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Joni Mitchell at 80: Celebrating the Iconic Singer-Songwriter’s Chart History

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Canadian icon Joni Mitchell turned 80 on Tuesday (Nov. 7). Six decades into her career, the nine-time Grammy winner is still making waves with her music, following a surprise return to live performance last year. In summer 2023, she played her first headlining show in two decades at the Seattle Gorge.

Since the beginning, the singer from Saskatchewan has always carved her own path. Mitchell got her start in Calgary coffeehouses and then Toronto’s Yorkville scene, where she frequented the same spots as other titans of Canadian music like Neil Young and Gordon Lightfoot. Mitchell moved to the U.S. in the mid-60s, eventually bringing her dense lyricism, crystalline voice, and signature guitar tunings to her debut release, 1968’s Song to a Seagull.

Mitchell’s career is often thought of in terms of artistry and influence. Where other musicians with lengthy careers might re-tread the same territory, Mitchell has always displayed a deep curiosity and commitment to her craft, evolving through the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s into a jazz fusion artist. Meanwhile, she has influenced decades of artists across genres — her website cites 1641 known versions of “Both Sides Now” alone. While artists like Judy Collins and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young have had success performing her songs, Mitchell is perhaps less thought of as a hitmaker. But she has often charted throughout her career — as recently as 2022, when she made an emotional and unexpected comeback. Here’s the story of Mitchell’s Hot 100 history in 10 tracks.

July, 1970: “Big Yellow Taxi” cracks the charts

Though Judy Collins had already taken “Both Sides Now” to the top 10, Joni Mitchell didn’t hit the Hot 100 as a performer until 1970, when “Big Yellow Taxi” peaked at No. 67. The conservationist classic and eminently quotable single first appeared on Ladies of the Canyon, but it would go on to peak even higher in 1975, at No. 24, following the release of a live version. Three covers of the song have also appeared on the Hot 100, most recently 2003’s Counting Crows rendition.

September, 1971: “Carey” spends one week on the Hot 100

“Carey” might have peaked at 93 in the U.S., but in Canada it went to No. 27, and the album that launched it, Blue, reached No. 15 on the Billboard 200, all of which set Mitchell up for further charting in the ’70s. Since then, Blue has built up a reputation as one of Mitchell’s best-loved records and one of the best albums of all time.

February, 1973: “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio” hits the top 25

With its playful radio metaphor, this single from 1972’s For The Roses was primed for airplay. The infinitely singable “You Turn Me On” peaked at No. 25 in the U.S. and No. 10 in Canada, spending sixteen weeks on the charts between late ‘72 and early ‘73.

December, 1973: “Raised on Robbery” announces Court and Spark

The first single off of Court and Spark would not be its highest charting hit, but “Raised on Robbery” peaked at No. 65 and introduced the jazz-inflections of Mitchell’s most successful album to date. Court and Spark went on to reach No. 2 on the Billboard 200.

June, 1974: “Help Me” becomes Mitchell’s first top 10 hit

This smooth ode to the dangers of falling in love, with its saxophone trills and warbling harmonies, is Mitchell’s only top 10 hit, peaking at No. 7 in June 1973. The song’s balance of soft-rock and jazz propelled it to become Mitchell’s biggest commercial success, while also signaling her experimentations to come.

September, 1974: “Free Man In Paris” is Court and Spark’s second top 30 hit

In “Free Man In Paris,” Mitchell sings from the perspective of a music industry man who would love to wander in French cafes but is instead married to the hit-making business in L.A. Perhaps ironically, “Free Man” was a modest hit itself, peaking at No. 23.

February, 1976: “In France They Kiss on Main Street” hisses onto the Hot 100

Following “Big Yellow Taxi” and its 1975 peak on the Hot 100, “In France They Kiss on Main Street” comes from 1976’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns. The energetic love story peaked at No. 66 and features backing vocals from James Taylor along with David Crosby and Graham Nash, who took Mitchell’s “Woodstock” to No. 11 with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in the U.S. and No. 3 in Canada.

November, 1982: “You’re So Square (Baby I Don’t Care)” is Mitchell’s first non-original hit

In the late ‘70s, Mitchell veered further towards jazz and experimental compositions, leaving behind chart-friendly song structures and producing one of her most revered albums, Hejira. On Wild Things Run Fast, her eleventh studio album, she hit No. 47 with her cover of the Elvis Presley track “You’re So Square” — her only non-original on the Hot 100.

January, 1986: “Good Friends” marks Mitchell’s last Hot 100 entry

The opening track on 1985’s Dog Eat Dog, “Good Friends” is an entirely different Joni Mitchell. Working with producer Thomas Dolby, Joni goes full ’80s on this track, complete with synths and drum machines. Dog Eat Dog is considered one of Mitchell’s weaker releases, but the artist famous for her adventurousness can’t be faulted for trying things out.

September, 1997: Janet Jackson brings Joni Mitchell back to the radio with “Got Til It’s Gone”

The Janet Jackson track off of her 1997 album The Velvet Rope samples Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” pitching up Mitchell’s voice and turning it into the hook for an R&B jam. Mitchell received a feature credit on the song, which peaked at No. 36 on the radio songs chart and finds Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip repeatedly telling listeners: “Joni Mitchell never lies.” On her 80th birthday, Q-Tip’s line rings true: Mitchell’s chart history is a reminder of her massive impact as a performer, songwriter and artist whose hits continue to reverberate at Newport Folk, the Seattle Gorge and beyond.

August, 2022: Joni Mitchell returns to the charts after surprise Newport performance

Singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile and an all-star band brought the icon back to the stage at the Newport Folk Festival in 2022. After struggling through health issues, Mitchell’s return was as unexpected as it was moving. Mitchell and her collaborators stunned everyone, both those in the audience and watching later on YouTube. Her noticeably deeper voice and poignant delivery made it hard to watch with a dry eye, and the performance went viral. “Both Sides Now” didn’t chart when it was released in 1970, but it did in 2022. The song hit No. 4 on the Rock Digital Song Sales chart, No. 20 on the Digital Song Sales chart and No. 1 on the LyricFind U.S. and LyricFind Global charts.

This article originally appeared on Billboard Canada.

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