Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now," Revisited

Joni Mitchell in 1969
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Sherry Rayn Barnett/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides, Now" was a major breakthrough for the Canadian singer-songwriter - but it took some time before people heard it the way she'd intended.

Mitchell penned the track shortly after reading a passage from Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King. "Early in the book Henderson...is also up in a plane," she told The Los Angeles Times in 1996. "He's on his way to Africa and he looks down and sees these clouds. I put down the book, looked out the window and saw clouds too, and I immediately started writing the song."

The ache in the song's lyrics come from a very real place: no one knew until many years later, but Mitchell had recently given a daughter up for adoption in 1965; two years later, her marriage to another folk musician, Chuck Mitchell, ended in divorce. But the melancholy was hard to hear in the first famous version of the track, recorded not by Mitchell but Judy Collins. Her version reached No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1968; a year later, stripped of its baroque-folk ornamentation, did audiences hear "Both Sides, Now" as Joni Mitchell intended.

READ MORE: The Enduring Impact of "Big Yellow Taxi"

"Both Sides, Now," from Mitchell's second album Clouds, will be heard anew in the box set The Reprise Albums (1968-1971), featuring remastered versions of her first four studio albums. It's the second in an ongoing series of archival projects featuring her official catalog alongside unreleased material from throughout her career.

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