Emphasizing musicians’ gender is an increasingly debatable practice. After all, “female” isn’t a genre. Still, though, we here at ’77 Music Club believe that women have made incredible contributions to music that, for too long, have lingered in the shadows of their male peers. We’ve strived to have a hand in the telling of musical stories from a different perspective in all of our episodes; often, that means gravitating towards telling stories about other women.
Earlier this year, we celebrated International Women’s Day with an excessively long Twitter thread lauding some of our many favorite women who have made (and continue to make) music that has shaped our world. Today, we’re back to soundtrack IWD’s sister holiday, International Day of the Girl. We rounded up our favorite episodes featuring women who have challenged the status quo and let the world know that you don’t need to be a generic white dude to make some goddamn great music. These women have inspired countless girls to pick up guitars or basses or microphones and speak their truths. Tune in, turn it up, and join our musical girl gang. If we get enough people, we’re getting jackets.
Episode 1: Buckingham Nicks – Buckingham Nicks
Episode 2: Betty Davis – They Say I’m Different
Episode 4: Tom Tom Club – Tom Tom Club
Episode 13: Grace Jones – Nightclubbing
Episode 15: Carole King – Music
Episode 2.4: Fleetwood Mac – Tango in the Night
Episode 2.5: Blondie – Parallel Lines
Episode 2.6: Joni Mitchell – “River”
Episode 2.7: Patti Smith – Easter
Episode 2.10: Siouxsie and the Banshees – Juju
Episode 3.1: Laura Nyro – Eli and the Thirteenth Confession
Episode 3.2: Viv Albertine discusses The Slits, Dionne Warwick, feminism, and more
Episode 3.4: Nico – The Marble Index
“River” – Joni Mitchell – Reprise – 1971
“It’s comin’ on Christmas, they’re cutting down trees. They’re putting up reindeer and singing songs of joy and peace. Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on.”
In 1970, while at work on what would be one of her greatest pieces of work, Blue, Joni Mitchell wrote lyrics to “River,” an achingly confessional song of longing and loss that just happened to be set during the holiday season. In the ensuing decades, it took on a life of its own, accidentally entering into and securing a spot in the Christmas music canon as a modern classic. An unconventional carol, its heartbreak has served as a touchstone for all those bereft during what is proclaimed to be the most wonderful time of the year, a deeply personal song that has become a universal reassurance that it’s okay to not be okay.
In this special holiday episode, we unpack Joni Mitchell’s iconic song and its history and meaning beyond its attachment to Christmas, discuss the pop culture circumstances that allowed for it to be adopted by the holiday, and why it has remained a source of comfort for a vast array of people this time of year.
Listen to River: iTunes | Spotify | YouTube
Episode notes and postscript correction
- It’s pretty hard to write a new Christmas song that will make it into the Christmas canon — check out our master playlist for a few examples.
- See our further reading links below for some more deep reads about how “River” came to represent Christmas.
- Here’s one essential appearance in pop culture that helped cement its place in Christmas.
- Sometimes it’s nice to just listen to music that makes you feel your feels. Here’s a playlist for that.
- And, yes, if you feel like it, a 37 track long playlist that’s just “River” on repeat actually exists.
- Many thanks to all who have listened to our podcast this year, especially to those who have shared it or have reached out to us to talk about this music we love (and so much more). You all made this a small glimmer of goodness in an otherwise garbage fire of a year, and we hope we provided a little bit of the same relief to you, as well.
“River” live at the Royal Albert Hall (no visuals, just audio) | 1970
‘River,’ the ‘thoroughly depressing’ Joni Mitchell song that somehow became a Christmas classic | Washington Post (December 2016)
The Music Midnight Makes: In Conversation With Joni Mitchell | NPR (December 2014)
The Only Covers of Joni Mitchell’s “River” You Need | MTV (December 2012)