Thursday, April 6, 2017

Steel: Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire

Joni Mitchell: Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire


Joni Mitchell released Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire on her album For the Roses in 1972, and I must have first heard it close to that time for the first time. I turned twelve that year, so I had no idea what the enigmatic lyric was about. To me, it was an enticing dark fantasy that might involve a deal with the devil. I understood Hotel California in the same way, picking up on the undercurrent of seductive danger, but not the context. Now I know and can clearly see that both songs are about drug addiction. In particular, the cold blue steel in Joni Mitchell’s title is a heroin needle. So my deal with the devil idea wasn’t really wrong; I just didn’t know the identity of this particular devil.

Joni’s original recording of this song serves as an interesting marker for where she was in her musical career at the time. The song begins with little more than voice and guitar, harkening back to the folk period Mitchell was leaving at the time. But gradually, the arrangement fills out, until the song finishes in a much jazzier territory that Mitchell would explore over her next several albums.

Tim Curry: Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire


When Joni Mitchell finished her run of jazzy albums, she began to explore electric rock. If she had recorded a version of Cold Blue Steel at that time, it might have sounded something like Tim Curry’s recording of the song. It’s a shame that Curry is best known as Dr Frankenfurter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. This performance strips away the campiness of Frankenfurter, and finds the sense of menace in a blistering rock version of the song. Curry never was a major hit maker, but he was serious about his music.

Boi Akih: Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire


I found this version of Cold Blue Steel while researching for this post. Boi Akih gives the song an interesting jazz treatment that might have been what Joni’s song would have sounded like if she had not written it until the Mingus album. This version emphasizes the seductiveness of the lyric, while the dissonant musical elements preserve the sense of danger.

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