Joni Mitchell took the lady's choice between light and shadow and traded renegade stories of romance and circumstance for this safari to the heart of all that jazz. After a series of acclaimed albums (Song to a Seagull in 1968, Clouds in 1969, Ladies of the Canyon in 1970, Blue in 1971, For the Roses in 1972, and Court and Spark and the live Miles of Aisles in 1974), the singer songwriter was ready to expand her musical horizons: " I've always been a lover of melody. I don't think that I've ever lost that. It's just that at a certain point, my poetry began to spill out of the form and into something more relative to a jazz sense of melody, which was restating the melody in variation. If you have four verses, maybe it'll be slightly different everytime it comes around. But that's just different. It doesn't always have to be melodic. So what, you know? You take a painter, and maybe he's been painting multicolored canvases. All of a sudden he decides to paint two-tone compositions. I figure anything Picasso could do [laughs]...I don't believe so much in compromise as I don't believe in art that has become so elitist that only fourteen people in the world can appreciate it. For instance on this project, there was a possibility that people would have this prejudice – 'Oh, it sounds like cocktail lounge music.' Or, 'That sounds like Johnny Carson show music.' I wanted somehow or other to make something that transcended that prejudice. I feel that I solved that problem. It remains to be seen, but I feel that the music, while being very modern, still contains an almost folk-music simplicity. I don't think that it's intimidating. Some people get intimidated by jazz. It's like higher mathematics to them."
'The Hissing of Summer Lawns' features Joni Mitchell on vocals, acoustic guitar, Moog, piano, keyboards, Arp, and Farfisa; Graham Nash and David Crosby on background vocals; James Taylor on background vocals and guitar; Robben Ford on electric guitar, dobro, and guitar; Jeff Baxter and Larry Carlton on electric guitar; Victor Feldman on electric piano, congas, vibes, keyboards, and percussion; Joe Sample on electric piano and keyboards; John Guerin on drums, arrangement, and Moog; Max Bennett and Wilton Felder on bass; Chuck Findley on horn, trumpet, and flugelhorn; Bud Shank on saxophone, flute, and bass flute; and The Warrior Drums of Burundi. Joni Mitchell produced the sessions with engineers Henry Lewy and Ellis Sorkin. Dale Oehler did the string arrangements. Mitchell reveals: "This is a total work conceived graphically, musically, lyrically and accidentally-as a whole. The performances were guided by the given compositional structures and the audibly inspired beauty of every player. The whole unfolded like a mystery. It is not my intention to unravel that mystery for anyone, but rather to offer some additional clues ... The Hissing of Summer Lawns is a suburban album. About the time that album came around I thought, 'I'm not going to be your sin eater any longer.' So I began to write social description as opposed to personal confession. I met with a tremendous amount of resentment. People thought suddenly that I was secure in my success, that I was being a snot and was attacking them. The basic theme of the album, which everybody thought was so abstract, was just any summer day in any neighborhood when people turn their sprinklers on all up and down the block. It's just that hiss of suburbia."
'The Hissing of Summer Lawns' was not well received by critics; but it sold well, going to number sixty-two in Australia, fourteen in the UK, seven in Canada, and number four in the US. Mitchell says: "That album was called all sorts of awful names. Of all my 'children', that was the one that really got beat up on the playground...When I listen to it I don't see why it was so hated really, but one thing that I did was I changed 'I' to 'you'...I hadn't used that device. I ahd been writing 'I' this and 'I' that. And it was easier to stomach or something because when I started writing 'you,' people said, 'Who does she think she is?' And, 'Why is she taking pot shots at us?' This simple dramatic device became a large point of contention. That constituted an enormous change for some of my fans...There was a big stink about [the African elements]. It was taboo, you see. I don't think I realized how culturally isolated we were until the release of that record. In white culture it was problematic, but it good reviews in the black magazines, where it was accidentally reviewed because there was an illustration of a black person on the cover. I thought it was adventuresome, but it was shocking how frightened people were of it. I think the record was inadvertently holding up a mirror to a change that people were on the brink of in this hemisphere, and people were disturbed by the teetering they were experiencing. The Third World was becoming more important and they were disoriented ... People thought it was very narcissistic of me to be swimming around in a pool, which I thought was an odd observation. It was an act of activity. As opposed to sexual posturing, which runs through the business – nobody ever pointed a finger at narcissism there. I had stopped being confessional. I think they were ready to nail me anyway. They would have said, 'More morose, scathing introspection.' They were ready to get me; that's the way I figure it. It was my second year in office. The cartoonists had their fun. There weren't enough good jokes left, so it was time to throw me out of office and get a new president. It's politics...It really surprised me. In retrospect, it doesn't surprise me at all. I listened to that album recently, 'cause I was going to rework "Edith and the Kingpin." I was surprised. I feel that the times have caught up with it. At that time, I was beginning to introduce – for lack of a better word – jazz overtones. Nobody was really doing that. In the two years that followed, it became more acceptable, and when Steely Dan finally made Aja, with some of the same sidemen, it was applauded as a great, if somewhat eccentric, work. I fail even to see the eccentricity of it, myself. Perhaps there was a weary tone in my voice that irritated people, but there was so much of it that was accessible."
"The Hissing of Summer Lawns"
"The Jungle Line"
"In France They Kiss on Main Street"
"Edith and the Kingpin"
'The Hissing of Summer Lawns'
All songs written and composed by Joni Mitchell, except where noted.
1. "In France They Kiss on Main Street" 3:19
2. "The Jungle Line" 4:25
3. "Edith and the Kingpin" 3:38
4. "Don't Interrupt the Sorrow" 4:05
5. "Shades of Scarlett Conquering" 4:59
6. "The Hissing of Summer Lawns" (Joni Mitchell, John Guerin) 3:01
7. "The Boho Dance" 3:48
8. "Harry's House / Centerpiece" (Joni Mitchell / Jon Hendricks, Harry Edison) 6:48
9. "Sweet Bird" 4:12
10. "Shadows and Light" 4:19