All-Time Albums: #61



Good Friends 4:27
Fiction 4:14
3 The Three Great Stimulants 6:07
4 Tax Free 4:16
5 Smokin’ (Empty, Try Another) 1:43
6 Dog Eat Dog 4:41
7 Shiny Toys 3:25
8 Ethiopia 5:51
Impossible Dreamer 4:31
10 Lucky Girl 3:58

In the world of Joni Mitchell, this was none-more-Eighties. The perm, the shoulder pads, the “interior decoration” by noted whizz Thomas Dolby, keyboards and samplers and drum machines.

Not surprisingly, the Joni traditionalists loathed it. Or maybe they just didn’t understand the glossy trimmings, still cherishing the Lady of the Canyon in her long dresses and flowing golden hair. Now look what we got, folks….non-songs based around a cigarette dispenser, for chrissakes. Nurse! Bring me my well-worn copy of Blue!

They say nobody came out of the Eighties with much dignity, not Dylan, not Neil Young, not James Taylor, not Clapton and certainly not Joni. Well, they’re wrong. Dog Eat Dog was the start of her renaissance that culminated in Night Ride Home and Turbulent Indigo.

1988’s Chalk Mark In A Rainstorm is where it really began for me, hearing My Secret Place on the radio and immediately putting the album at the top of my to-get list for when I visited Tower Records two days later. But song for song, this is the superior record. Joni’s muse is as sharp as the canine teeth bared on the sleeve; she lays into the ills of society with such an articulate disdain that the grumblings over Fairlights and other sundry technology that always follow this album around seem to miss the point.

At times on her later works, she’d revisit these topics but for me she never nailed them as well as on Dog Eat Dog. Fiction, The Three Great Stimulants and Tax Free combine as a damning trilogy of political, religious and financial deviance and deceit. After that, what else for an artiste to do but reach for the ciggies?

The album’s book-ended by a pair of lush, romantic pop songs (Good Friends is a typically deluxe Michael McDonald collaboration), while Impossible Dreamer is a wonderful eulogy to John Lennon. She shines a spotlight on the then-fashionable plight of starving Africans on Ethiopia, her withering critique of the media attitudes a world away from Do They Know It’s Christmas? and Live Aid. Shiny Toys feels almost too frivolous in this company, but it signposts the direction she’d take on Chalk Mark In A Rainstorm.

One comment

  1. Such an underrated album. ‘The Three Great Stimulants’ alone is as relevant today as it was in 1985: ‘Artifice, Brutality and Innocence’… that song summarises contemporary political and/or economic values succinctly.


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