Nina Simone to Bob Dylan might not be such a great leap but Joni Mitchell to Nazareth is unlikely. In 1973 Scottish rock band Nazareth recorded This Flight Tonight from Joni Mitchell’s 1971 album, Blue. Nazareth had formed in 1968 and had finally broken into the UK charts with their third album, the Roger Glover produced Razamanaz. The album spawned two surprise hit singles with Broken Down Angel and Bad Bad Boy both reaching the Top 10 in the UK in early 1973. Later that year they released their fourth album Loud ‘n’ Proud (also produced by Glover) with an original and powerful interpretation of Joni Mitchell’s song. They transformed her sensitive de-tuned acoustic version into a punchy rock song. Somehow they managed to keep the poetic essence of the song despite Dan McCafferty’s rough and raw throated vocal delivery. The other band members were Manny Charlton playing either E-bow and/or guitar synthesizer for those moody parts, Pete Agnew on his chunky Gibson SG bass (that he always played but isn’t playing in this mimed video) and Darrell Sweet playing some snappy disco hi-hats. It was a revelation – two different worlds meeting and creating something that neither of them could imagine on their own. The song went to No.1 in Germany, No. 11 in the UK and also hit the Top Ten In Switzerland and Austria reaching the Top 30 in Joni Mitchell’s homeland.
Nazareth pulled off the same trick a second time with their biggest hit in America, Love Hurts. It was an unexpected, strangled vocal version of the song, but it reached No.8 in the USA. It also reached No.15 in the UK and No.8 in Australia. It went to No.1 in South Africa and Canada and was a runaway success in Norway where it stayed at No.1 for 14 weeks. One can’t imagine what Gram Parsons would have thought and although he might have heard This Flight Night, he died before Nazareth recorded their version of Love Hurts. The song’s writers Felice and Boudleaux Bryant had no problem with the Nazareth version – it sold a million copies in the USA. Nazareth also changed the lyric from “love is like a stove/it burns you when it’s hot” to “love is like a flame/it burns you when it’s hot”. Somehow, Ex Traffic member Jim Capaldi also had a N0.4 hit with the song in the UK in 1975.
I saw Nazareth live twice in the 1973 – 74 period at Liverpool Stadium. The first time they were supporting Deep Purple (there’s the Roger Glover connection) the second time they were headlining their own tour. As far as Joni Mitchell the closest I got to seeing her live was standing next to her at a gig in LA and I remember she was smoking. She never stopped smoking and when you hear how her voice was in the sixties and how it is now, it might not just be age that is responsible for her dark tones in the later years.
I read a quote from her once that commented on her dislike of journalists “They trap you in your era”. She went onto explain that she knew she had done good work after her sixties and seventies periods but it was always about how great she used to be in that ten year period. If you haven’t kept up with Joni Mitchell in her later years there are some albums you just have to hear. Start with Turbulent Indigo from 1994 – it won a Grammy for Best Pop album that year – marvel at her voice.
Nazareth continued on, Manny Charton left in 199o, Darrell Sweet died of a heart attack in 1999 and was replaced by Pete Agnew’s son, Lee. Dan McCafferty retired from live touring last year due to health issues. Bassist Pete Agnew is the only remaining original member of the band.
Joni Mitchell seems to be semi-retired and suffers from a controversial condition called Morgellons Syndrome frequently diagnosed as “delusion of parasites”. If you want to find out more about this intriguing disease, check out the link below.