Friday Night Christmas Music Byte
“River” is a song by Joni Mitchell, from her 1971 album Blue. Although never released as a single, it has become one of Mitchell’s most famous songs. In the song, Mitchell ruminates on the recent breakup of a romantic relationship. Christmas is nearing, and Mitchell longs to escape her emotional bonds, openly wishing “I wish I had a river / I could skate away on”, a river so long she “would teach my feet to fly.” Furthermore, Mitchell’s Canadian past is reflected upon, as her current warm (presumably Californian) climate does not offer her that ice or that chance. It is used in the 2000 film Almost Famous and an episode of Alias and an episode of ER. The downtempo lost-love lyric is never sappy and the lack of a happy ending remains rare among pop-rock Christmas songs. Listening to this record probably stops a lot of less-talented writers from doing their own original Christmas songs. It’s so good the writers of “Ally McBeal” were able to hang an entire episode on it, complete with a rendition of the song by Robert Downey Jr.
Keeping with the Christmas theme of the lyrics, the song begins with an interpolation of the traditional Christmas song “Jingle Bells”, and it figures heavily throughout the accompaniment of the song.