The Legacy of Joni Mitchell in 5 Albums

On Friday (March 31), Joni Mitchell’s Gershwin Prize Tribute Concert aired on PBS. Along with a rare performance from Mitchell herself, a selection of her peers performed some of her timeless hits in her honor. The breadths of Mitchell’s influence were made very clear throughout the night.

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A select group of Mitchell’s collaborators and long-time friends—including James Taylor, Graham Nash, Brandi Carlile, and Marcus Mumford among others –professed their love for Mitchell during the special, but there are many more artists that would agree with their sentiments.

[RELATED: The Meaning Behind the 1971 Holiday Classic “River” by Joni Mitchell]

Below, we’ve compiled a list of artists that have cited the “River” singer as a major influence and chosen the albums we think are their most Mitchell-esque.

1. Debut – Björk

It’s difficult to find a point of reference for Björk. The Iceland native is so singular in the music scene, she feels like she appeared out of thin air, rather than was formed through her listening habits like the rest of the music community. Nevertheless, Björk often mentions Mitchell when asked who her influences are.

“I really love Joni Mitchell,” she told Pitchfork in 2015. “I think it was that accidental thing in Iceland, where the wrong albums arrive to shore because I was obsessed with Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter and Hejira as a teenager. I hear much more of her in those albums. She almost made her own type of music style with those, it’s more a woman’s world.”

Björk could certainly be categorized as someone who makes her own music style as well. Though nof one of her albums lives exactly in the same world as Mitchell’s, you can glean how the folk icon inspired many songs on her album Debut—particularly “Aeroplane.” On the track, Björk deals in acrobatic vocal melodies and meditative songwriting like Mitchell. She also colors the song with jazz elements that are reminiscent of Mitchell’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns.

2. Folklore – Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift has made her love of Mitchell known on a number of occasions. She was even rumored to play Mitchell in a biopic at one point in time.

“She wrote it about her deepest pains and most haunting demons,” Swift once told Rolling Stone of “River” and the song’s accompanying album. “I think [Blue] is my favorite because it explores somebody’s soul so deeply.”

[RELATED: 5 Little-Known Facts About Joni Mitchell]

It’s easy to see where Mitchell has inspired the “Anti-Hero” singer, especially when it comes to her 2020 album folklore. As evident by the title, Swift leans heavily into folky melodies on that record. Pair that sonic flavor with the pensive and narrative lyrics Swift has no trouble churning out and you’ve got a deeply Mitchell-esque project.

3. Blood on the Tracks – Bob Dylan

Mitchell hasn’t just inspired younger artists, she is also a calling card for artists from her own era.

Bob Dylan is one of the most celebrated songwriters of all time and even he heralds Mitchell as an inspiration. Dylan once summed up his admiration for his fellow folky with trademark nonchalance: “Joni’s got a strange sense of rhythm that’s all her own.”

His song “Tangled Up in Blue” has long been thought to have been inspired by Mitchell’s Blue. The track acted as the opener for Dylan’s 1975 album Blood on the Tracks.

4. Little Voice – Sara Bareilles

“Fiona Apple and Joni Mitchell are two of my most favorite role models,” Bareilles once said. “As you can tell by that, I’m a junkie for great lyrics.”

Bareilles’ focus on crafting great lyrics is evident in many of her songs. Pull a Bareilles song out of a hat and there is a 50 percent chance you might be crying by the end of it. If there’s anything the California native knows how to do it is inspire emotion—a skill Mitchell is also adept at.

Certain songs on her 2007 album Little Voice could draw comparisons to Mitchell’s smoky, jazz-steeped album Both Sides Now—particularly “Gravity.”

The song acted as the third and final single from the record and sees Bareilles strip things down to their bare bones. Largely accompanied by just a piano, Bareilles lets her lyrics take center stage.

5. Harry Styles – Harry Styles

Harry Styles is among the few artists that can boast quality time spent with the icon herself.

“I did go to her house for a Christmas carol sing-along one time,” Styles revealed to Youtube personality Nardwuar in 2022. “I wasn’t gonna sing anything, and then Brandi [Carlile] volunteered me to sing ‘River,’ which was one of the more nerve-wracking moments in my life…but it was pretty special.”

[RELATED: 5 Deep Cuts From Joni Mitchell That Should Have Been Singles]

Styles, a long-time fan of Mitchell, went so far as to name his latest record after one of her songs, “Harry’s House/Centerpiece.” Though that album makes irrefutable nods to Mitchell, it’s actually his debut album that follows in her footsteps sonically.

There are a few acoustic guitar-driven ballads throughout the self-titled record that instantly recall Mitchell’s ’70s catalog—notably, “Ever Since New York” and “Sweet Creature.”

Photo by Sherry Rayn Barnett/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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