“Both Sides Now” was a song written by Joni Mitchell but first recorded by Judy Collins, a folk singer, in the Album WildfFlowers, in 1967. The version created by Judy Collins was a top-ten hit on the U.S. singles chart during the fall of 1968. A year later, Joni Mitchell produced the album Clouds in which “Both sides, now” was included. Again, Mitchell re-recorded the song in a lush, orchestrated fashion for her 2000 album Both Sides. Notably, the Judy Collins version of the song reached number 8 on the U.S. pop singles charts by December and number 6 in Canada. “Both Sides Now” also won a Grammy Award for Best Folk Performance in 1969.Furthermore, it is essential to understand the songwriter’s state of mind during the creation of “Both Sides Now.” Joni Mitchell had been through a challenging time; she began singing in small nightclubs in her hometown Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and throughout western Canada, before busking in the streets and nightclubs of Toronto, Ontario. Consequently, she moved to the United States where she gave birth to a baby girl but struggled as a single mom as the father was a former boyfriend. Mitchell soon gave up the child for adoption after marrying a musician named Chuck Mitchell. In 1967, she split up with Chuck as her marriage was on the rocks. In the meantime, Joni Mitchell met Al Kooper, who was a songwriter, in a bar. Mitchell made it known that she could write songs, and this ultimately led to Kooper calling up Judy Collins regarding the talent he came across. Kooper eventually handed the phone to Mitchell, who proceeded to sing “Both Sides Now” to Judy Collins. Eventually, things led to Judy Collins recording that song for the first time.https://www.grammy.com/grammys/news/judy-collins-recording-joni-mitchells-both-sides-now This song recording was Collins’ first hit and brought exposure to Mitchell. Collins was a significant influence on Joni Mitchell, and Mitchell was thrilled when Collins recorded the song. At the 1966 Newport Folk Festival, Collins, who was a regular performer at this festival, introduced the then-unknown Joni Mitchell to the crowd from which things went spiraling upwards for Mitchell, who was thankful to Collins for the support. (http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=7968)I first came across this song when watching the TV series, Mad Men, another masterpiece, which was an American period drama show created by Matthew Weiner. The protagonist, Donald Draper, is an incredibly talented creative director at an advertisement agency. He is classy, gentlemanly, a progressive family man but heartbreakingly, a troubled man with a troubling past. He hides, notably, many big secrets from his family, friends, and coworkers. Within the context of the song, I remember watching the season 6 finale when Donald Draper reveals his secrets to his innocent kids, whom most viewers grow fond of because of their role throughout the series. The song slowly fades in as he shows the brothel, which he used to live in as a child, to his children. The other season finales were depressing and sad, but relatable. The 6th season finale, however, did something else; it felt like this huge load was lifted from him as well as the audience that regularly sympathized and cheered him on, while the song, “Both Sides Now,” faded into the last scene. The song starts with slow to medium-paced upbeat notes played by a harmonica-influenced keyboard along with a never-ending soft melodic guitar chord. A few seconds into the guitar and keyboard bit, a soft but quick step on the high hat plays on the drums at melody intervals. Just after this sequence, the eloquent and luscious voice of Judy Collins comes booming in. Instrument-wise the song continues with the same chord progression, and it slowly rises and falls in pitch throughout the total length of the song. The song starts with the following verse:Bows and flows of angel hairAnd ice cream castles in the airAnd feathered canyons everywhereI’ve looked at clouds that wayBut now they only block the sunThey rain and they snow on everyoneSo many things I would have doneBut clouds got in my way. (1-8)The lines (1-4) help set the stage for the musical instruments, previously introduced. The slow and steady vibrating voice of Collins helps the audience interpret the lyrics into a fantasy world with heavenly warmth and forever homely scenery. From lines (5-8), the lyrics take a turn for the worse as all the light and happiness that was previously prominent is now blocked by the clouds.The 1st verse is followed by the chorus: I’ve looked at clouds from both sides nowFrom up and down and still somehowIt’s cloud’s illusions I recall (low pitch)I really don’t know clouds at all. (9-12)In the chorus, Collins adds slightly higher pitched vocals in lines (9-10), and suddenly shifts tone and pitch upon entering line (11) which continues to line (12), and slowly fades out. Similarly, the pitch of the instruments follows a similar pattern to the vocals of Collins. The 2nd verse continues with fairytale-like dreams to show happy, fun moments which are presumably blissful to the author. Midway through the 2nd verse, Collins uses the conjunction ‘but’ to indicate another downward-spiraling verse. She sings “but now it’s just another show/ You leave ’em laughin when you go”(17-18) to point out that the world can take your happiness away and even seem to be your harshest critic.The rest of the song continues to convey the same message but uses more personal and realistic tales that continue to rhyme; for example, the 2nd verse illustrates a warm summer night at a fair in the 1960s while the 1st verse used an abstract approach by mentioning clouds blocking the light. Similarly, the 3rd verse is more relatable than the 2nd verse and shows a more personal touch in which the songwriter mentions that she used to express her emotions freely, but was critiqued by others. The song ends with the chorus:I’ve looked at life from both sides nowFrom Win and Lose and still somehowIt’s life’s illusions I recallI really don’t know life at allThe final chorus replaces ‘clouds’ from the 1st chorus to ‘life,’ which firmly tells the audience that the songwriter has looked at life from all angles. These angles interpret all kinds of paths and solutions to life that apparently define an individual as successful or unsuccessful, but the lyrics go on to say that these interpretations are merely an illusion. In conclusion, “Both Sides Now” with its reverberating voice of Judy Collins was a fan favorite in the late 1960s. This song has a happy and upbeat tune for the entirety of its three minutes and sixteen seconds. And finally, the burden-lifting lyrics coupled with the nursery rhyme scheme help make this song one of Collins’ most fine work.
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