You turn me on, I'm a radio

17 Apr

Joni MitchellA discussion on Derek Sivers’ Musicthoughts list prompted by the recent Wall Street Journal article on Joni Mitchell inspired me to post the following.

There are many, many, many things I love about Joni Mitchell: one is the fact that when she finally gave in to the pressure to write a so-called hit for radio, she got through it by making the song a joke about writing a so-called hit for radio.

She’s long since admitted that she wrote “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio” as a love song with a cheesy radio metaphor because she knew that deejays would be inclined to spin a song that was ostensibly about deejays and radio. But even then, she assumed that the song would not be a hit just like all the others were not hits.

And peeling back the layers – always so many layers with her stuff – the song is not just a lyrical listing of radio metaphors, simple rhymes and sophomoric sexual innuendo (“broadcast towers”), which anyone could come up with to write a hit with a radio conceit. It’s really Joni lyrically flirting with the deejays (and the industry, and the masses, for that matter), saying here I am, here’s my music, come and get it. The so-called weak/confessional stuff may bore you, and the so-called strong/experimental stuff may scare you.

“But if you’ve got too many doubts
If there’s no good reception for me
Then tune me out, ’cause honey
Who needs the static
It hurts the head”

It’s one big “Take it or leave it, y’all.” And she’s bitter and funny about it at the same time. For all of the confessional stuff, and for all the talk about how bitter she is about the way the industry’s treated her, we tend to forget how much of a sense of humor she’s had about it all, too, laughing about it even in the music itself.

And if you’re going to give in to industry pressure, the least you can do is give them what they think they want while simultaneouly giving them, and everyone else – and yourself – so much more.

And in the end, it was a hit. The joke’s on them.

Lessons from Joni.

I’m a recovering English major (with the same alma mater as our dear Mr. Lefsetz, no less) so you know I’ve got it in me to go on and on about this, but I won’t, I’ll just offer up this link to the lyrics and go back to lurking.

(Big ups to Mr. Les Irvin and the gang for maintaining the greatest Joni Mitchell resource on the ‘Net.)


– – –
New web site. New free music. Enjoy.