Both Sides Now

Album: Wildflowers (1967)
Charted: 14 8


  • 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.
  • This song deeply affected Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page. In a 1975 interview with Cameron Crowe of Rolling Stone, Page said that Joni Mitchell may be the one musician he knew of that was capable of creating something that had the lasting brilliance of Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven."

    Repeating the "Both Sides Now" lyrics "Now old friends are acting strange, they shake their heads, they say I've changed," he interpreted the song as being about celebrities losing all their old friends once they become famous. Page insisted he had not changed and that he valued all the old friends he still had.

Comments: 18

  • Joseph Morris from Philadelphia PaWhat songs did Joni Mitchell write with or for Judy and vice a versa
  • Shatteredvinyl from GeorgiaI personally always interpreted this song as how it feels when you realize the grass isn't so green on the "other side",and that being on the other side of the coin so to speak isn't what you thought,and feels the same as where you were before...the disillusionment and melancholy of realizing it's basically the same from both sides.And either way it's mostly just illusions and expectations.Example,as silly as it sounds,someone being an 'ugly duckling' in their youth and being mistreated because of it...then blooming into a very different,striking person who is pursued for their looks yet is still used and abused for other reasons...that person has seen life from both sides and still only has their illusions of how things should have been better,but the reality is just as harsh.
  • Katie Trion2findhome from Reading Pa Some things stay with you. Engraved into your heart, memory, spirit and soul. I was 4 maybe 5 but I remember. WFIL on the AM dial, the back seat of my Mom's Cadillac Brougham. Didn't understand the words. Didn't matter. I knew how I felt listening to the lady and pretty music. It felt safe, happy and sad like coming home from school to find out that your dog got loose and is lost. Still feels that way 50 years later. Now I know the words and like reading the Bible the message and meanings become new and profound as my life unfolds into a (sometimes catastrophic) kaleidoscope of Kodak moments. To everyone who's read this I sincerely wish you a life filled with love, harmony, gratitude, peace, joy, mirth, kindness and awe. Find something beautiful by considering same things differently daily. Before you sleep thank you for being you. Love for the sake of Love and have faith in faith itself.
    Forever for you my friend
  • Kawa from Tokyo, JapanHi Music lovers,

    I think the songwriter of this song, Joni Mitchell, wrote this song in 1968 to prove that she was able to write a song like Bob Dylan's very groundbreaking song 'Blowin' In The Wind' in 1962. Because Bob had been like an icon since PPM coverd the song and made a big hit in 1964.
    All the singer-songwriters like Paul Simon or Joni Mitchell had been trying to write a song like 'Blowin' In The Wind', I think. SO Joni finally did !
    That was the song. Because the structure of the song, 'Both Sides Now', was very similar to 'Blowin'. And More, everyone understands that it was written by the female artist but it tells us about life or has a very message song like 'Blowin'. So I think she wanted to and tried to write this song like 'Blowin' and she did, I mean she proved it ! It was great !
  • Dan from Slc, UtThe imagery in "Both Sides Now" is wonderful. And the aspect of the song that I was most touched by is in the last chorus. To be reminded that we are only experiencing our illusions about everything and not directly experiencing anything is a pretty profound idea.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn December 15th 1968 "Both Sides Now" by Judy Collins peaked at #8 (for 1 week) on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; it had entered the chart on November 3rd and spent 11 weeks on the Top 100...
    It reached #3 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Tracks chart...
    The song first appeared on her 1967 album 'Wildflowers'; the album reached #5 on Billboard's Pop Albums chart...
    Ms. Collins will celebrate her 75th birthday come next May 1st.
  • Steve from Whittier, CaIce Cream castles is na good reference, likewise that harpzichord and stuff does make it a Celtic sounding tune at that. There is a slight lyric difference in the final chorus-"from win and lose" on single or LP to "from give and take" on the other, but which version is the single or lp? [They're otherwise same length].
  • Camille from Toronto, OhQuite a masterpiece.
  • Peg from Daytona, FlI have more than one time been out in nature finding solace in looking up at the sky when this song entered my mind, and I was able this time to catch it in a different way. Joni Mitchell really touched on the connectedness of life- especially now that im older and reflecting alot. I really dont know love, life, clouds at all. the more you live, you realzie the less you know about life. my 2 cents.
  • Mike from Santa Barbara, CaThis song was used during the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, during a sequence that was used to show the vast praries of western Canada.
  • Paul from Washington Dc, DcI heard that Collins recorded this behind Joni's back against her wishes, and that they didn't get along too well afterwards. I suspect that they were also romantic rivals for that affections of one or more of the men in CSN. Anybody agree?
  • David from Youngstown, OhGreat, great song. My favorite version is by Neil Diamond on his '69 album, Touching You, Touching Me.
  • Howard from St. Louis Park, MnJudy Collins' first hit single also put Joni Mitchell on the musical map. It's one of my favorites that was also covered by other artists, including Neil Diamond. I like the line "Ice cream castles in the air."
  • Patrick from Southhapton, NyThe song is about how we remember or erroniously view. What we hope and dream is so much better and stronger than the reality. This "non event" becomes our important unforgetable "instead" event, sad human and so so beautiful. Happens with lovers alot they embrace the great illusion, its enough.
  • Jodi from London, OnTrish, I think it's pretty clear that this song is about the narrator having gained new insight through life experience and realized that the grass is not green on the other side of the mountain. It's very poignant and sad, and oozes with truth.
  • Andy from Arlington, VaBest. Lyrics. Ever.
  • Guy from Woodinville, WaThe entire song is a tour de force! In particular it has remarkably clear, to-the-point, expressive lyrics!
  • Jay from Syracuse, NyThis is an exceptional case in which a "straighter" cover version improves on the original: Collins instinctively and rightly turns Mitchell's bluesy version into a Celtic folk tune. A beautiful and evocative song that holds up well.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Chris Isaak

Chris IsaakSongwriter Interviews

Chris tells the story of "Wicked Game," talks milkshakes and moonpies at Sun Records, and explains why women always get their way.

How The Beatles Crafted Killer Choruses

How The Beatles Crafted Killer ChorusesSong Writing

The author of Help! 100 Songwriting, Recording And Career Tips Used By The Beatles, explains how the group crafted their choruses so effectively.

Incongruent Opening Acts

Incongruent Opening ActsSong Writing

Here's what happens when an opening act is really out of place with the headliner, like when Beastie Boys opened for Madonna.

Dick Wagner (Alice Cooper/Lou Reed)

Dick Wagner (Alice Cooper/Lou Reed)Songwriter Interviews

The co-writer/guitarist on many Alice Cooper hits, Dick was also Lou Reed's axeman on the Rock n' Roll Animal album.

Adam Duritz of Counting Crows

Adam Duritz of Counting CrowsSongwriter Interviews

"Mr. Jones" took on new meaning when the song about a misguided view of fame made Adam famous.

Justin Timberlake

Justin TimberlakeFact or Fiction

Was Justin the first to be Punk'd by Ashton Kutcher? Did Britney really blame him for her meltdown? Did his bandmates think he was gay?