CK 2014: GUS STADLER

Song: Prince’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case Of You”

Written by Gus Stadler

I guess I should have known by the way everyone loves the song so ardently that Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” is something of a panty jam. I’ve always thought of the album it first appeared on, 1971’s Blue, as a deceptively funky record dressed in Laurel Canyon fineries. But I never consciously thought of Mitchell’s song that way until I heard Prince’s cover—not because his version is a panty jam, but because it’s not, and that’s despite its use of the falsetto traditionally associated with that “genre.” Prince’s spare version is so perfect, so airtight, that its sexiness comes from a wholly different place, a place no one has ever been except while listening to Prince’s music. I think that’s key to why he starts his version in the second verse, a cruel choice because it means that we don’t get to hear Prince sing the phrase “Oh, Canada.” But that map name, which for Mitchell is also a place to draw her lover’s face, just wouldn’t work at all for Prince. It makes more sense that he open by telling us that he’s a lonely painter who lives in a box of paints. In the original, Joni is singing to a lover, a specific girl or boy like you or me, or maybe even James Taylor sitting next to her in the studio accompanying her on guitar—but it’s definitely a person who can take visual form on a map of her northern native land. Prince, however, sings to everyone and no one, from no where you’ve been to exactly wherever you are. For someone who’s so sexy, Prince as a working musician can seem weirdly disembodied. What do you think Prince wore while he was recording this? If I were his girlfriend, would he let me dress him? I guess I might be dumb, but I, at least, don’t believe such questions have answers.

And yet, there is one possible way to read specificity into this cover, and that’s the possibility that the song is for Joni. This song revivifies what we knew from the stunning moment in “Ballad of Dorothy Parker” from Sign o the Times, where Dorothy turns on the radio and Joni sings the first line of “Help Me”—all in Prince’s voice, of course—it’s actually one of the shortest and most brilliant cover versions of all time, and it’s actually a double cover, because he’s actually singing back to her, essentially, “You Turn Me on I’m a Radio.” As Prince constructs it, this relationship is so completely mediated by songs that I think it makes the most sense to say the cover of “A Case of You” is a love song from Prince’s music to Joni’s music. That’s the protracted act of swallowing that’s taking place, but there will be no slurring or staggering, no bodily fluids or disheveled undergarments or even used Trojans either—just ecstatic incorporation into the purple haze.

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