My Top 1000 Songs #298: Help Me

[I've been writing up my Top 1000 songs on a daily basis--you can see them all in descending order by hitting the All My Favorite Songs tag.]

Here's another song where I have a complicated personal history. As detailed in Jittery White Guy Music, I grew up without any real rock music in the house. The 8-track tapes my dad played when I was a kid tended to be along the lines of The Carpenters and Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass and soundtracks from western movies. (The one exception was Paul & Linda McCartney's Ram, which was my childhood favorite largely because it was the only music I knew which sounded like that.) 

In 1974, when I was 7, Joni Mitchell released Court & Spark, which joined the pile of my dad's 8-track tapes that I absolutely hated. It was soft and quiet and everything that a seven-year-old boy was totally uninterested in hearing. (This was a little more than a year before I discovered the AM radio Top 40 station, around Christmas 1975, and heard Sweet's "Fox On The Run" and the Bay City Rollers' "Saturday Night" and everything else necessary to turn an 8-year-old boy into a life-long musical obsessive.) Plus, I associated Mitchell's earlier folk music with the sort of songs we'd sit around the campfire and sing at summer camp, making her all the more unappealing to me at the time.

I finally gave Joni a second chance in my 40s, when I circled back to all the music I'd shunned in my childhood to see if anything clicked. And while I never got too excited about the early folk stuff, her 70s work, particularly her more experimental jazzy stuff, really floored me. And I totally, belatedly fell in love with Court & Spark, sort of a mid-point between phases, tethered to gentle pop and folk but much more artistically inclined. The catchiest track of all was that record's "Help Me," absolutely stunning in its beauty, thoroughly melodic but interwoven with the unexpected musical complexity which set her apart from other 60s folk singers and elevated her mid-70s albums into something well beyond pop music. 

And, yeah, even listening today my initial inclination is to recoil a bit, recollections of my dad throwing the 8-track tape into his Buick's dashboard and wishing he had something with a damn beat and some electric guitars, but finally recognizing its inherent greatness.

K.D. Lang's cover: