Monday, November 22, 2010

"Help Me" (1974)

33. Joni Mitchell, "Help Me" (April 20, 1974, #7)

For some reason, every time I find myself considering this song (or the album from which it comes, Court and Spark) I want to appropriate the William Carlos Williams poem, and plaintively declare that so much depends upon the lady with a hole in her stocking. That image and the deceptively casual way that Joni Mitchell uses it are only one of the many poignant features that have pulled me into this since it was a radio hit. This song, this album, this period, is approximately the point that Mitchell stepped boldly away from her folkie origins to showcase her broader musical skills, which were always there, passing through this gorgeous pop period (don't blink too many times because you're apt to miss it) on her way to the more rarefied regions of jazz and points further. It's so guilelessly dedicated to the painful search for love and the fleeting pleasures, when attained, and it's just about as straightforward as it gets: "Help me I think I'm falling In love again When I get that crazy feeling again, I know I'm in trouble again I'm in trouble." And it comes with a pop sheen that positively glistens, an acoustic guitar leading the charge but quickly giving way to a lush arrangement full of little surprises: a tidy, clean-cut mix, sax and flute and guitar popping up to make statements, a melody that swoops to the high notes, some of them held good and long (you'll lose your breath singing along if you don't know what you're doing), angelic backing singers, and, yes, the lady with a hole in her stocking, who, you know—you dance with her. Didn't it feel good? (Didn't it feel good?)

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