“Free Man In Paris” Peaked At Number 22

by Kevin Burton

   Oh my goodness how did I ever miss this one?

   Earlier this year to mark the year 2022 I did a series of posts about songs that peaked at number 22 on the Billboard Hot 100.

   It turns out one of my all-time favorite songs, “Free Man in Paris,” by Joni Mitchell peaked at 22 in 1974.

   I only found out about it because I was looking up birthdays. Joni Mitchell, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, turned 79 on Nov. 7.

  When I wrapped up the 22 series in April I guessed that I may have missed some. This one is an absolute gem. It goes right up there at the top of my favorites from the 22 list, along with “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard” by Paul Simon and “Undun” by the Guess Who. 

   Free Man In Paris is not exactly a toe tapper, but it has a feeling to it, a mood.  And when I’m in that underappreciated, “why should I bother doing what I’m doing” mood, this is the song I play repeatedly.  If I get tired of it I switch over to “Stoney End” by Barbara Streisand, but then it’s back to Free Man.

   I can’t be the only one who feels this way. Free Man is one of Mitchell’s biggest contributions to the musical landscape.

   According to SongFacts, Free Man tells the story of David Geffen, co-founder of Asylum Records where Mitchell was recording at the time.  The song is about the pressures of the music industry, but that feeling applies to any industry, or any pastime, or a blood family, whatever. 

   David Crosby and Graham Nash sang backup on the record. Jose Feliciano played guitar. 

   “David Geffen didn’t think the song had hit potential, but was convinced to release it as a single,” wrote SongFacts. “Issued as the follow-up to ‘Help Me’ it did well, reaching number 22 and becoming one of Mitchell’s most popular songs.”

   “Mitchell and Geffen rose up the ranks together,” SongFacts wrote.  “In the late 60s, he was establishing himself as an agent (an important early client was another mighty female songwriter: Laura Nyro) and she was making a name for herself with her music. They became good friends, and when Geffen started Asylum Records, Mitchell recorded for the label.”
   “Her 1972 album For The Roses was her first on Asylum. The two confided in each other, and Geffen would often talk about the extraordinary pressures he faced as a high-powered music mogul. Mitchell wrote Free Man in Paris based on what he told her: Where Geffen felt most alive and unencumbered was in Paris, where nobody could call him up and ask for favors” according to SongFacts.

   “While Geffen is never mentioned by name, Mitchell describes how he works hard creating hits and launching careers but can find some peace while vacationing in Paris,” according to Wikipedia. “Mitchell sings ‘I was a free man in Paris. I felt unfettered and alive. Nobody calling me up for favors. No one’s future to decide.’”

   “Mitchell used jazz musicians on her Court And Spark album, since the guys who recorded with, the likes of Jackson Browne and James Taylor, didn’t give her the nuance she was looking for. Tom Scott played the flute, and members of a group called the L.A. Express played other instruments: Larry Carlton (guitar) and John Guerin (drums),” SongFacts wrote.

   “Court and Spark, released in January 1974, saw Mitchell begin the flirtation with jazz and jazz fusion that marked her experimental period ahead,” according to Wikipedia. 

   “Court and Spark went to No. 1 on the Cashbox Album Charts. The LP made Mitchell a widely popular act for perhaps the only time in her career, on the strength of popular tracks such as the rocker Raised on Robbery, which was released right before Christmas 1973, and Help Me,” which was released in March of the following year, and became Mitchell’s only Top 10 single when it peaked at No. 7 in the first week of June. Free Man in Paris was another hit single and staple in her catalog,” wrote Wikipedia.

   Free Man In Paris was included in the Rolling Stone Magazine top 500 songs of all time.  A lot of times their favorites are not my favorites. But we agree on this one. 

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1 Comment

  1. Love this song…..great post, Kevin. I watched a documentary on Geffen a while back on Netflix. I thought it was very well done.


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