The context: In 1974, Joni Mitchell experienced her greatest critical and commercial success with Court And Spark, an absolutely flawless pop record that integrated her growing interest in jazz into a set of brilliantly observed, startlingly intimate confessionals. Then she embarked on the path she'd follow for the rest of her career: a journey into jazzy abstraction and allusiveness that alienated the fans who preferred her gentle, painfully relatable story-songs. On her way out that door, Mitchell knocked out two more classic records, 1975's The Hissing Of Summer Lawns, and the one true rival to Court & Spark in her catalog, 1976's Hejira.
The greatness: Opening with the sprightly, catchy "Coyote"—with its haunting lines about the "prisoner of the white lines on the freeway"—Hejira announces itself as an album about how being rootless can be its own kind of trap. Throughout the record, Jaco Pastorius' fretless bass chases Mitchell's lilting voice around open arrangements, as she sings rambling sketches of the tired old friends and dying musicians that she sees in her own tour-bus mirror.
Defining song: "I'm traveling in some vehicle," Mitchell sings in the moody title track, a paean to the pleasurable anonymity of driving through the night and letting thoughts wonder. At once tuneless and arrestingly beautiful, "Hejira" proves Mitchell's lyrical contention that "there's comfort in melancholy."