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The Music of Joni Mitchell Paperback – Dec 21 2010

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (July 11 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195307992
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195307993
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 1.5 x 15.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 522 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #580,380 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"Whitesell's splendid study illuminates an impressive span of Joni Mitchell's music, offering fans and scholars alike new ways of hearing these songs. A magnificent achievement."--Ellie M. Hisama, Columbia University

"This thoughtful book is a revelation: a long-overdue scholarly examination of one of the most important bodies of work in twentieth century music. Joni Mitchell's fearless explorations defy simplistic categories of popular, jazz and art music, and Whitesell's sophisticated, rigorous analysis does her work justice. This study will be invaluable to anyone with a serious interest in contemporary music and culture."--Jacqueline Warwick, Dalhousie University

"The Music of Joni Mitchell brings together the richest traditions in the study of popular music. The book is detailed in its study of form and style, and a model of expert musical analysis. Just as importantly, for non-specialists, it offers a compelling account of Joni Mitchell's life and career, showing the extra-musical influences on her work and Mitchell's interaction with the broader cultural forces around her. Whitesell's admiration for Joni Mitchell is clear, but the book is rigorous and balanced, a piece of first-rate scholarship."--Will Straw, Professor of Communications, McGill University and Co-editor of the Cambridge Companion to Pop and Rock

About the Author

Lloyd Whitesell teaches music history at McGill University. He is the author of articles on Benjamin Britten, Maurice Ravel, Bernard Herrmann, and minimalism, and co-editor of the book Queer Episodes in Music and Modern Identity. His research interests include queer studies, popular music, film music, modernism, music and literature, and theories of the audience.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa4374438) out of 5 stars 15 reviews
30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa1717d74) out of 5 stars Not Just For Musicians, But Highly Technical Aug. 21 2009
By Mark D. Prouse - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It's about time someone did a book like this on Joni Mitchell (there have been several biographies, none of them especially illuminating). I'm a musician of the most amateur sort, with little formal training, so much of this detailed analysis of Mitchell's songs went right over my head. But what I've taken away from it is an even greater admiration for Mitchell's singular genius. She is not classically trained and doesn't "write" music. Brought home by THE MUSIC OF JONI MITCHELL is the possibility that this lack of technical knowledge actually freed her to explore all kinds of things that a formal background may have hampered. She admits to some difficulties, particularly with regard to her ability to communicate with her accompanying musicians at times, but her incredible catalog of music, going all the way back to the beginning, is like no other artist's in popular music (and there will never be her like again). Most importantly, what becomes clearer for me is how Mitchell makes choices about keys, chord changes and various modes, all in service to her poetry. She may be an experimental musician in the best sense: her decisions are rarely, if ever, random, even as they emerge from a process that often avoids established pop song conventions. This purposeful exploration of musical possibility, as the book clearly illustrates, is what elevates Mitchell above most of her peers, and places her light years ahead of most contemporary pop singers. She does not possess the most beautiful voice, nor does it have the flexibility it once did, due to years of heavy smoking -- but then, she has never been about showing off her vocal prowess, formidable as it has been in the past. Few cover versions of Mitchell's songs can top her own recordings, even when they are more vocally spectacular or polished. Whitesell makes frequent reference to how Mitchell's singing style works in harmony with her music and her words, and how she takes particular care in phrasing; in other words, where she places vocal emphasis in performance.

Mr. Whitesell's thorough overview is fascinating, but rather dry in places, despite an obvious passion for his subject. Caution is advised to the reader who knows little about music, but wants to know more about Joni Mitchell, the person. However, much is revealed about her as an artist in the pages of this remarkable book, which includes a number of direct quotes from Joni Mitchell herself.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa264627c) out of 5 stars Expert view of Joni's contributions to music world. Sept. 29 2008
By Kerry L. Wanish - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It was both surprising and gratifying to read this 'critical analysis'
of Joni Mitchell's vast contributions to the world of music. One might
have expected to learn more of her 'jaded' personal life, but this commentary of the professional, technical aspects of her music is enlightening.

It has become more apparent -- despite her nearly ten-year hiatus from the creative scene, that she must be recognized, as the author so appropriately puts it, as the 'genius' that she is. Kudos to Whitesell for his thoughtful, introspective analysis of her work.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa16d1b1c) out of 5 stars Real appreciation of Joni Jan. 9 2010
By Anna Johnston - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am thankful for this book which presents academic and intelligent music knowledge to discuss Mitchell's body of work while clearly detailing, illustrating and proving that Mitchell is an Artist, a great Artist, one-of-a-kind, unique and astonishing, comparable and perhaps surpassing most, if not all other significant songwriters in the United States and Great Britain. Joni has always EVOLVED! - my sign of an Artist and the author agress. This is an important work for anyone enamoured by the writing and work of Joni Mitchell.
HASH(0xa1621210) out of 5 stars Very Academic and Dry Dec 4 2015
By Pete Zolli - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a publication of the Oxford University Press, and um, it shows.

What you will find here is medium-high level musicological and poetic analysis... And you'd better pack your vocabulary with you, both for the ordinary high-falutin' word-usements, and for the topic-specific nomenclature contained herein. (Who knew that ballad-form songs without contrasting choruses were "strophic?" Not me! But I do now!)

So that's the kind of book this is. And with the exception of a couple of minor research failures (Whitesell doesn't seem to realize that the song, "Ladies Of The Canyon," is a series of character sketches, for example), it seems to be a very good work of its kind. Plenty of charts, graphs and examples, for those who enjoy them.

Now as to what I *thought* of it (this is MY review, after all)... As an untrained (or maybe half-trained) musician myself, I found this to be an exemplar of a strange kind of book that I've seen before, in which work that was created largely through intuition and emotion is then examined under a thoroughly-codified, rule-bound academic microscope. It's not quite as much of a subject/critical method mismatch as scholarly discussion of Beatles music can be (Mitchell is a much more cerebral, intentional artist), but I was still often reminded of that old quip about how, "writing about music is like dancing about architecture."

Whitesell seems to be translating Mitchell's songs into a foreign language, in some sense; that of academia. And if that might help folks of an academic persuasion better appreciate her work, then I suppose that's worthwhile. However, I can't say the book much deepened my appreciation of JM's oeuvre, and I mostly just found it a slog.
HASH(0xa16fbb58) out of 5 stars Very interesting and useful. April 17 2015
By Ron Hoggard - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This interesting book is an in-depth analysis of Joni's writing style(s) spanning her recording career from 1968 to 1998. Analyses are based on poetic, thematic, harmonic, and melodic content (addressed individually in detail). This is a very interesting and useful work and the author is well versed in the different aspects addressed. Thanks to YouTube, it is possible to listen to the various recordings in conjunction with the text. Whitesell offers cogent discussions of Joni's musical evolution (styles, harmonies, socio-political content, etc.) and it is interesting to see how songs such as Woodstock were treated in various recordings during the 30 year span of this book. One small annoyance, Whitesell is obviously very "proud" of his extensive vocabulary and frequently uses archaic and unnecessary words that distract from the analyses. His sometimes indirect explanations are cumbersome and a bit irritating. Professional writers should hold communication as the prime directive. He would never make it as a technical writer and a book of this nature would benefit from a more succinct approach. However, in general it is a very good treatment of the works of one of the premier songwriter/musicians of the late 20th century.