May 032019

‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

joni mitchell covers

Joni Mitchell is 75 and won’t be with us forever. She suffered an aneurysm in 2015, and she’s coping with the little-understood Morgellons disease. She has difficulty walking, and has not spoken publicly in years. But if her place on earth is tenuous, her place in the heavens is secure; millions of people already look up to her every day.

Joni Mitchell’s songs are famous for being intensely personal, a deep expression of her self that people nevertheless relate to. Those who aspire to her voice become near-slavish devotees. There’s a great New Yorker piece about a small show of Joni’s that a drunken Chrissie Hynde gets overly caught up in (“That’s a REAL singer up there!”), and Hynde’s not alone. Mitchell isn’t just a real singer, though. She’s a real songwriter, a real painter, a real guitarist, a real follower of her muse – a real artist, one of the realest of the past hundred years. That authenticity is what continues to bring people into her circle on a daily basis.

In an excellent essay for NPR, Ann Powers wrote: “Like her prime compatriots Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and her favorite protégé Prince, no one can adequately echo her; even great singers, taking on her songbook, admit they can only hope to achieve proximity.” Indeed, a Joni Mitchell cover is never just a tribute – it’s an assertion, an artist coming forth to pick up a gauntlet she lay down decades ago.

We found 30 covers that show the artists doing an especially good job at matching their talents to Joni’s, creating new works of art that, no matter how novel or innovative they may be, never set out to eradicate the original artist’s signature. May her art continue to open eyes, whether through her own performances or those of others, for centuries to come.

–Patrick Robbins, Feature Editor

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  16 Responses to “The Best Joni Mitchell Covers Ever”

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  1. always liked this version of River, by Robert Downey Jr. (yes, Ironman!)

    • I agree. I love all the arrangements of his songs. As well as his voice. I bought his CD after I had heard him singing ‘River’ and was pleasantly surprised.

  2. Both Sides Now by Paul Young & Clannad
    Makes me cry every time I hear it. Breathtaking!

  3. For me is “River” by Beth Orton, on a Radio transmission =

  4. How about these?

    Legiao Urbana – Last Time I Saw Richard:

    Travis – River

    Counting Crows – Big Yellow Taxi

  5. I’m not sure that it counts as a cover (I think it does), but “Both Sides Now” by Joni herself in 2000 is stunning. Her smokey voice adds an aged weariness and insight to her younger self.

  6. For me Woodstock by Goodharvest. Magnificent And for Christ sake, it’s live:

  7. kd lang’s A Case of You is lovely

  8. You missed a real opportunity. Perhaps the best Joni cover ever is Cyndi Lauper’s cover of Carey for the same tribute as the Richard Thompson Woodstock (He also performed an excellent version of Black Crow on the same show)

  9. Gotta be Nazareth’s inspired cover of This Flight Tonight

  10. This cover stands above all others for me – stunning. Chris Thile, Aiofe O’Donovan et al.

  11. Tom Rush covered “Urge for Going” in 1966. Unequalled by anyone. Especially when he sings alone, with his guitar the only accompaniment.

  12. Just discovered a nice cover by the late George Michael of “Edith and the Kingpin” from a 2008 Christmas-themed EP. Check it out.

  13. There was an album with a woman lying in a bed of roses that had a JM cover. I think her name was something like Caroline? I can’t for the life of me figure out who that was. Maybe a cello version? From the 1980’s or 1990’s?

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