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The Music of Joni Mitchell Hardcover – 7 Aug 2008

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: OUP USA (7 Aug. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195307577
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195307573
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 2.5 x 15.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,392,305 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

...an invaluable contribution to the study of contemporary popular music that stretches far beyond the disciplines of musicology. (Martin James, Times Higher Education)

About the Author

Lloyd Whitesell teaches music history at McGill University. He is the author of articles on Benjamin Britten, Maurice Ravel, Bernard Herrmann, and minimalism, and co-editor of the book Queer Episodes in Music and Modern Identity. His research interests include queer studies, popular music, film music, modernism, music and literature, and theories of the audience.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By therealus TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 10 Sept. 2010
Format: Paperback
This is, in many ways, the most enjoyable book I ever read, aided in part by playing its subject in the background while I read, but largely because it helped me begin to get even more out of the music of Joni Mitchell than I've managed to squeeze so far, in the space of forty plus years. It is, without doubt, a Serious book. By and large it eschews the biographical baggage more characteristic of the majority of books about Mitchell in favour of a detailed analysis of the music and poetry contained in her albums. Apart from being an apparent über-fan, author Lloyd Whitesell himself has some serious qualifications as an associate professor at McGill University, fittingly a Canadian institution, and his other published work concentrates on classical music.

Whitesell here rises above the grovelling fandom into which Mark Bego sank in Both Sides Now, and adds a veneer of scholarship to Sean Nelson's excellent study of Court And Spark. He provides musical and lyrical analysis, examines the different song forms and subject types, considers what he terms the "harmonic palette", and the different points of view from which the songs are composed.

Some of the more technical musical analysis I admit left me in its dust. Whitesell, quite rightly, makes no concessions to the great unwashed such as me in discussing modality and its different forms. I accepted as I read that if I wanted to understand better I needed to go elsewhere. What I did understand, however, was how incredible it was that Mitchell herself was untutored in the more technical aspects, and yet managed to compose music based on an apparently sophisticated "palette". Or perhaps, of course, that's how she managed to break the mould in the first place. Had she known the rules she may never have broken them.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Richard Sewell on 8 Feb. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Can't fault the main reviewer's piece - am reading the book very carefully and will probably read it again whilst listening to the songs being discussed. A book to savour rather than devour in 1 go. The only chapter that I really found hard going was Chapter Five - Harmonic Palette; it requires a considerably above average knowledge of musical structure.
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By Peter Skriver on 2 Jan. 2013
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It is a very deep and serious book about Joni Mitchells songs. It is fantastic if you want to go deep into her lovely songs. I can highly recommend this book.....
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 14 reviews
30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Not Just For Musicians, But Highly Technical 21 Aug. 2009
By Mark D. Prouse - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It's about time someone did a book like this on Joni Mitchell (there have been several biographies, none of them especially illuminating). I'm a musician of the most amateur sort, with little formal training, so much of this detailed analysis of Mitchell's songs went right over my head. But what I've taken away from it is an even greater admiration for Mitchell's singular genius. She is not classically trained and doesn't "write" music. Brought home by THE MUSIC OF JONI MITCHELL is the possibility that this lack of technical knowledge actually freed her to explore all kinds of things that a formal background may have hampered. She admits to some difficulties, particularly with regard to her ability to communicate with her accompanying musicians at times, but her incredible catalog of music, going all the way back to the beginning, is like no other artist's in popular music (and there will never be her like again). Most importantly, what becomes clearer for me is how Mitchell makes choices about keys, chord changes and various modes, all in service to her poetry. She may be an experimental musician in the best sense: her decisions are rarely, if ever, random, even as they emerge from a process that often avoids established pop song conventions. This purposeful exploration of musical possibility, as the book clearly illustrates, is what elevates Mitchell above most of her peers, and places her light years ahead of most contemporary pop singers. She does not possess the most beautiful voice, nor does it have the flexibility it once did, due to years of heavy smoking -- but then, she has never been about showing off her vocal prowess, formidable as it has been in the past. Few cover versions of Mitchell's songs can top her own recordings, even when they are more vocally spectacular or polished. Whitesell makes frequent reference to how Mitchell's singing style works in harmony with her music and her words, and how she takes particular care in phrasing; in other words, where she places vocal emphasis in performance.

Mr. Whitesell's thorough overview is fascinating, but rather dry in places, despite an obvious passion for his subject. Caution is advised to the reader who knows little about music, but wants to know more about Joni Mitchell, the person. However, much is revealed about her as an artist in the pages of this remarkable book, which includes a number of direct quotes from Joni Mitchell herself.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Expert view of Joni's contributions to music world. 30 Sept. 2008
By Kerry L. Wanish - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It was both surprising and gratifying to read this 'critical analysis'
of Joni Mitchell's vast contributions to the world of music. One might
have expected to learn more of her 'jaded' personal life, but this commentary of the professional, technical aspects of her music is enlightening.

It has become more apparent -- despite her nearly ten-year hiatus from the creative scene, that she must be recognized, as the author so appropriately puts it, as the 'genius' that she is. Kudos to Whitesell for his thoughtful, introspective analysis of her work.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Real appreciation of Joni 10 Jan. 2010
By Anna Johnston - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am thankful for this book which presents academic and intelligent music knowledge to discuss Mitchell's body of work while clearly detailing, illustrating and proving that Mitchell is an Artist, a great Artist, one-of-a-kind, unique and astonishing, comparable and perhaps surpassing most, if not all other significant songwriters in the United States and Great Britain. Joni has always EVOLVED! - my sign of an Artist and the author agress. This is an important work for anyone enamoured by the writing and work of Joni Mitchell.
Very interesting and useful. 17 April 2015
By Ron Hoggard - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This interesting book is an in-depth analysis of Joni's writing style(s) spanning her recording career from 1968 to 1998. Analyses are based on poetic, thematic, harmonic, and melodic content (addressed individually in detail). This is a very interesting and useful work and the author is well versed in the different aspects addressed. Thanks to YouTube, it is possible to listen to the various recordings in conjunction with the text. Whitesell offers cogent discussions of Joni's musical evolution (styles, harmonies, socio-political content, etc.) and it is interesting to see how songs such as Woodstock were treated in various recordings during the 30 year span of this book. One small annoyance, Whitesell is obviously very "proud" of his extensive vocabulary and frequently uses archaic and unnecessary words that distract from the analyses. His sometimes indirect explanations are cumbersome and a bit irritating. Professional writers should hold communication as the prime directive. He would never make it as a technical writer and a book of this nature would benefit from a more succinct approach. However, in general it is a very good treatment of the works of one of the premier songwriter/musicians of the late 20th century.
Too technical for me 27 Sept. 2013
By Rebecca H. Lowndes - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'm a great admirer of Joni Mitchell's artistry -- her musical craft and innovation, her poetry, her overall style -- and I wanted to learn more about her. This would no doubt be an enlightening read for someone schooled in the fine points of music, but I found it very slow going, and in fact didn't get very far before I started skipping around in hopes of lighting on a chapter/subject I could understand. I learned some of the lyrics that had eluded me before; ultimately abandoned the book. I've always known she's a genius...now I know I'd rather listen to her than read about her.
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