I’ve always loved the six degrees of separation concept as it relates to my musical discoveries. The career of Joni Mitchell is a perfect example of that.
I didn’t discover Joni because of her much-revered albums Blue or Hejira. I came across Mitchell in her much-maligned Geffen Records phase — which started with this 1982 album and ended with 1991’s Night Ride Home. And that was only because Wild Things Run Fast included vocal contributions by Lionel Ritchie — who, at the time of the release, praised Mitchell. Additionally, the album featured significant contributions from guitarists Michael Landau, Steve Lukather and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. Most significantly, this was the first of Mitchell’s work to include bassist Larry Klein. Klein would go on to be Mitchell’s husband, writing partner and co-producer.
Wild Things Run Fast, in fact, represented another sharp turn in Mitchell’s career after the challenging jazz of her Mingus album and the subsequent live album, Shadows and Light. Mitchell had decided she wanted a contemporary rock setting for her songs and initially entertained the idea of using the Police as a backing band. It is said that she set on another path when she met Klein.
Larry Klein was capable of brining in the jazz elements from his tenure with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, even while incorporating a contemporary rock feel that meshed perfectly with Colaiuta’s drum sound. Lyrically, Mitchell had a lot to say, and Wild Things was much more personal and happy than her Mingus period. The album reflects the unbridled love and joy Mitchell was experiencing in her whirl-wind romance with Klein.
The album is also supported by fine players. Of course, Mitchell provides her unique and underrated guitar skills, and handles piano playing. She also effectively uses Larry Williams on piano and saxophone, Wayne Shorter on soprano saxophone, Russell Ferrante on Oberheim synthesizer and James Taylor on vocals.
The leadoff track “Chinese Café/Unchained Melody” starts the somewhat tentative journey of a middle-aged women daring to dream of love. The song successfully incorporates the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” into the story, weaving together two into one. By the time we reach the second track, Mitchell and her band are already in full gallop.
“Wild Things Run Fast” has an unapologetic rock sensibility provided by Steve Lukather’s guitar and the stellar rhythm section. “Ladies Man” follows with a little trepidation. Is her suitor too slick? Is his love for cocaine stronger than his love for her?
How does the next song, “Moon At The Window” fit in? I’m not sure. The song is introspective, and gorgeous, with subtle brush paying by Colaiuta and a gorgeous fretless bass performance by Klein. Not only is this one of the strongest songs on the album, it’s one of her strongest songs period. “Solid Love” seems to be an acknowledgement of her luck at finding that one special person and “Be Cool” finds her giving herself advice when things are not as perfect as they seem.
Side Two continues Mitchell’s exploration of the new -ound relationship peaking with the song “Dream Flat Tires.” Michael Landau gets the opportunity to provide some impressive rock chords over a hard-rocking foundation centered on Larry Klein’s prominent bass licks — and augmented by vocals from Lionel Ritchie. Additionally “Man to Man” and “Underneath the Streetlight” cap off a musically intriguing and lyrically satisfying journey, one which almost makes the final song “Love” redundant.
Of course, Joni Mitchell wouldn’t stay in one place for too long — as shown by the next album in this second-thought series, 1985’s Dog Eat Dog.
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