Essential Music: Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’ album turns 50

With the release of her 1971 album ‘Blue,’ Joni Mitchell put so much of her personal life into those songs that Kris Kristofferson told her “Joni, leave something for yourself.”

On June 22, 1971, Joni Mitchell released her fourth studio album titled Blue. At this point in her career she had stopped touring and decided to travel overseas where she was inspired to write most of the 10 songs that comprise an album that has had a profound effect on her fans and other musicians, many of whom cite her as a major influence on their own work. Joni Mitchell worked through her grief, relationships, life and pain on this album.

“Pain is a teacher, you know, one of the best actually. Lot of cultures simulate it … the Penitentes … because, you know it produces visions and insights. Just the natural course of diseases that I’ve had to fight off … each one of them has germinated some other quality. As Nietzsche says ‘that which doesn’t kill me makes me strong,'” Mitchell said.

“Pain is a teacher, you know, one of the best actually.” — Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell started out as a visual artist and attended school to pursue that career path until she got pregnant and would give up her daughter for adoption. Although all of the other songs on “Blue” were written a year before the album’s release, the song “Little Green” was written years before about giving up her daughter. At that point in her life, she wasn’t aware of the extent of her musical gift. The pregnancy forced her to quit art school and that’s when she turned to music as her creative outlet. It has been incorrectly stated in the media for years that Joni Mitchell gave up her daughter to further her career.

“This is so wrong. There was no career … first of all I was just a folk singer … there was no ambition … I had a nice voice, I guess … I played OK, but there was no real gift … it was just something that was happening … it was going to die out,” Mitchell said.

“There’s hardly a dishonest note in the vocals. At that period in my life, I had no personal defenses.” — Joni Mitchell, on the ‘Blue’ album

As music became the focus of Mitchell’s life, her musical and lyrical gifts flourished on the Blue album, a collection of songs that were raw, honest and deeply personal.

“There’s hardly a dishonest note in the vocals. At that period in my life, I had no personal defenses. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world and I couldn’t pretend in my life to be strong or to be happy, but the advantage of it in the music was that there were no defenses, either,” Mitchell said.

Joni Mitchell’s Blue album has stood the test of time as an album that allowed her to work through her most intimate thoughts and feelings and provided a vehicle for her fans to do the same. Fifty years after its release, critics and fans continue to celebrate Blue and its brilliant architect, Joni Mitchell.

Support the shows you love.

WDET’s unique music programs are dedicated to exploring the music and culture of our region and the world.

Keep the music going. Please make a gift today.

Give now »


  • Ann Delisi
    Ann Delisi hosts Essential Music, the Essential Conversations podcast series and the Essential Cooking broadcast and podcast. Born and raised in the Motor City, Ann is a broadcaster, interviewer, producer, music host, storyteller and proud Detroiter.