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4.7 out of 5 stars

VINE VOICETOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 August 2011
Think I misspelled a word in my title? I didn't!

I discovered Joni as a teenager, thanks to a compilation cassette my parents had. I quickly became addicted. At some point, under the pretext of buying them for my mum, I began to amass a collection of her fabulous albums. Her amazing guitar technique - shimmering arpeggios, strange exotic tunings, distinctive picking figures and strumming rhythms - developed in part as a result of childhood polio, such as can be heard on Hejira and elsewhere, is already evident here. This album, like her next, the equally brilliant but better known Clouds, is notable for being just voice and guitar*. For those who know Joni best from albums like Blue, the complete absence of piano may come as something of a surprise. David Crosby's sympathetic, sensitive minimalist production is near perfect, Joni's raw talent shining through, like a perfectly set diamond.

Mitchell has always stressed that she was no 'folkie', ordinary or otherwise. Poet, artist, and composer, her lyrics stand as strong beautiful poems on their own merits; her original cover art gives her albums added homogeneity and personality (this particular cover, whilst not her strongest, has period charm); and her music? Well, as my title suggests, in some respects it's possible to liken the effect of it to a powerful narcotic. Personal favourites here are 'I Had A King', 'Michael From The Mountains', 'Marcie', 'Nathan La Franeer', 'Sisowtowbell Lane', 'The Dawntreader', 'Song To A Seagull', and 'Cactus Tree'. Well, that's nigh on the lot! The upbeat 'Night In The City' doesn't work so well for me, and 'The Pirate Of Penance', a strong tune by normal standards, in the context of Joni's own best work, seems too contrived to me. She does both upbeat and clever ('Chelsea Morning' and 'Songs To Ageing Children Come') much better on Clouds.

'I Had A King' justifies the asking price purchase alone. Joni's described her early songs as the work of an 'ingénue', and it's undoubtedly true that she matured as she progressed. But, however you cut it, for a debut this is, in modern parlance, awesome. The lyrics of 'I Had A King', which display a youthful preoccupation with fashionable fabrics of the day ("drip-dry and paisley", "leather and lace"), also possess poetic genius ("I had a king, in a salt-rusted carriage / Who carried me off, to his country for marriage"), profound insight, especially remarkable in one so young, and are married to a level of musical prowess that, thanks to her singular melodic and harmonic conception, make Mitchell's music unique. And what's more, pretty much all of this underrated album measures up to the high standards set by this magnificent opener. Another good example of her formidable songwriting skills is 'Nathan La Franeer': drawn from observations made during a cab ride, it becomes a universal paean to the potential loneliness and alienation of city life, whilst all the while remaining profoundly beautiful.

Joni Mitchell is easily the greatest female singer-songwriter, and poet-composer there has ever been (to my mind only Brazil's Joyce Moreno comes anywhere close), and is surely amongst the greatest regardless of gender. This, the first gem mined from a long, rich musical seam, is both priceless and essential.

* Well, Stephen Stills plays bass on one track, and there's 'banshee' on another.
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on 7 May 2007
As a long time Joni Mitchell fan how did I miss this one? Well, like many others who got into her music after her first rush of success her debut, devoid of any "hits" and rarely played on the radio, then & now, somehow just passed me by. My loss... because, it's a fragile, haunting and impeccably played & sung album. David Crosby's production extracts the best from what was, as time has shown, an incredibly talented artist putting everything into her first release and its pared-down, at times almost sparse arrangements are a huge credit to both artists in capturing "singer/songwriter folk music" at its very highest levels.

A lot of what of what was to follow was better and justifiably more successful but "Song To A Seagull" has that rarest of things - a level of purity and sincerity in its lyrics and execution that makes it absolutely timeless. So much so that its most successful track, "Night in the City", with its excellent, folk/rock orientated delivery ends up as an almost uncomfortable distraction from the spellbinding simplicity of what surrounds it. A seriously under-rated and quite beautiful record.
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on 12 June 2011
What words best describe Joni Mitchell's (1968) debut album, Song To A Seagull?

Well... I would say melancholic,serious,atmospheric, beautiful ,unique,affecting ,bold and brilliant!This album remains for me (along with Blue) Joni Mitchell's best and most satisfying early work.Although subsequent albums contain many superb songs/ moments,I always seem to find myself skipping certain tracks.

On this album the only song that I am occasionally tempted to skip is the more up-tempo "Night In The City",that sounds slightly at odds with the rest of the songs here.The rest of the album holds together really well resulting in a cohesive collection where the songs,the musicianship,the words and Joni's voice leave a powerfull and lasting impression on the listener . The unpretenious production and clear,strong sound quality are also top notch .

Joni's voice is mature in it's depth,warmth,range and delivery.Her guitar playing is imaginative,technically excellent,never over-indulgent and always works for the greater good I.E ,the song itself.In fact,the acoustic guitar and Joni's voice dominate this recording to a greater extent than any of her others.The style that Joni uses to play her guitar here is usually finger-picking ; think "Scarborough Fair/ Canticle" ( the Simon and Garfunkel version) and you will be close to the mark.

Previous reveiwers have described the songs on this album in great depth so I will simply list a few of my personal favourites.The opener,"I Had A King" contains spine chilling vocals when Joni sings in her higher register.I have a great affection for "The Dawntreader" because it was this song that brought my attention to the album in the first place when it was played on Lyric FM's late night radio show,"The Blue of The Night".This song contains some of my favourite guitar playing.Finally I will include the title track, "Song To A Seagull",whose rich atmosphere epitomises the feel and character of the album .

If you enjoy music with the aforementioned qualities ,within a largely Folk oriented leaning,then do yourslf a big favour and give "Song To A Seagull" a listen;I believe you will be glad that you did!
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VINE VOICEon 20 August 2009
By 1968 Joni Mitchell had already written hits for other artists but decided that she wanted to write, record, and perform for herself. Song For A Seagull is her debut album and showcases her love of folk, classical, and jazz music. Her first four albums would be similarly influenced before she began to experiment and become alienated by various scenes, but during this stage of her career her music never sounded so pure. The album is mostly just her voice and guitar, the music accompanying parables about love, life, and despair, moving from pastoral fantasies to songs of yearning, from the energy and joy of night life to dreaming of freedom. It neither contains the hits of her next couple of albums, nor the musical variety of Blue and later albums, but remains today a near perfect folk album and a fascinating insight into the Sixties.

`I Had a King' opens the album with a story of lost love, perhaps relating to her own early failed marriage. It introduces us to four main features of early Joni; sumptuous yet unconventional finger picking; intense, imaginative, introspective lyrics; songs which sound like stories; and of course her soaring voice which is more of an instrument than a backing orchestra of a hundred. Melodically it isn't overly memorable and musically the tone seems quite dark and atmospheric.
`Michael From Mountains' immediately sounds softer and lighter, and the song can be read as either a story of lost love, of a man who was everything to the woman; Someone who is giving, but whose mind and inner self will be forever unattainable for you. Alternately it sounds like a song from a mother to her son, the relationship protecting and giving life to both. Lyrically it is very sweet and poetic and can almost be seen as a precursor to Little Green.
`Night In The City' has a jaunty, saloon like sound. There are interesting melodies and overlapping voices, pianos and strummed chords which give the song a highly energetic feel. It is about her love of night life, and has the sense of exposure to city for first time, being awakened to the sights, sounds, atmosphere for the first time and instantly being part of it all. It is probably the most upbeat song on the album and one which is a joy every listen.
`Marcie' is my favourite song on the album, lyrically and musically perfect, both sides serving the other flawlessly. It is the soft story of lonely woman, yearning for more. Lyrically it is highly colourful and draws the listener into the very streets that the characters walk upon. Descriptive, not too metaphorical lending a sense of kinship it is one of her best lyrics. The small details of life, trivialities, days passing lift the song to more than mere commercial pop.
`Nathan La Franeer' is a song retelling a meeting Joni had with a strange Taxi Driver, but made more interesting by showing us all the people and things she saw out the window. The lyrics are quite biting, speaking about anger, greed, and being an alien to a fellow human while sharing a common space. The hope for all people coming together, one love, and other hippy ideals of the time are clearly portrayed, but the other side is also shown. Marked by some odd guitar noises, it is not as memorable musically. It closes the first half of the album, a stepping stone to the more dreamlike second half of escape and freedom.
`Sistowbell Lane' opens part two, a story of quaint suburbia, soft guitar and voice similar to Morning Morgantown. Again the music is light and dreamy mirroring the idyllic lyrics. It conveys the feeling that country is better, more desirable to a middle class city life with its useless luxuries.
`Dawntreader' tells of a sea voyage but more widely as escape and freedom. Soft guitar with vocal surges stand out, vocals and guitar getting louder as the character comes closer to leaving. The lyrics are typically idyllic, like a friend whispering her dreams in your ear.
`Pirate Of Penance' is an interesting song dealing with an unusual theme and featuring strange dueling vocals. It is a story of a pirate who comes to town on certain days, there is a murder, and the aftermath with quizzing between locals, and a Dancer. The vocals are sung quite quickly and frantically, possibly to echo the panic felt by the character and the frenzied nature of a mob. Musically the guitar takes a background seat to the vocals.
`Song To A Seagull' is a sparse, mellow song to a seagull. The sea theme continues, although she compares features of the sea to features of the city. She sings of the loss of dreams, changing times, dreaming of the unattainable. The song suffers like a few others on the album by not standing out musically whilst having great lyrics.
`Cactus Tree' closes the album as it opened- soft, melodic, lyrically diverse. The song speaks of men trying to reach the women they love, but they are free and cannot be reached, trapped in relationship. Still others are scared of falling love, scared of compromise, scared of giving up nothing and everything, possibly echoing Joni's own feelings at the time. It is a good song to finish on and leaves the listener yearning for more.

The main flaw of the album as mentioned is that too many songs lack variation musically. Luckily the music is beautiful enough for this to be overlooked. This only really matters when you take Joni's next albums into consideration which are just as beautiful, but also have more variation. Over the next few albums Joni would reach a type of perfection before leaving behind her folk roots and embarking on a jazzy, fused, experimental journey which would separate some fans who wished for more of the same as what is on offer here.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 March 2017
Joni Mitchell's 1967 debut album shows an astonishing breadth of ability with a lyric as she paints not only the cover art but stories that resonate too. Most here is in the pure singer/songwriter tradition - just Mitchell accompanied by her own acoustic guitar with double tracking only appearing on 'The Pirate Of Penzance' and closer 'Cactus Tree'. The only change from this formula takes place on 'Night In The City', the album's unrepresentative single where Mitchell additionally plays piano accompanied by Stephen Stills on bass. Throughout David Crosby's production concentrates on the purity of Mitchell's early voice, miked close and personal. Despite having already supplied a number of famous songs to others she would later record herself everything here was, at the time, new material.

The two sides of the album are labelled "I Came To The City" and "Out Of The City And Down To The Seaside" and that coupled with the prodigious lyrics printed inside reveal this as a loose concept album.

Not as assured as her later work and perhaps more of it's time than the rest of her output this is nevertheless a confident beginning.
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on 28 March 2013
Joni stands head and shoulders above her contemporaries. 'Song to a Seagull' set a standard that most singer-songwriters, past and present, would aspire to but simply not reach. 'Blue', (one of Joni's later acclaimed albums) was, for me, always up there; treasured as a beautiful, fragile, funny and deeply emotional ride, nestling like a gem among my priceless stacks of ageing vinyl. I thought on Blue I had Joni at her best, but a couple of plays into 'Song to..' i was absolutely mesmerised, intrigued and moved and could barely wait for the embers of the last track to fade before pressing 'play' again for another dose. (I reluctantly had to move on from vinyl).
I find the word 'folk' off putting: I'm no hippy, i've never done any drugs, never strum a guitar and I'm not big on anything else with 'folk' connotations. At the height of my music library are Joy Division, Beefheart, The Doors, Sonic Youth, The Smiths, The Pixies, The Beatles, The Stones, Velvet U'ground, Love, Eminem, Television.. so I'm not a fan of genres and sticking to them. Add this LP to your collection, leave your musical taste prejudice out of the room and enjoy this for what it is. A collection of superb songs, musically and lyrically perfectly composed and sung like an angel. Let it wash over you for 3 plays with an open mind and you'll start to get it.
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on 30 August 2007
This is a classic example of the "brilliant first album". An artist puts years of ideas into her first offering, with her own unadulterated personality on display. The result is powerful, innovative, and retains its rough edges.

I first heard it in 1968, when it fell loosely into the "folky" category. Adolescent fans of that genre (as I was) idolized people like Bob Dylan and Paul Simon as "Folk Poets". Half-way through the first track, scanning the words on the record cover, I had one of life's epiphanies. I thought "This woman really is a poet!" Her words, in this and many subsequent albums, make all those other song writers seem insipid, artless, incompetent.

Her arrival on the scene was actually quite explosive. She had a lot of street credibility from the outset. She grew up in Saskatoon, in the Canadian far-north. She had given birth to and parted with a child, been briefly married, and done her time playing in cellars in the Boho zone. She was in with Crosby, Stills and Nash and a host of others at the sharp end of the music scene of the time. Many well-known artists started recording her songs almost immediately. Everyone was entranced with her words. She had influential fans for two years before the production of this first album.

For her first album, she interestingly chose to record newly-written songs, in a "concept" format, rather than record the songs for which she was already famous (some of which she included in her second album). Although she was 25 when the album was issued, the sentiments of the songs are often adolescent, sometimes tooth-jarringly so. In the cover notes, she says "This album is dedicated to Mr Kratzman, who taught me to love words"!! Songs like "Michael from Mountains" and "The Dawntreader" seethe with adolescent neurosis. It contrasts with her work from 1971 onwards, which was as adult as it gets. This may seem like a criticism from anyone who is, or aspires to be, an adult, but I have always felt that we were all adolescents once, and adolescents have as much right to be heard as anyone, particularly when they express themselves with the artistry shown here.

Another juvenile characteristic of these songs is the sexual passivity of their sentiments - a trait she later gleefully abandoned. Perhaps also juvenile are the manic-depressive mood-swings of the album, ranging from wild elation to the depths of despair. However, this remained a characteristic of her later work. Compare "Carey" and "The Last Time I Saw Richard" on "Blue" (1971).

Musically, the album is set apart from later offerings by the extraordinary vocal range she then had. A complaint of people trying to sing her early songs (everybody did) was the impossibility of hitting the high and low notes she used, no matter what key was tried. Later, she lost this range, perhaps from over-exposure or from the excesses of the 1960s fast-lane. Listen to "Silky Veils of Ardour" on "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter" (1977), which is an amusing pastiche of her early, folky style, delivered in almost a monotone.

In the early days, she mainly played ukulele, often using (I think) strange tunings which she later transferred to guitar, and this adds to the edgy, spare and atmospheric feeling of the music on this album. Hear particularly "I Had a King", where the jarring chord structure mirrors the anger and menace of the words. Her instrumental eccentricity is treated very sympathetically by the Crosby/Stills production, which resists over-elaboration and maintains the simplicity and intimacy of the music with no more than just the right amount of reverb.

In theme, the songs of the album follow the program laid down in "Song to a Seagull". In fact, on the original LP, side 1 was entitled "I came to the city" and side 2 was called "Out of the city and down to the seaside". It describes arrival in "the city" (presumably NY), elated participation in city life, inevitable sexual betrayal, and final descent into urban paranoia. Then comes the rural phase, idyllic at first, then menacing, and finally coming to terms with an adult fact: as every prisoner of the white lines on the freeway knows, when you run away, your problems follow close behind - geography is never the solution!

So what do you get from this album? Poetry as good as any you'll hear in a song, and music that's original and challenging. Although her later work was so much more mature, this remains almost (not quite) my favourite of her albums, because of the "first album" effect - the lack of sophistication is in itself attractive, and the pent-up force of what she had to say hits you between the eyes. Has it worn well over the last 38 years? Absolutely! Unlike much of the music of 1968 (a lot to choose from) it sounds as fresh now as that first day I heard it.

"I call to the seagull who dives to the waters
And catches his silver-fine dinner alone
Crying where are the footprints that danced on these beaches
And the hands that cast wishes that sunk like a stone?"

Here, I guess.
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on 23 November 2016
Really good to hear this early release. Joni sounds so very English at this point in her career with really crisp pronunciation and tonal eloquence (the opposite to England's Laura Marling who sounds more American as she floats down the river of banality). They don't do 'em like this anymore and neither does she, more the pity. Might sound a bit stiff and old fashioned in places for the Hip listener, so maybe stick to the easier and emotional 'Blue' which is also superlative.This album of work is on par lyrically with anything from Dylan or Cohen, She weaves pictures in words to almost photographic reality.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 22 November 2017
Although I prefer some of her later albums overall I really enjoyed listening to this recently. It's a lot simpler in most ways than later albums and has a very sweet, gentle nature to it. Completely inoffensive art-folk which still has some gentle punches and plenty of interesting melodies and a good rhythm that flows throughout.
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on 23 May 2015
As a fan of Joni Mitchell for forty-five years, this album was a revelation to me. I'd heard most of her early stuff except this one, and listened over the years to so much from her other albums, but I'd completely missed the best one of all. This album is wonderful... Joni at her absolute best -- fresh, inventive, beautiful songs with clever, sharp lyrics. As usual, she sings of her quest for love, and her disillusionment with love; her intensity and freshness are stunning, her powers of description and observation (again, as usual) almost unmatched.
An absolute gem, which I'm very happy to have discovered!
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