Monday MP3: Car On A Hill by Joni Mitchell

“Car On A Hill” by Joni Mitchell

I lost my car this weekend. And if you live in Los Angeles, you realize that’s about the next closest thing to losing your home.

The Huntington Library and Gardens is a beautiful place but their parking lot is a labyrinthine mess, complete with obstructed signs and one-way only sections that fork off. And some unfriendly and unhelpful security guards were pretty eager for us to leave late Saturday night, so who knows if we really did look everywhere. By the next morning, I was trying to accept that it might’ve been stolen. Fortunately we drove all the way back to look in the daylight and we found it. Huge relief. 

Now Joni Mitchell’s “Car on a Hill” from Court and Spark from 1974 is obviously not about Joni’s car waiting to be found in a parking lot. Still, if you twist the narrative and the roles of the characters, it’s almost fitting. OK, not really. But it’s still a good song.

According to Sheila Weller’s book Girls Like Us, the song is supposedly about Joni waiting at her apartment in West Hollywood for Jackson Browne, who apparently never showed up since their relationship was dissolving. He had started to see Phyllis Major, who he would later marry.

The song is a great example of her visually-driven music. She had Tom Scott play horn parts to mimic passing cars. To enhance the passing traffic effect, she had the pitch of the horn track altered and also added her own layered vocals. The Berklee School of Music has apparently used the song as a final exam question in music theory classes, due to its complex rhythms. Joni is obviously proud of the song. She fought for it to be the second single off of the album, but Asylum Records released “Free Man in Paris” instead. She’s also cited it among her favorites of her own material.

Lyrically, it’s a pretty simple topic, but it’s musically executed so vividly that the recording technology of the time is pressed beyond its capacities in the bridge’s instrumental passage creating a distortion, similar to the moment a passing car is closest.

“Car on a Hill”
(Joni Mitchell)

I’ve been sitting up waiting for my sugar to show
I’ve been listening to the sirens and the radio
He said he’d be over three hours ago
I’ve been waiting for his car on the hill
He makes friends easy
He’s not like me
I watch for judgement anxiously
Now where in the city can that boy be
Waiting for a car
Climbing the hill

He’s a real good talker I think he’s friend
Fast tires come screaming around the bend 
But there’s still no buzzer 
They roll on
And I’m waiting for his car on the hill 
It always seems so righteous at the start 
When there’s so much laughter 
When there’s so much spark 
When there’s so much sweetness in the dark
Waiting for a car
Climbing the hill

© 1973 Crazy Crow Music/BMI

Joni Mitchell – vocals, piano and background vocals
John Guerin – drums and percussion
Max Bennett – bass
Wayne Perkins – electric guitar
Joe Sample – electric piano
Tom Scott – woodwinds and reeds

Produced, composed and arranged by Joni Mitchell
Sound engineer: Henry Lewy
Mastering engineer: Bernie Grundman

(Monday MP3s will only remain available for a limited time.)


About Corey Blake

Corey Blake does things on the Internet, and sometimes even in real life.
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