All I Want – Joni Mitchell

Song: All I Want
Album: Blue
Performer: Joni Mitchell
Writer: Joni Mitchell
Year: 1971

I am going to admit something right now. I am not a very good fan of Joni Mitchell. I pretty much just like a few songs off of the Blue album… so… kinda lame, I know. It’s probably kinda like just knowing Ants Marching or Crash Into Me for DMB fans… but I think the biggest contributing factor to my lack of knowledge of Joni Mitchell deep cuts is just that there’s so much to explore in her catalog and I’m all over the place when I listen to music. Also, to be fair, there’s a ton to unpack just in Blue.

But it’s definitely not the worst album to be the only one you have much knowledge of in her catalog, so I don’t feel too ashamed.

One thing I know for sure, despite my small knowledge of her catalog, is that Joni Mitchell is an absolute MASTER of melody. That shines through on all of the songs on this album. One of my favorites is “All I Want,” the opening track. The song establishes the theme of relationships that runs through the album and features my favorite melody of the album.

I think the thesis of the tune comes at the top of the second verse:

All I really really want our love to do
Is to bring out the best in me and in you too

The song is upbeat and optimistic. There is hope for a real and practical love that benefits both people in the relationship. She talks about wanting mundane things – just talking to each other and, comically, shampooing each other (perhaps a bit of a shoe-horned rhyme…)

But there is a twinge of darkness tucked away in this song. He’s hurt her, she’s hurt him… they haven’t completely gotten over it. We start to see her descent into the underworld of human emotion near the end of the song:

I am on a lonely road and I am traveling
Looking for the key to set me free
Oh the jealousy, the greed is the unraveling
It’s the unraveling
And it undoes all the joy that could be

After this point, the song turns into a list of all the things she wants and it becomes clear that, despite how upbeat this song is on the surface, it’s a facade (maybe an overcompensation) for trouble that’s brewing in the relationship.

She wants to have fun, she wants to be a person he wants to see, she wants to make him feel better… she wants all these things but doesn’t have them and she doesn’t get them in the course of this song. I think it’s a really interesting way to start an album about relationships to get a look at a perspective of optimism in the midst of a potentially failing relationship. I feel like she’s trying really hard to save something that’s falling apart.

Musically, the riff which starts and ends the song is full of dissonance and hits with unexpected rhythm. This hints at the unrest that lies right behind the surface of a cheery and hopeful exterior.

I think it’s a brilliant song.