I think a great song should be conjuring. I think the lyrics of the song should conjure images without prescripting them. I think the music of a song should conjure a mood without determining it. Together, I think the music and lyrics should conjure memories without necessarily creating them.
“Both Sides Now” was written by the great Canadian folk-rock troubadour Joni Mitchell in 1967, and first recorded and released in 1968 by Judy Collins. Joni Mitchell released the song herself in 1969 on her album Clouds. Mitchell got the idea for a song while on an airplane.
“Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way”
It’s easy to imagine the young woman sitting on an airplane in the middle of the day. The sun streaming on her face as she stares out at the sky, at the clouds below her. She is thinking about her trip, about the world, and about her life.
“But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way
I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s clouds illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all”
The music is quiet and gentle. A guitar strums a few chords and then we hear Mitchell’s angelic voice. She reports to us about the sky. She reflects with us on how the clouds make her feel. She thinks about what she knows. She wishes she knew more.
“Moons and Junes and ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way”
She wishes she knew more about love. Through a lens of fantasy and imagination, she realizes that maybe she knows more than she realized.
“But now it’s just another show
You leave ’em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know
Don’t give yourself away
I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all.”
And love leads to life, and life leads to questions. We grow, we mature, and eventually our perspective changes. We all look at life differently, sometimes are friends come along with us, sometimes they are left behind. She looks at life differently.
“Tears and fears and feeling proud,
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way
But now old friends they’re acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day.”
“Both Sides Now” has been covered dozens of times through the years by artists as diverse as Frank Sinatra, Leonard Nimoy, Dolly Parton and even Seal. I have yet to hear any version of this song that is not sincere, appropriate and deeply appreciative of the opportunity to share this song yet another time.
I write about songs I like here on my blog. These songs may be amongst some of the finest songs crafted during the last 75 years. Some are great because of the way they are recorded and performed. Some are great because they have become great through the years. “Both Sides Now” is included on my 1PerfectSong blog because, it is as the blog is titled, simply perfect. The lyrics are a fairy tale unto themselves, equally meaningful to children and adults, to teenagers and senior citizens. The images are resonant and salient and the message is timeless. Joni Mitchell, with her beautiful Soprano vocal and simple guitar share a morality tale of timeless beauty.
“Both Sides Now” is truly 1PerfectSong. What images, moods and memories does it conjure for you?
“Both Sides Now”
Written by Joni Mitchell
Performed by Joni Mitchell