You can hear the melancholy in the first pluckings of the dulcimer:
Just before our love got lost, you said/ “I am as constant as a northern star”/ And I said, “Constantly in the darkness/ Where’s that at?/ If you want me, I’ll be in the bar”
Throw Joni Mitchell a platitude about love and she’ll catch it, sidearm it back at you, then spin around and order a whiskey. The genius of “A Case of You,” the quintessential after-the-fact love song, is that Mitchell understands we have to feel the love enough to mourn its passing. Fallout swirls all around: the things the lover said, the things the mutual friend said about him — all the words that the brokenhearted can’t get out of their heads, made razor-sharp and beautiful. But the real lyrical coup de grâce comes in the chorus: “Oh, you’re in my blood like holy wine/ You taste so bitter and so sweet/ Oh, I could drink a case of you/ And still I’d be on my feet.” That’s love bottled up in a single metaphor: sacred, toxic and dangerously addictive but gloriously, painfully endurable. “A Case of You” is about enduring, and like the love it describes, it touches souls.
(Browse the All-TIME 100 Songs and more than 100 other pop culture lists on TIME’s Populist iPad app)
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