"Both Sides Now" by Canadian born master songwriter Joni Mitchell (above), is one of the greatest songs of all time....period. Just ask any of over the 70 plus artist that have covered it. Everyone from Judy Collins, who turned it into a huge hit, winning the Grammy in 1969 for her performance, to Kristian Matsson (i.e. The Tallest Man On Earth), who in 2017, almost 50 years later, proclaimed this the "best song in the world".
In between we have the likes of Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond, Willie Nelson, Glen Campbell, Tori Amos, Randy Scruggs (twice), Dolly Parton, Ronan Keating, Gang of Youths, and Susan Boyle. As you can see, this list represents a huge variety of genre's, solidifying this song's appeal and timelessness. Even your's truly has an unreleased version of this classic.
It starts off as almost a whimsical piece, describing clouds in a rather light hearted way as "ice cream castles in the air" , before presenting an opposite, more ominous view with "they rain and snow on everyone". In the chorus, the first line repeats the title, and defines the direction this song is going with " I've looked at clouds from both sides now".
As the song continues, the next verse series addresses love, and final verse series, life; looking at each subject from "both sides".
Each verse series each contain two verses, the first more positive and almost fantasy like, while the second throws a bucket of ice cold water, or rather, realty, on each subject. It's a brilliant set up for the chorus. It's a stunning combination of childlike innocence in each first section, and adult maturity and experience the second sections.
And the lyrics of the chorus emphasize this contrast. There certainly is more than one way to look at something, which is usually defined by our own experiences and perceptions. Quite simply, this is excellent songwriting.
Musically, as has been pointed out several times with other songs in other posts, this one is also quite simple. There are really two versions, one written in the key of D, focusing on the major chords, D, G, A, with the use of the II chord, Em. There's also a F#m thrown in which adds color and character. This is the version that is most often used. An alternate version, which in fact is Joni's original version, is structurally the same, except that the tuning is different, therefore the key is different. As I have noted in a previous blog post, Joni really explored alternate tunings. The one she uses in this song is E-B-E-G#-B-E, with a capo on the fifth fret. These alternate tunings also add character and a different musical dimension to the song.
Joni (above) is no stranger to writing great songs, with a ton under her belt, including "The Circle Game", "Big Yellow Taxi", "Help Me", "Court And Spark", "Free Man In Paris", "Coyote", "Amelia", and countless others. And as with "Both Sides Now", these other songs have also been covered by numerous artists. She is truly a master songwriter; admired, respected, and emulated by many, the ultimate tribute. If you are unfamiliar with her, check out my other blog post, and watch her sing the definitive version of "Both Sides Now". I had the chance to see Joni Mitchell in concert only twice, as she rarely toured. Both of those shows were released as live albums; "Miles of Aisles" and "Shadows And Light". And both shows were phenomenal. I was very fortunate.
In this post I have elected to show a different performance, one from the old Mama Cass TV show, where Joni sings to a small intimate studio audience, while onstage sit sixties icons Mama Cass (Mama's and Papa's) and Mary Travers (Peter, Paul, and Mary), observing with great approval. Man, talk about a critical audience! In this clip her angelic voice and range really shine. As she aged, her voice took on a more husky timbre that really suited her, particularly in this song, which is evident in the version mentioned above, conveying the inherent wisdom of these lyrics. Enjoy both of the clips, and discover master songwriter Joni Mitchell.