January 1974: Joni Mitchell Releases COURT AND SPARK

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The year was 1973, and Joni Mitchell was ready for a change. After releasing a new album each year since her 1968 debut, Song to a Seagull, the artist used the time to explore and expand her sound. Working with a wide array of artists over the course of the year including jazz-fusion outfit L.A. Express, Robbie Robertson, and Jose Feliciano, Mitchell's daring new approach approach resulted in her most commercially successful full-length to date: Court and Spark, released January 17, 1974.

The Court and Spark campaign kicked off with lead single, "Raised on Robbery." Released in December 1973, the upbeat and horn-blasted retro rock-styled track was fresh territory for Mitchell. The tune peaked at #40 on the Adult Contemporary chart in February 1974, and #65 on the Hot 100 in the same month.

It was the album's second single, "Help Me," that caught fire and took flight on radio playlists and up the charts. The jazzy whirlwind of a song about getting caught up in the emotions of falling in love encapsulated Mitchell's new sound. "Help Me" soared all the way to #7 on the Hot 100 for the week of June 9, 1974. The #1 song in America that week: Paul McCartney & Wings' "Band on the Run."

"Free Man in Paris" served as the third and final single from Court and Spark. The slice of life depiction of life with David Geffen in France and away from his hectic life as a powerful music exec further explored Mitchell's mix of jazz and folk, making a strong chart run to almost crack the top 20 with a #22 peak position. Over on the Adult Contemporary chart, the track climbed as high as #2 for the week of September 21, 1974.

Mitchell's return to record stores was welcomed by fans new and old, and Court and Spark charged up the Billboard 200 to peak at #2 for the week of March 3, 1974. The album that blocked Mitchell from hitting #1: Bob Dylan's Planet Waves. It still stands as her highest charting LP on the chart. 

"I think of myself as an artist, I guess because ever since a child I have wanted to be a painter," Mitchell explained during a February 1974 interview about her bold new sound. "So I believe that I approach both poetry and music with the attitude of a painter, with images, which that just seems to be my medium of expression, and I really feel it. Painting and creating music are very related, for instance like a painter since he was into a new period and it was completed, and he had enough material together, he would try and display it in some way. And he wouldn't be expected to paint so much from his old periods. You know, you wouldn't ask Picasso to go back and paint from his Blue Period."