This was the first hit song written by Joni Mitchell, whose version appeared on her 1969 album Clouds. Mitchell recalled: "I was reading Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King on a plane and early in the book Henderson the Rain King is also up in a plane. He's on his way to Africa and he looks down and sees these clouds. I put down the book, looked out the window and saw clouds too, and I immediately started writing the song. I had no idea that the song would become as popular as it did."
Joni Mitchell had been through a very difficult time when she wrote this song's lyric. In 1965, she gave birth to a baby girl, but struggled as a single mom (the father was an old boyfriend who left soon after Mitchell got pregnant). She married a musician named Chuck Mitchell that year, but soon after the marriage, gave up the child for adoption. Soon, her marriage was on the rocks, and in 1967 they split up.
Collins is known as a folk singer, and has recorded songs written by Leonard Cohen, Pete Seger, Bob Dylan and many others, as well as traditional songs like "Amazing Grace
." Her recording of this song provided her first hit, and also brought exposure to Mitchell, who went on to a very successful career as both a songwriter and performer.
This won the 1968 Grammy for Best Folk Performance.
Collins was a big influence on Mitchell, and Joni was thrilled when she recorded this song. At the 1966 Newport Folk Festival, Collins (a regular performer at the festival) introduced the then-unknown Mitchell to the crowd. Mitchell's set went over very well, and she remained grateful to Collins for the support.
This is Joni Mitchell's most-covered song; with over 1000 versions recorded, it could be considered a standard. Some of the luminaries to record it include Frank Sinatra (on his 1968 album Cycles), Bing Crosby, and Ronan Keating.
When Mitchell first started performing this song in 1967, she called it "From Both Sides, Now." On her album, it was listed as "Both Sides, Now." Collins' version excised the comma.
Collins' recording features a harpsichord - an unusual instrument for a pop song. Joshua Rifkin, who did the arrangements on the album, came up with the idea and played it.
It was Al Kooper who put Joni Mitchell in touch with Judy Collins. As Collins tells it, she was asleep in her New York apartment when her old friend Kooper called. He had met Mitchell in a bar, and when he found out she was a songwriter, he followed her home and called Collins from her place. Mitchell sang her "Both Sides Now," and Collins knew right away that it was something special. "I had never heard a song that I felt was so beautiful," she said.
Collins put this on her 1967 album Wildflowers (her seventh LP), but it wasn't released as a single until 10 months later. The single version is different: it's a remix done by David Anderle designed to be more radio-friendly.
Dave Van Ronk released a version of this song (titled "Clouds") in 1968 on his album Dave Van Ronk & the Hudson Dusters.
Mitchell released an orchestral version of this song in 2000 to close out her album Both Sides Now, which is mainly comprised of jazz standards.
This song is part of a heart-rending scene in the 2003 movie Love Actually, starring Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson as a married couple who are growing apart. At one point in the film, Thompson is listening to the Joni Mitchell song "River," and Rickman says, "I can't believe you still listen to Joni Mitchell." Thompson replies, "I love her. And true love lasts a lifetime."
Later on, she sees him with a necklace she thinks is a Christmas present for her, but on Christmas morning, his special gift is the Both Sides Now CD - the necklace was for his mistress. Thompson retreats to her bedroom where she listens to the song "Both Sides Now" while having an emotional breakdown.
According to the film's director, Richard Curtis, they shot the scene nine times and played the song during each take. "I was so terrifically moved by that song," he told Entertainment Weekly. "Especially by the fact that it was written by a 23-year-old yet is so suitable for a woman who's had the whole of life's experience."
This was used in the pilot episode of the TV series The Wonder Years, which took place in 1968. It was also used era-appropriately on the 2013 episode of Mad Men, "In Care Of," where it plays over the end credits. The song has appeared in the movies You've Got Mail (1998), Life as a House (2001) and Steve Jobs (2015), and over the final credits to the 2018 horror film Hereditary.
Sara Bareilles sang this in 2017 at the Oscars for the "In Memoriam" segment, honoring those in the industry who died in the past year. The previous year, Dave Grohl sang "Blackbird
" in this segment.
Among the many artists who cite this as a profoundly influential song is Nichole Nordeman, the two-time Dove Award winner for Female Vocalist of the Year. "It moves me endlessly and is the perfect portrait of what it means to understand love when you are young and hopeful and naive, and then again when you are wise and weathered. From both sides," she said in a Songfacts interview
. "In rather beautiful irony, she recorded the original song in her 20s as a new artist and made it a hit, and then again in her 50s, when she had really lived the lyric. I like it better when older Joni sings it. Full of grit and nicotine and hard living, the regret and tenderness is what makes it more believable the second time around."
Judy Collins told Uncut in 2018 that though Joni Mitchell was initially "blown away and thrilled" by the song's success, "as the years went by, I think she became resentful that someone else had a hit with her song. The fact that it isn't appreciated by the writer is always discouraging."
On June 26, 1969, Mitchell performed this song live on The Mama Cass Television Program, which aired on ABC.