Joni Mitchell: “Free Man In Paris” (1974)

Joni’s portrait of her former agent and rising recording industry star David Geffen, which Rolling Stone named to its Top 500 songs.

Kronomyth 6.3: Geff’n brilliant.

A good artist is like a camera with a special filter. As Joni Mitchell became widely popular, her lens took in wider circles, graduating from self-portraits to portraits of famous people. The scale of the music also grew, framing the excessive objects that appeared in her new field of vision.

“Free Man In Paris” is a portrait of David Geffen, Joni’s former agent and then an executive with Asylum Records. Joni the artist does a neat thing here by letting the subject speak for himself, taking herself out of the picture in one sense while carefully staging everything we see. The B side is a self-portrait in a mirror at a big party, Mitchell an island in a sea of people. Both tracks are identical to the elpee versions; generally speaking, Mitchell’s singles are an unrewarding avenue for collectors.

Based on songs like “Peoples Parties,” it would be interesting to speculate whether Joni has a touch (or more) of autism; the song certainly seems like an autistic’s impression of a party, at once apart from everyone and yet unable to disconnect from everything. While I’ll quickly concede that “Free Man In Paris” is a brilliant song, I’ve always found it impossible to sing (despite the frequent desire to do so). It’s one of Joni’s most elusive, enigmatic songs in that sense, and a sign of the jazzier explorations to come.

Original 7-inch single version

A1. Free Man In Paris (Joni Mitchell) (3:02)
B1. Peoples Parties (Joni Mitchell) (2:20)

Original 7-inch single version (UK)
A1. Free Man In Paris (Joni Mitchell) (3:02)
B1. Car On A Hill (Joni Mitchell) (2:58)

Asylum Spun Gold 7-inch single reissue
A1. Help Me (Joni Mitchell) (3:22)
B1. Free Man In Paris (Joni Mitchell) (3:02)

The Plastic

Released on 7-inch single in July 1974* in the US and Canada (Asylum, AS 11041) and on September 13, 1974 in the UK (Asylum, AYM533); reached #22 on the US charts (charted on July 27, 1974 for 14 weeks). Also released as promotional 7-inch single in 1974 in the US (Asylum, AS-11041-A) with A mono on flip. (*First cited in 7/13/74 issue of Billboard.) Named #470 in Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Songs.

  1. Re-released w. “Help Me” on back-to-back hits 7-inch single in 1975 in the US (Asylum Spun Gold, E-45075).

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