, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard album charts[15] and staying there for four weeks. The album became the pinnacle of Mitchell's commercial success. The album was kept from the top spot by three No. 1 albums—in order Bob Dylan's Planet Waves, Barbra Streisand's The Way We Were and John Denver's Greatest Hits.[16]

    In a July 1979 interview with Cameron Crowe for Rolling Stone, Mitchell recounted an anecdote of when she had played a copy of the then-just completed Court & Spark to Bob Dylan, during which Dylan fell asleep.[17] Mitchell later suggested that Dylan was probably trying to be "cute" in front of label boss David Geffen, who was also present.[17]

    Grammy Awards
    Court and Spark- Album of the Year (Nominated)
    'Help Me'- Record of the Year (Nominated)
    'Help Me'- Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (Nominated)
    'Down to You' (arrangement Joni Mitchell/Tom Scott)- Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist (WON)

    Contemporary Reviews
    "Joni Mitchell has given us the slip again. She's gone out and outdone For the Roses, the best LP of 1972 as well as of her career, with her latest masterpiece, Court and Spark (Asylum 7E-1001).

    This time we discover that she is still lonely and looking for a lover to, as the aging phrase goes, "court and spark." Her music is maturing as this quest grows more intense and meaningful. She constantly requires new and better ways in which to express herself as earlier efforts to communicate appear to be ineffective.

    She takes us through the various feelings and phases of an affair in this cycle of love songs. Never have her compositions been more complex or complete - incorporating some jazz and rock back-ups, extraordinary sound effects and an innovative use of woodwinds, reeds and strings to further compliment the deeply-melodic structures she was developing in For the Roses."
    Michigan Daily, January 1974

    "Time after time and song after song, She maintains an amazing quality in her work. I don't believe any other songwriter — with the possible exception of Bob Dylan — has written as many memorable pop songs. Each of her songs has a meaning, too — whether it be about the attitudes and emotions of love or the detailing of human relationships, long-range or spur-of-the-moment.

    COURT AND SPARK could be her best album ever, mostly because she has very successfully broadened the musical tones to include both rock and jazz beats. More than in any other album, the solo performance has been reduced to a less important level."
    Chicago Daily Herald, February 1974

    "Bob Dylan's return has caused a lot of spark and speculation about where music and the youth culture are going in the 1970s. In all the commotion, the return of a woman who has created a quiet revolution of her own has been pushed unjustly to the side. Joni Mitchell, the female folk-poet laureate has released a new album, "Court and Spark," and has recently gone on tour after a rejuvenation period in her canyon home.

    Just a glance at the cover of her latest album lets you know what's inside. A sketch of a man and woman in sweeping embrace is overshadowed by an ominous, dark cloud. "Again and again the same situation," sings Joni in quiet resignation, and you know the woman of heart and mind is still unsuccessful in love.

    The lady who once played coffee houses with Neil Young is no longer wingin' it with piano and guitar. She's been influenced by Tommy Scott, a fine saxophonist and reedman, whose L.A. Express has moved her bit-by-bit into jazz and brass and string orchestration.

    But the genius of Joni is still very much present. Her ability to express vulnerability, cultivated after too many sugars gone sour, aches through the gloss of the more polished musical style."
    News Record, February 1974

    "If Joni Mitchell was ever a "folk singer" she is no longer. She is a unique musical entity and her music refuses to be forced into any such die-cut molds. She is one of only three or four current songwriters deserving of the title "genius." Hers is a brilliantly personal kind of music - intensely and revealingly intimate.

    But unlike some writers who attempt to lay bare their soul on the assumption that any bare soul should be of interest, Joni Mitchell serves herself up with a kind of joy that frees the listener from the uncomfortable feeling of prying into another's privacy.

    Her new album, "Court and Spark" (Asylum 7E-1001), is very nearly perfect, representing both a consolidation of all that was best in her previous work while expanding the range of her personal idiom. The arrangements are bigger, the tempos and rhythms more varied; the big-name backing musicians (from Jose Feliciano and David Crosby to Cheech and Chong) superb. And Joni's voice - stunning in its range and emotional content."
    Camden Courier Post, February 1974
    DavidD, tug_of_war, Archguy and 17 others like this.
  2. Parachute Woman

    Parachute Woman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Here are some tags. Whether or not they work, I do not know as we had some problems with that in the last thread. Well, worth a try!
    @Cokelike- @jlf @Planbee @VU Master @Sordel @Socalguy @Jose Jones @Denim Chicken @Damiano54 @chrisblower @DocBrown @DrJ @maui jim @HenryFly @bluemooze @EddieMann @Manapua @mkolesa @Fender Relic @audiotom @bob_32_116 @qwerty

    But please, everyone can participate and try to keep the thread visible so others can find it!
    As always, we use the first day to discuss the first track and the album as a whole. Let's begin!

    Track 1: "Court and Spark"

    Love came to my door
    With a sleeping roll
    And a madman's soul
    He thought for sure I'd seen him
    Dancing up a river in the dark
    Looking for a woman
    To court and spark

    He was playing on the sidewalk
    For passing change
    When something strange happened
    Glory train passed through him
    So he buried the coins he made
    In People's Park
    And went looking for a woman
    To court and spark

    It seemed like he read my mind
    He saw me mistrusting him
    And still acting kind
    He saw how I worried sometimes
    I worry sometimes

    "All the guilty people" he said
    They've all seen the stain
    On their daily bread
    On their christian names
    I cleared myself
    I sacrificed my blues
    And you could complete me
    I'd complete you

    His eyes were the color of the sand
    And the sea
    And the more he talked to me
    The more he reached me
    But I couldn't let go of L.A.
    City of the fallen angels
  3. Parachute Woman

    Parachute Woman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Court and Spark (Album)
    Court and Spark was one of the first two Joni Mitchell albums I heard, after Blue. They were the only two ever in stock at the big box chains (Best Buy, Circuit City) I was shopping at in high school. As a consequence, I've owned the album since I was about 16 and I have listened to it easily over a hundred times. I have always greatly enjoyed this album and found it to have a beautiful sound to it, with wonderful arrangements and performances by Joni in a more collaborative environment than she had been on any album yet. She found herself a band and the sounds they brought to the record were hugely important to the fuller feel of Court and Spark and the album's popularity with the general public--a really mature, emotional pop album. Joni wrote this in the essay included in the Love Has Many Faces box:

    "We all crowded into little Studio C and together we made a very innovative “pop” record. I told Henry, “Set me up facing the drummer.” John Guerin wrote out a chart of what I was playing and for the first time a drummer locked up to me and flowed through the figurative eccentricities like water over rocks. I fell in love with him and we moved in together...

    When the album was finished, I played it for Geffen and Bob Dylan and Bob’s buddy, Louie Kemp, who brought a girl with him. Bob had just completed an album (PLANET WAVES) — not one of his best. We played it first and everyone was very effusive. Then I played COURT AND SPARK. I was so proud of it — my first band! Bob pretended to fall asleep and when the last note faded out, Geffen nodded feebly. Louie said nothing. As they continued to comment on Bob’s work, Louie’s girl came over to me. “Why are they doing this to you?” she said. “I don’t know,” I said, “I think I’m Jackie Robinson.”"

    It's interesting that one of the reviews I quoted in the OP also makes note of the fact that Bob Dylan's 'return' was overshadowing Joni's triumph in the press...
    I find that I have immense respect for this album and think it is one of Joni's best recorded and arranged with a wonderful unique sound and Joni's voice continuing to deepen and gain new shades and colors. There is a warmth and openness to this album. As I alluded to in the last thread, this record was never in my top five of Joni's albums but I have been listening to it many times over the past few days and I feel it now more at age 30 than I did at age 16, that's for sure. I'll get into specifics as we go through the songs. Court and Spark is certainly another masterpiece in Joni's amazing discography and a well-deserved success for her.

    Court and Spark (Song)

    A smashing opening song for the album. I think Joni's knack for track sequencing was a real asset to all of her records. She had a wonderful sense of where to place songs on the albums and her choices for openers often feel like introductions, preludes or opening theses around which the themes of the rest of the album will build. This was true of 'All I Want' and 'Banquet' and it is very true of the title track on Court and Spark. This song holds that tremendous warmth I was alluding to above, as Joni sings in her lower register over a softly building arrangement that introduces the band sound in a very subtle way. We start with just the piano (like the last album) but Joni is soon joined by soft drums, bass and guitar. Her vocal melody is a wonderful middle ground behind pop and jazz, sliding around the scales effortlessly. It just sounds great. A perfect marriage of production, arrangement and songwriting.

    It's an album that focuses on romantic love, a topic Joni has never shied away from, and this song brings that story of 'courting and sparking' into focus. I love how the lyrics can be read as being about a specific guy (John Guerin) but also as being about love itself as a concept, anthropomorphized and showing up at Joni's door with a sleeping bag under its arm, ready to stay for as long as it wants. Love playing on the sidewalk for passing change, bringing the stranger of 'For Free' back to mind. A lovely song and a favorite on the album for me.
    The MEZ, Geee!, gregorya and 9 others like this.
  4. Scott S.

    Scott S. Indie Music Curator

    Walmartville PA
    my god, what a great record this is.
  5. Tommy Jay

    Tommy Jay Forum Resident

    This album is the epitome of Joni's career, in my opinion. She has so many wonderful albums to choose from. At some point, it all becomes subjective.

    In my mythical top 10 favorite records (by anyone), C&S is always at the top of the list and probably has gotten more plays thru the years than any record I own.

    Court and Spark moved my 19 year old self in ways I had never felt before---or since, for that matter.

    It was my gateway to Joni Mitchell and actually singer/songwriters in general. Post Court and Spark, I was always on the lookout for music which could speak so passionately for me. I never found it--although sometimes Blue comes close and is even more intense in its probing.

    Every song on this record except Twisted and Raised on Robbery are stone cold classics for me. And I can't blame Joni for wanting to have some fun. She sure deserved it!

    The opener sets the tone for an amazing journey.
  6. lightbulb

    lightbulb Not the Brightest of the Bunch

    Smogville CA USA
    I’ve been very hesitant to post a comment about Joni Mitchell and her music in this great album-by-album series by @Parachute Woman .....
    Why? I guess in part, due to the amazingly assuredness, musical meticulousness, passionately precise catalog of Mitchell has me slightly intimidated.

    Joni’s “Court and Spark” is yet another amazing stellar album in her overall work, but it demonstrates how at this point in her career how she’s truly developed into a complete artist - she’s developed a full rich musical palette, with an ability to employ any sonic and lyrical coloring as her inspiration, intuition, and inner muse requires. Her incredibly innate sense to surround herself with amazingly talented musicians continues with every album, and this LP overflows with them.
  7. Planbee

    Planbee Nothing To See Here

    Probably the greatest leadoff track on definitely Joni's best album. Hejira ranks a very close second, but Court and Spark has the hooks and a few piano tracks for variety (I understand why there isn't any piano on Hejira).

    Anyway, never having had this album on vinyl, for years I assumed that "Car on a Hill" finished off side 1. Not only because it seems a great way to end a perfect side of music, but timewise it balances things out better being on the first side. Unless it was moved to side 1 in the cassette days, for example, there was a lot of fast-forwarding to be done. Anyway...
  8. RockRoom

    RockRoom I Love My Dog

    Upstate NY
    markedasred, Joti Cover, Tuco and 2 others like this.
  9. audiomixer

    audiomixer As Bald As The Beatles

  10. davmar77

    davmar77 I'd rather be drummin'...

    clifton park,ny
    one of my favorites too. I saw her when this came out on a bill with csny, jesse colin young and the beach boys. she sat in with csny. what an amazing day!
  11. Fender Relic

    Fender Relic Forum Resident

    Court And album I never bonded with but truth be told I think I've only listened to it straight thru 2 or 3 times. Help Me and Free Man In Paris were/are like a sign post for me though as I graduated HS in 74 and went right into university a week later. It was too soon but what a summer! Freedom,parties,classes...occasionally :laugh: Joni was everywhere on campus and it was perfect summer music. So, the 2 singles seemed enough at the time and I never went deeper into the album complete. I did give it a spin earlier this summer and it was:shrug:..OK. Maybe a bit too LA slick for my taste coming off of a more rural Canada vibe on FTR but I'm going to give it another try as I follow along here.

    This thread is timely though as I just bought a large music collection.Over 1,000 LP's,a few hundred that'll probably be keepers. A few Quad Discs were in the bunch and one was CAS. I'll be cleaning/listening soon and using it as a companion to this thread. Bon voyage!
    Parachute Woman likes this.
  12. Parachute Woman

    Parachute Woman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Thank you so much for sharing! You have a wonderful talent for writing about music. I love the way you describe her voice on this album as "comforting" and state, "Joni's voice is rich and thick as winter syrup." This perfectly captures the 'warmth' I was mentioning in my post and that I hear all over this album. This record has actually long been coded in my mind as a "winter" album, and I think the combination of Joni's voice plus the rich arrangements are what give me that feeling. You also touch on the maturity we are hearing here and Joni certainly sounds a woman in contrast to the girl we listened to on Clouds or Song to a Seagull.

    Really excellent review all around. :)
    Tuco and RockRoom like this.
  13. RockRoom

    RockRoom I Love My Dog

    Upstate NY
    Thank you so much for reading and for the kind words!
    Parachute Woman likes this.
  14. bare trees

    bare trees Forum Resident

    "Court And Spark" is a beautiful song with a subtle yet deceptively powerful arrangement that helps to set the tone for the rest of the album.
  15. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Pick up a fast car, burn my name in the road

    One of my favourite joni albums ...
  16. Socalguy

    Socalguy Forum Resident

    What can be said about “Court and Spark” that hasn’t already been said? I’ve played this album at least a thousand times. It never gets old. I was hooked from the opening line, in that husky voice “Love came to my door with a sleeping roll... “ holy crap. Still gets me.

    I consider myself lucky to have been on this planet while Joni was to experience the wonder of this music.
  17. DocBrown

    DocBrown Musical hermit of the frozen north

    Edmonton, Canada
    I once wrote that CaS fell 2 minutes and eighteen seconds beyond being the one and only perfect album. Like Tommy Jay above, over the course of a lifetime (and I bought my first records in 1974, so this is literally a lifetime of listening) I have spun CaS more than any other album.

    I have a hard time commenting on individual songs because I'm more of an album listener, and I blame this album, where the first three songs, to me, sound like a suite, almost like an overture followed by two competing visions of new love. It is more the orchestration than the lyrics that I see holding them together, and what a growth in the arrangements from her prior work! This is the first time Joni pulls together a supporting cast big enough and with the right talents to do justice to her music, most of that being the inclusion of jazz players.
  18. Sordel

    Sordel Forum Resident

    Midlands, UK
    I guess that this is the album where Joni really opens up and goes from being a troubadour to being a band leader. With her earlier albums you could pretty much imagine her singing the songs in a bar but you can always feel her working on a broader musical canvas here: the intimate opening of the title track and then keyboards, bass, drums, lap steel all come in. You even get nylon string guitar and tubular bells before the end of the song. Yet “Court and Spark” is the most intimate and conservative song on the album ... what might have been a closing ballad on another album is here just the calling card.
  19. Planbee

    Planbee Nothing To See Here

    Ah, "Twisted" is great. :)
    Socalguy, limoges, Charles M and 2 others like this.
  20. Socalguy

    Socalguy Forum Resident

    Oh man you’re in for a sweet ride. Keep your ears open, the more you listen the more goodies you’ll hear.
  21. Socalguy

    Socalguy Forum Resident

    By the way, before we get further into this album, pay special attention to Guerin’s drumming. It’s absolutely brilliant. In my opinion it’s one of the key things that makes this album so great.

    One of the unique things about Mitchell is her phrasing... she sings, plays and strums with a syncopation that give her songs a certain feel. She has a complex rhythmic sense and uses patterns that can be elusive even to the best drummers. I read somewhere that on earlier albums she didn’t feel like drummers quite “got” her, but the first time Guerin played along to one of her songs it was magical, like water flowing over rocks.
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2018
    Veovis, scousette, Tuco and 4 others like this.
  22. Cokelike-

    Cokelike- Forum Resident

    Columbus, Oh

    Love this album.

    The copy at the top has an original hype sticker with original cellophane wrapping, unfortunately the thrift shore stapled the price tag into the cover.

    Then at the bottom we have the Quad pressing and a copy of rare (?) cover with no text on it.
  23. jlf

    jlf Custom Title Unlocked

    United States
    Ive got so many copies of this album. Oddly enough, not my favorite Joni but still a classic!!

    Reminder to self—gotta rip and upload that alternate mix of “Raised on Robbery”...
    audiotom likes this.
  24. bob_32_116

    bob_32_116 Forum Resident

    Perth Australia
    How are these tags supposed to work? Am I supposed to get an alert? I have "Receive alert" switched on for nearly everything except "somone liked my post", but I never received any alert about this thread, nor any of the other Joni threads.


    Anyway... to the album:
    Despite the time gap between For the Roses and this one, I always think of them as a pair. that is partly because I was introduced to both of them at the same time, by the same person, however I also find them stylistically fairly similar and quite different to Blue and earlier albums. The opening track here is not that different to the first track on For the Roses. She is starting to sound a little more jazzy on this album (especially on the final track).

    The song Court and Spark has an odd rambling quality - in a good way. Some of those piano chords sound like she thought "I'll just play a few chords here, because I can". In retrospect it almost seems like a dry run for Paprika Plains. Once again we have a song that seems to end unsatisfactorily - from the narrator's point of view, not the listener's. She finds herself becoming more and more attracted to this man, but cannot bring herself to go with him and leave the city she has come to call home.

    Look, once again I don't think this album has a bad track, though I do have to be in the mood for Twisted. I won't name my favourite tracks until we come to them.
    luckett and Parachute Woman like this.
  25. Greg Carrier

    Greg Carrier Forum Resident

    Iowa City
    Court and Spark was my first Joni Mitchell album. I had heard good things about her, then I heard "Help Me" on the radio, and took the plunge. Over the next two or three years I collected all the Joni I could find, of course, although it was Miles of Aisles that convinced me to get the earlier stuff. It's a great album, one of her two or three best, just stunning in every way. And I love "Twisted."
    Michael, Socalguy and Parachute Woman like this.

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