Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” Lyrics Meaning

To proclaim that you’re looking at a matter “from both sides now” is another way of saying that unlike the past, currently you’re able to perceive both the good and the bad of the situation. And in the case of this song, the vocalist goes about alluding to a holistic view of the world she has developed based on experience, now being able to recognize, in a manner of speaking, that all that glitters ain’t gold. And she does so by using three examples to point out a dichotomy present in nature, so to speak.

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Joni Mitchell's Both Sides Now at

First Example

The first is by observing clouds. Joni colorfully notes that they are in fact beautiful occurrences, taking on various shapes and forms at our imagination’s will. And she is making this observation from the perspective of someone who is actually soaring above them (i.e. in an airplane). 

Yet by the time all is said and done, she is also lamenting how, with the vocalist now being more earthbound, these same clouds “block the sun” and bring about bad weather that affects “everyone”. And in that regard and as alluded to at the end of the second, they are also meant to serve as a symbol, most simply put, of stifling depression.

Second Example

Next comes Joni’s reflections on love of the romantic variety. And once again she goes about initially noticing that being smitten is a pure thrill. But by the time the relationship climaxes, it has degenerated to the point where the two parties involved are parting ways under less-than-ideal circumstances and in a way having grown further apart than ever.

Third Example

And lastly, she speaks to love in more of a friendly, communal variety, i.e. the affection between top homeys. At first, i.e. in the past, everything is once again depicted as having been all good. But in the here and now, it’s like these selfsame friends are rather shunning the vocalist, claiming that she’s “changed” or what have you. 

And perhaps in this particular instance Joni is speaking to her come-up, i.e. associates having grown jealous of her musical success. But such is not specified and as such reads as if it is based on the general concept of people personalities shifting over time – how even the closest associations at one point may not prove so the next.

What “Both Sides Now” is all about

The ultimate conclusion all of these musings lead to is the vocalist coming to the realization that she doesn’t actually understand life “at all”. Or viewed alternatively, the singer doesn’t seem predispositioned towards trying to make sense out of depression or love lost. 

To her, such inconsistencies define the world we live in. Or viewed differently yet again, the same vehicle which may originally appear as a blessing can later deteriorate into a curse. And whereas Joni is able to recognize this fact, she doesn’t actually comprehend why such, it seems, has to be so.

Lyrics to Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now"

Release Date of “Both Sides Now”

This is a track that Reprise Records released as part of “Clouds“, Joni Mitchell’s second album, on 1 May 1969. It is noted as being “the first hit song written by… Mitchell”. That is to say that her version did not blow up.

But earlier, in 1967, another singer, Judy Collins, was the first to actually come out with a rendition of “Both Sides Now”. And in that instance the song proved to be a notable hit. Judy’s version broke the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 and top 20 of the UK Singles Chart. 

To note a number of other well-known musicians – including the following have also gotten around to covering this tune:

  • Frank Sinatra (1968)
  • Neil Diamond (1979)
  • Natalie Cole (1996)
  • Herbie Hancock (2007)
  • Melanie C (2012)

However, it is actually Joni Mitchell’s version (perhaps due to the fact that she actually wrote the song) which currently holds a place on Rolling Stone’s “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list. And to note, Mitchell also produced her recording of this track.

Writing and Recording

Joni Mitchell had penned “Both Sides Now” circa the mid-1960s. It seems she first performed it in late 1966 (i.e. prior to Judy Collins’ dropping). Her initial inspiration to write came from a segment of a novel entitled Henderson the Rain King (1959).

Joni Mitchell discusses the inspiration behind "Both Sides Now"

Joni Mitchell got around to re-recording this tune in 2000. It was then featured on an album she dropped that same year which is also entitled Both Sides Now. And that time around, the song was certified silver in the UK. Furthermore, it also took home a 2001 Grammy Award (specifically on behalf of its arranger, Vince Mendoza) in the category of Best Arrangement, Instrumental and Vocals

Also to note, Collins’ original rendition won a Grammy of its own, back in 1969, being named Best Folk Performance that year.

Both Sides Now

More Covers and Popularity of “Both Sides Now”!

This song has reportedly been covered over a thousand times, thus making Joni Mitchell’s most covered piece even though, as mentioned earlier, it was not a hit for her personally. 

“Both Sides Now” has also enjoyed a pronounced presence in pop media, being featured on a number of television shows and films and even making an appearance during the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics (which were held in Joni’s homeland of Canada).

32 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    Heard this 2000 version in the closing episode of AFTER LIFE…fallen in love with this song all over agin💕

  2. Anonymous says:


  3. Alice snedeker says:

    This song is me

  4. Anonymous says:

    My whole life I have sang, “Bows and flows of angel hair”, but now I have been seeing internet versions of this song with the lyrics “Rows and flows of angel hair”. Which one is correct?

  5. Frankie says:

    This song transcends my soul . When I hear it I’am back as a teenager just trying to grasp life ! The 60’s were such a transformative time to be young . This song always slowed me down , to simply think . Even if I did not understand it still stirred something inside .. To me when an artist can get an everyday guy like me to be still and ponder life ; well it speaks volumes.. I’am now on the other side of my life and now I can say , I have seen life on both sides now . And funny thing is when I listen to this song ; I’am that young teenager all over again!

  6. mal says:

    Clouds are a metaphor for dreams. Ask Joni if you don’t believe me.

  7. Anonymous says:

    It’s one of the songs that take you back 50+ years now to the 1960’s. Never will there be another decade like this one..

  8. Fan of Joni Mitchell says:

    Clouds depict pain and they dissipate and float away hence less suffering. If they are heavy and rain on you they make you suffer more but then you are nourished. However clouds block the sun. Sun in the sky is how one should feel effortless and expansive. However in Joni’s song, why she did not understand clouds is when she was young and this ties to love and life later. All three themes are on the same issue which is love’s pain and suffering.

  9. Rinaldo says:

    That’s Life . They Lie Right to your face . Let’s go Brandon.

  10. me says:

    I remember hearing it when it first came out (Judy Collins version) and I thought it was a neat sounding song, peppy and upbeat. I had no idea the depth of this song…, now after being run over by life, oh yeah, I get it now. Absolute masterpiece.

  11. Anonymous says:

    This on my list of songs for my funeral.
    I hope they loved me.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I have loved this song since I first heard it. The lyrics are not only poignant but haunting . I was 17 in 1969 and this song makes me reflect on persons, places and circumstances throughout my life.
    Thank you Joni Mitchell for this brilliant song.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I just discovered a few days ago this song, and it instantly hit my heart. Being actually in a situation where I’m emotionnally lost, these words sound like an evidence, even if it does not give me any solutions or answers to my questions at least it puts words on how I feel. Past hours crying yesterday while listening to the song, and still am when I listen to it.
    It’s feels like the beggining of the coldplay song Fix you “When you try your best, but you don’t succeed
    When you get what you want, but not what you need
    When you feel so tired, but you can’t sleep
    Stuck in reverse
    And the tears come streaming down your face
    When you lose something you can’t replace
    When you love someone, but it goes to waste
    Could it be worse?”

  14. jc says:

    Did Judy Collins change the 3rd verse on her recording? The article says it is about love of the friendship variety, but my memory of her 3rd verse was about life, not love. “I really don’t know life at all”. Clouds, love, life

  15. jc says:

    I wonder if Judy Collins’ version of this song changed the last verse to be about life, not love. The article says the first verse is about clouds, the second about romantic love and the third about love of the friendship variety. I could have sworn it was clouds, love and life.

  16. Ali says:

    Idealistic “love” when you are 21, but realistic “love” is what we all discover as we mature.
    It’s simply the process of living and growing and understanding this is life on Earth, not Heaven! Hills and valleys, ups and downs, hoping to come out the other side whole and intact. True love comes around only once in a lifetime if you’re lucky, and embrace it, and hope it lasts for both parties.

  17. shirley says:

    Somebody said to me one day, does the song by joni mitchell. ” Both sides now ” mean anything to you? I am still trying to figure the question out. Any ideas anybody please. Thanks.

  18. Noel Hamzik says:

    Life is as fleeting as the clouds,ever changing ever wonderous. Don’t get stuck in life’s illusions or you too will never know life at all. Just be.

  19. Doug Parsons says:

    To me it’s about the human condition. Life is an illusion unless we have a relationship with God, and know his grace. The book Ecclesiastes explores this whole theme.

  20. Anonymous says:

    My interpretation of this song is about the idealistic way we look at life when we are young. We have hopes and dreams and ambitions, and we believe in the ‘Fairytale’ kind of love, where a knight in shining armour will come along and sweep us off to his magical castle. Or. if you are a guy, you hope to meet that one perfect princess who will love you as much as you love her. For me, this song is about how we look back at our lives, when our glorious youth is just a distant memory, and perhaps we didn’t achieve our dreams, and maybe that one beautiful love we hoped to find just never happened……..or maybe it did, for a while, then it simply faded away. I have now reached that age where I am looking back at my life and reflecting on all of the ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda’s and all of those dreams that just never happened, and just as this song says, I have reached the conclusion that I really don’t know life at all.

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