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The Hissing of Summer Lawns
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51 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on April 9, 2006
Alright- I bought this album on my 17th birthday. On the way home from the mall, I put the CD into the player in the car. After the first tune my buddy took it out and opted to listen to Yes! Hey, Yes is wonderful, but so is Joni! 9 times out of 10, you will meet people like this. People who don't seem to quite "get it" or see the depth in an album like this, Hissing in particular. It makes you feel alone! Really does. I wish I could meet every single one of you who give this album 5 stars. Where have you been all of my life? We could probably assemble a very creative band.

The actual melodies of the album are super duper original. I actually have the sheet music for the album which was printed in '76...and just a brush through some of the notation quickly reveals "not so standard" note usage and changes. That's interesting. It's a 70's thing. A lot of writers of the period could do this. A prime example, and I really hate to trail off, is the song "Children and All that Jazz", by Joan Baez which was also released in 1975 (The album is called "Diamonds and Rust" and Joni appears on it...so does the LA Express!).

When I arrived home and listened to the album properly, it didn't take anymore than 6 minutes to release the insanity commited to tape in '75. I'm not interested in dissecting every song here because I know that we all hold particular melodies dear to ourselves for different reasons, but let me just say this. I realize that "Edith and the Kingpin" is generally considered the "gem" of the album, but I have a different opinion. For myself, Shades Of Scarlett Conquering is what can almost move me to tears. Shades Of Scarlett Conquering is the best writing on the album, as far as notational content is concered and lyrical content. It isn't really even the subject at hand (but believe me, it's a good one), it's the lyrical execution. How would you write lyrics like that? So unobvious, so professional and matured. Try it. It will be very hard. But for myself, more importantly, it's the music. Amazing arranging, she knows how to arrange! That buddy of mine eventually said, "well *this* song is pretty cool".

In any case, I also though I'd share a little amusing tale with you. A friend slept over at my house a couple years ago, and we couldn't sleep for some reason. So finally at 5 am we walked to the McDonalds in town, for coffee and hash browns. There are speakers wired outside of this particular McDonals, always playing music at relatively loud volumes outside. As we arrived, "Edith and the Kingpin" was blaring through the speakers...it had just started. I stood outside, very tired- borderline hallucinating, wondering "is this real?".
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91 of 104 people found the following review helpful
COURT AND SPARK won Joni Mitchell the commercial acclaim her songs had won courtesy of other artists. But she's always had a cynical attitude towards the music business, as "Free Man In Paris" off COURT AND SPARK indicated. And while this album made the top 5 on its release, it was her very effective raspberry to the powers that be that run the industry. Except for the opening "In France They Kiss On Main Street", THE HISSING OF SUMMER LAWNS is the epitome of anti-commercial. Joni reaches new emotional heights with songs like "Shades Of Scarlett Conquering", "Don't Interrupt The Sorrow", and "Shadows & Light". "Scarlett" is probably Joni's best-written song ever, while "Shadows" manages to encompass all the majestic sounds of an orchestra with just a chorus of female voices and a synthesizer. If that wasn't enough, there's the African drum sound of "The Jungle Line" which didn't exactly prove to be anti-commercial, but in fact inspired the world music dabblings that Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, and Sting would base much of their careers on. When released in late 1975, THE HISSING OF SUMMER LAWNS was called by ROLLING STONE magazine as one of the worst albums of the year. For the time, it probably was a unanimous sentiment, but now that time has passed, and Joni Mitchell's career is looked at as a whole, it ranks as one of her most ambitious (and, to the uninitiated, impenetrable) works. As a first album to buy, this is not a wise move. But when you get deeper into her music, you'll find THE HISSING OF SUMMER LAWNS to be quite rewarding.
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55 of 62 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 2004
Almost 30 years after it was recorded, The Hissing of Summer Lawns remains a gem.

It shines with a newness, uniqueness and originality that belies its age.

In this set, Mitchell examines the nature of human relationships via a number of set-piece scenarios.

The songs have layers of meaning that are gently peeled back by melody lines that beguile and hypnotise.

The title track with its " ...blue pools in the squinting sun ..." draws us in with its descriptive and pointed analogies of a shallow, loveless and materialistic life.

Again, in Harry's House " ... a helicopter lands on the Pan-Am roof like a dragon-fly on a tomb ..." Mitchell draws on superbly crafted images in her scathing indictment of manipulative, but ultimately mediocre, people who achieve the meaningless lives they deserve.

Edith and the Kingpin is again an insightful observation of an unlikely, and probably unenduring, coupling.

Don't Interrupt the Sorrow and Shades of Scarlet Conquering are rich in imagery and irony.

Overall, the narratives are wrapped in strong soft rock melody lines laced with contemporary jazz nuances.

Great art endures and that may be why The Hissing of Summer Lawns still shines these many years after its initial release.

FIVE STARS for the poetry and superb musicality of it.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 10, 2006
I was one of the music lovers that rejected Joni's delving into experimentalism and stronger jazz elements in her songs. At the time I only had ears for hard rock with a few (but not too many) rock ballads thrown in.

This year I began exploring Joni's catalog that I had ignorred so many years. I was prompted by checking one of her recent CDs out from the library. Taming The Tiger.

Court and Spark had always been in my all time top 10 favorites list, but I wanted to see what else she had done in the 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s that I had missed.

Just bought this album along with Hejira. I love them both but especially this album and The Jungle Line! Hypnotic.

Didn't find a single song that I don't like on it. And many that I love.

But like I said. I wasn't ready for this until my music tastes matured. I think the alternative/modern rock era has had that affect on me. Listening to softer, beautiful songs like Dave Mathews Band, Counting Crows, Sting, etc. had taught me to love, prepared the way for me to return to Joni.

Joni, thanks for the vast collection of beautiful music you've shared with the world!
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 2006
I can't believe that this album started a critical backlash against Joni Mitchell. This album is brilliant (and not nearly as "difficult" as many seem to be trying to make it out to be). The backlash is especially baffling because I don't see where this album is drastically different from the previous year's "Court & Spark" musically (which was WELL deservedly praised almost universally ), aside from the two outstanding experimental numbers: "The Jungle Line" and "Shadows and Light". The similarity is not all surprising because she pretty much uses the same L.A. Express musicians that appeared on "Court & Spark" and, while the compositions on this album are generally more intricate than those of its predecessor, "most" of them are still grounded in pretty easily accessible pop/fusion sensibilities. So, to say that this album finds Joni announcing that she does not "want to be a star" is somewhat misleading (Joni was ALWAYS about honestly following her muse) and I really had to point that out. There is however a huge difference in the lyrical content. The lyrics on this album are mostly a series of tales and allegories told from the perspective of an outside observer, as opposed to the unabashedly intimate and emotionally transparent first-person style that she had become known for. In the first song for example (which is really a balanced mix between the third and the first person), Joni uses both characters and her own voice to illustrate what she sees as the oppressive lie that's perpetuated in the hypocritical self-righteous pretentions of mainstream values, vs. the natural truth in those that openly "kiss on main street"; freely giving love, showing affection, having fun and enjoying the human experience without fear or shame. Joni Mitchell is the greatest lyricist that I have ever heard, and the lyrics on this album are well within the standard that you would expect from her in terms of quality, which leads me to believe that the cold reception of this album by some had more to do with Mitchell not allowing herself to be pigeonholed in terms of content than anything else (and perhaps because she expressed viewpoints that some considered to be too "challenging"-something that critics would never have been critical of a man for; I'm a man and this is still pretty obvious to me). Personally, I think it's nice to hear her show off her range by applying her unmatched literary prowess in other ways. But, the reception wasn't completely cold and this album was actually pretty commercially successful. It reached #4 on the Billboard charts and went Gold pretty quickly (not that an album's commercial success has anything to do with how good it is, I could spend hours listing horrible songs and albums that were big hits, but I point this out simply because it helps put into context the general atmosphere in response to this album). For the most part, the music is even more lushly realized this time, and as far as I'm concerned, this album could actually serve as a pretty good introduction to Mitchell for the uninitiated. The music is lushly orchestrated, finely executed, and at the same time comes as close to more conventional song structure as you are likely to get from the brilliant and ever-inventive Mitchell (but more well acquainted Mitchell fans need not worry, the compositions are still consistently adventurous). All songs on this album were written and composed by Mitchell (except for "Centerpiece"-a cover of a Johnny Mandel/Jon Hendricks jazz tune). They were all arranged by her as well save for a few specific sections on a few songs (the strings on "Shadows & Light" and the drums and Moog synth on the title track). I would describe the overall tone of this album as sweet melancholy. Joni seems to really be having fun with both the writing and the arrangements and her sense of humor really manages to come through on tracks like "The Boho Dance". I would also like to point out that vocally, this is probably my favorite album of hers. Her voice sounds especially rich on this album and she covers a really broad range stylistically. Just check out the completely convincing vocal jazz stylings of "Centerpiece", and how she flawlessly pulls off the semi a cappella "Shadows & Light". So overall, whether you are a long time fan or a newcomer, this delightful album is likely to be a really pleasant surprise. When it comes to artistic integrity, literary excellence, and musical ingenuity, it doesn't get much better than Joni Mitchell, and you pretty much can't go wrong with any of her albums between "Blue" and "Hejira". They should all be a part of any connoisseur's collection!
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 2000
I lick my chops everytime I see Joni - finally - honored by Gen X'ers, as I was one who watched her - and this gorgeous album - trashed and demonized by the once oh-so-important Rolling Stone. Naturally, that's when I parted company with the Stone's opinion on ANYTHING, and maintained my allegiance to Joni throughout the years (even when she faltered, as on WILD THINGS). I can't add much to the eloquent critiques preceeding me, except that "Edith and the Kingpin" remains one of the top five cinematic gems in pop history, and a fine piece of poetry to boot. As for Rolling Stone, let 'em eat cake, Joni. You're a goddess.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on February 16, 1999
This album marked the first serious departure for Joni Mitchell from the mainstream pop music scene. Considering the popularity and influence which 'Court & Spark' demonstrated after it's release, "The Hissing of Summer Lawns" was all but dismissed by popular music critics at the time. Rolling Stone even bestowed it's own brand of 'appreciation' for Mitchell, calling it the Worst Album of the Year. Overlooking their myopic opinions of Joni, anyone who bought this album knows it's a true classic. It set musical trends at the time introducing native African drums and percussion and paving the way for Sting and Paul Simon a decade later. 'Summer Lawns' confronts much of the same themes as most Mitchell albums: relationships, childhood experiences and the lonliness and disconnectedness of a maturing artist. The melodies, at first, are not that easy to grasp. They're distinctively Joni's and bear repeated listenings. After a while though, songs like "Don't Interrupt the Sorrow", "The Jungle Line", "The Boho Dace", "Harry's House" & the title track will sink into your consciousness. Her poetry is as clear and sharp as ever. She can cut to the heart of the matter like no one else, describing an emotion or reaction with such clarity that you sometimes think her powers are more arcane than musical. This album, once again, placed her into another category which most artists aspire to: uniquely original and wholly undefineable! When the last words about the history of pop music are written, they will be: joni, Joni, JONI.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 2000
I must say right off that "The Hissing of Summer Lawns" is my second favorite Joni cd, following only "Hejira," her very poetic release from 1975.
Now, Joni Mitchell changes her style quite often, and I think that is what makes her such an incredible artist. This album is the one that I would classify the most as rock and roll. It is certainly not folk, jazz, folk-rock, or folk-jazz. It's not mystical like "Hejira" or "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter," "Mingus" had a style of it's own based on the music of Charles Mingues, and "Wild Things Run Fast" has strong tones of country in it.
Every song on "Summer Lawns" is very unique and lyrical. The opening track of "In France they Kiss on Main Street" sets the tone of the whole album--rebellion against the hollowness of fame and money. And through the album's numerous tracks, there is a very provocative tone which captivates the listener...the style is so original and the music and poetry so well written that you can't help but listen to this album again and again. I definitely reccommend this for a starter on Joni's music, even though it doesn't have the folk style which made her famous on it on albums such as "Song to a Seagull," "Ladies of the Canyon," and "Blue." It is well done, and it is worth every penny.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on July 17, 2006
I've just read "john's" ("Lucious. Very luscious.") sweet and ruefully funny review of this album ("I wish I could meet every single one of you who gave this album 5 stars. Where have you been all my life?") and am still smiling in recognition--John, honey, I feel you, I really do.

I myself was 17 years old going on 18 when this album debuted 30 years ago and was by then a Joni fanatic, having discovered her, quite by accident, as a restless adolescent-- I'd ditched school one day, and not knowing what else to do with myself, had wandered into a neighborhood branch of the Public Library, where in the course of my aimless browsing I was astonished to encounter a record album section (I'd had no idea the library's collection included music, especially popular music) and found gold: the albums "Clouds" and "Song to a Seagull."

Mind you, at the time I had no idea who Joni Mitchell was (though the lyric for "Both Sides Now" rang a few bells thanks to the then-constant AM radio airplay of Judy Collins's beautiful cover) but I was so entranced by Mitchell's lush cover art and so intrigued by the stunning poetry of her lyrics--the only time I could recall ever seeing folk-rock writing on this level was in the gatefolds of my brother's Dylan albums--that I ditched school again the next day and came rushing back with my library card. Who was this extraordinary artist-poet? I HAD to get these records home and hear her voice...

I did, and was devastated. Suffice to say that in those young years, anyone who knew me knew my birthday and/or Christmas gift of choice was music-- and my favorite female singer-songwriter was now Joni Mitchell. (Sorry, Carly; we can still be friends, right? Carly? Hello?) By the time "The Hissing of Summer Lawns" was being released I was old enough to have a little money of my own and couldn't get to the nearest record store fast enough.

As everyone has remarked here, "The Hissing of Summer Lawns" was pretty roundly panned when it debuted; as I recall, one idiotic review was actually titled "Does Joni Mitchell Know What She's Singing About?" I was dumbfounded, both by the rather mean-spirited drubbing Mitchell was taking and by what I considered the short-sightedness of the criticism. "Hissing" was indeed dense and challenging, but that seemed to me the album's strength, not its weakness. Was this record so ahead of its time that all those overfed, supposedly hip, smarty pants music critics didn't know any other way to respond to it except to reject it and then fault Mitchell for their own cluelessness? No wonder Mitchell was and remains so cynical about the music business. What happened, Rolling Stone, et al?

Well, I am very pleased-- along with so many of the rest of you Amazon reviewers-- to see that time has proven us right and those critics wrong. "The Hissing of Summer Lawns" is a towering musical accomplishment, influencing the work of many other artists over time. And I am as moved today by its haunted and haunting masterpiece, "Shades of Scarlett Conquering," as I was the very first time I heard it, so many years ago. "Luscious," indeed, John.

Take that, Rolling Stone.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 23, 2007
This is Joni Mitchell's most accomplished album and the work by which she should ultimately be judged. Joni by turns satirises, laments, cajoles and savages the cultural millieu of mid 70s America. We are drawn towards parties full of arrogant and ruthless fat cats, alienated house wives and model girlfriends and disenchanted artists in a landscape of cocktail soirees and pool parties. Song by song, Joni deconstructs the commercial world that she felt was straightjacketing her creativity and freedom. In it's place, she reveals ennui and hypocrisy.

Central to the album is a suite of songs, which glides along on cocktail lounge keyboards and horns (Shades of Scarlet Conquering, The hissing of summer lawns, The Boho dance, Harry's house/Centerpiece) and yet...around the edges of these songs and in fact in the other songs on the album is a very different sort of music. For here we hear a more primitive and avant-garde sound appearing, symbolising the unease beneath the veer of respectability and wealth. 'Centerpiece' jumps out of the middle of 'Harry's House', darkly mocking the married misery of a couple with a rather more idealised version of married life. 'The jungle line' brings in Burundi drums and, like the tribal figures on the cover carrying a snake, represents the chaotic underbelly of corporate America. Another interpretation of the snake is that it represents man's fall from the garden of Eden, where a snake lured Eve towards evil and, consequently, gave man original sin and the Christian fixation on guilt. If the snake is the evil and guilt/hypocrisy at the heart of the corporate world then Joni wants none of it and would rather free the creative anmial within her from this original sin world, as she writes, "Anima rising, Queen of Queens, Wash my guilt of Eden, Wash and balance me. Anima rising, uprising in me tonight. She's a vengeful little goddess with an ancient crown to fight".

Aside from the biblical and primitive imagery, Joni also uses Jungian analogy to devastating effect on the most avant-garde song of her career - the last song of the album, 'Shadows and Light'. According to Karl Jung, the then in-vogue Austrian psychoanalyst, all people are composed of shadows and light - figuratively and metaphorically. If we look at any object what we in fact see is a combination of shadows and light. Our brain interprets it into a mental image. But if there was only light or shadow the object would make no sense. Jung transposes this to the mental state of man so that the shadows are the darkness and primitive urges within man, and the light is the compassionate and self-transcending side of man. Creativity comes from sourcing both the shadowy and the lighter side. As a painter and admirer of the Impressionist school of art, which focused on the delineation of colour and light, Joni was further taken with this idea of Jung's. In 'Shadows and Light' she uses an Arp-Farsifa to penetrate through the corrupt world to reveal this final assessment of man's predicament. It is one of the most arresting songs of the post-modern era and is quite unique.

Of the other songs, 'In France they kiss on main street' is the most commercial, with Crosby, Nash and James Taylor harmonies and a 'Free man in Paris' style tune. It was one of her last hits and with it she bid goodbye to her commercial status before boldly embarking on the next stage of her career with 'The jungle line'. 'Sweet bird', by contrast, stylistically harks back to 'For the Roses'. It is a dreamlike song, commenting on the fragility and temporality of man. In the end, every effort is in vain and even the fat cats' time will pass, "They can never get that close, Guesses based at most...on what each set of time and change is touching".

This album is one of the few really flawless albums of our age. Forget the usual rhetoric and hyperbole directed at any album someone likes. Objectively, this is a work of art and works on many levels. If you like Joni, be prepared for her finest work. If you want to broaden your horizons, look no further.
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