Thursday, November 1, 2018

"Good Friends" by Joni Mitchell

Song#:  2576
Date:  12/28/1985
Debut:  88
Peak:  85
Weeks:  3
Genre:  Singer/Songwriter

Pop Bits:  After diving into jazz-oriented sounds in the late 70s, Joni returned her more singer/songwriter pop roots with her first album for the Geffen label, 1982's Wild Things Run Fast. The album performed well and even got her back on the Pop singles chart for the first time in six years with the playful Elvis cover "(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care" (#47). With a little commercial viability tossed back into her career, Geffen wanted to up the game a bit and get Mitchell's songs updated for the 80s. They paired her with "She Blinded Me with Science" synth wizard Thomas Dolby and the resulting album, Dog Eat Dog, would be her most modern, of-the-times sounding effort. To introduce the LP, this opening track would be selected as the first single. Although he wasn't given billing, Michael McDonald provided the duet voice. The song was able to reach the Pop chart, but only for a few short weeks. It did a bit better at Rock getting to #28. It would end up being Mitchell's final single to reach the Pop chart. She would leave Geffen after two more albums and then experience a career resurgence on the Reprise label with her 1994 Grammy-winning LP Turbulent Indigo. Her 2000 album Both Sides Now, which featured orchestrated standards and new versions of two of her most famous songs, would win the Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album. The album and its title track would play a key role in the 2003 film Love Actually. Mitchell would also earn a Grammy for her participation in Herbie Hancock's River: The Joni Letters, a 2007 album on which Hancock performs jazz interpretations of Mitchell's songs. It would end up winning the Grammy for Album of the Year. Mitchell performs the vocals on the track "Tea Leaf Prophesy." It was only the second jazz album in Grammy history to win the award and the first in 42 years.

ReduxReview:  Mitchell fans have always been divided about the Dog Eat Dog album. It's a love it/hate it kind of thing with a few waffling in between. As a big Mitchell fan, I'd place it very low on a ranked list of her albums, but I also don't think it's truly as bad as some fans and critics make it out to be. I like that she took a chance and brought Dolby on board as his work gave her songs a different spin (though it sounds dated now) and there are a few gems among the tracks. "Good Friends" is an interesting track. Mitchell has never been a true "hit" songwriter and by this point she certainly wasn't going to conform and create a conventional pop tune, so this was an attempt to shove one of her songs into an arrangement that made it seem more radio friendly and accessible. It might have worked if there had actually been a hooky chorus here, but there isn't. It just kind of rambles against a big 80s production. Oddly, I kind of like it but there was no way this was going to fly up the chart. Luckily, this electro 80s phase of her career would pass and she'd later make some albums that would rank high up on my "best of Joni's albums" list.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Throughout her recording career, Mitchell had produced the majority of her own album albums including her classics Blue (1971) and Court and Spark (1974), along with her first Geffen album Wild Things Run Fast. However, for her next effort Geffen suggested that she work with a producer who was more in-tune with the sounds of the 80s. Their suggestion was Thomas Dolby. Mitchell bristled at the idea and thought that if she let a tech guru like Dolby come in and paint her songs in what he wanted, then the songs would end up not being hers. She said no, but Geffen was certain this needed to happen and convinced Mitchell to take Dolby on in a more backseat technical role. It was Dolby's synths and effects that pushed Mitchell's songs into the 80s. Although they got the work done, apparently the two didn't necessarily become best buds during the process. After this experience, Mitchell would then produce all of her albums herself with the majority of them co-produced by Larry Klein (who was also Mitchell's husband from 1982-1994).


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