Joni Mitchell

I Don't Know Where I Stand

Song Review by

The first flush of romance, the uncertainty about one's feelings when it happens, wondering how the other person feels about it -- none of these are remarkably unique topics in popular song. In the late 1960s, though, it was unusual for these to be written about with literary sensitivity in music grounded in the folk style, but aimed toward the contemporary pop-rock market. That's what Joni Mitchell did with "I Don't Know Where I Stand," a highlight of her second album, Clouds. The track opens with melancholy, slightly dissonant guitar picking before easing into a brighter, catchy, somewhat bittersweet but basically uplifting melody. Traces of the flower-power vibe of the era can be heard in the imagery of braiding wild flowers in her hair and crickets calling. But the gist of the lyric is her trembling uncertainty about how her new romance is going to play out, particularly in the lines about writing "I love you" and wanting to send it to her man, but not knowing where she stands. It's not stated whether she does or doesn't send that letter, or spell out her feelings by voice or letter. That is the most entrancing aspect of "I Don't Know Where I Stand" -- not so much the relatively mundane suspense of wondering whether she ever communicates her feelings, but evoking a snapshot of the simultaneous exhilaration in romantic attraction and the reluctance to yield to it completely. Mitchell goes into some beautiful high clear falsetto scatting midway through, and at the song's tag, to add a little spice. In her early days, Mitchell's material was considered to have potential for pop hits by acts looking for songs to cover, and a fine cover with a full folk-rock arrangement (Mitchell's was acoustic) was done by Fairport Convention on their first album.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Clouds 1969 Reprise 3:10
The Studio Albums 1968-1979 2012 Rhino / Warner Bros. 3:13