For the Roses, Hejira and, of course, Blue.
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"Hissing of Summer Lawns", "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter", and "Court and Spark". "Miles of Aisles" (a live album that is essentially an overview of her earlier work). I recommend them all very highly.
She also made an appearance on a Herbie Hancock album called "Gershwin's World" which is beautiful and revelatory for the stark way it illustrates the changes to her voice and style that have happened since "For the Roses."
Blue is indeed widely regarded as her classic album.
It's available as a HDCD disc on the most recent remaster.
It's pretty much straight ahead Joni songwriter style with acoustic guitar and piano prominent.
It's reflective in mood and was apparently influential on Dylan prior to Blood On The Tracks............
"Miles of Aisles" is a double LP that has many of the most loved Joni songs, recorded in a live performance. The recording is a good one, and the crowd doesn't really interfere with the songs. The song "All I Want" on this LP is IMO the best version of that song she ever did. If I could keep only 1 Joni album, this would be it. There is one song that did not appear on any Joni LP, only on 45rpm single, called "Urge for Going", that is an absolute must-have song for Joni lovers. It is my favorite, out of all of her songs. A CD recently came out called "Joni Mitchell - Hits"(Reprise 9 46326-2) that has "Urge for Going" on it. It is the 1st song on the CD. I have that CD, and I also have an original pressing 45rpm vinyl single. Do not miss this song! It is her most beautiful work.
For simplicity it's best to divide Mitchell's work into three relatively distinct periods: the folkie, the jazzy years and the Larry Klein years. Her vocal artistry is the constant element throughout. "Blue" is generally considered the peak of the folkie period. A lot of people like "Court and Spark", but I prefer "Hejira" for the jazz period. The Larry Klein years is something of an extension of the jazz period, but the overall tone is more mature and relaxed. Try "Night Ride Home" or "Chalk Mark In A Rain Storm".
Mitchell always surrounds herself with first rate musicians (Jaco, Tom Scott, Larry Carlton, Pat Methenay, Joe Sample etc.) and sonically the albums are high quality studio multi-track, but not audiophile recordings.
While "Blue" is her signature work it is "Hissing On The Summer Lawns" and "Hejira" that really challenge the listener. She stretches the boundaries of mere folk music and simple melody. Consciously artistic (she pushes herself to reinvent herself) as opposed to the confessional poet flower child bandwagon she hopped early in her career. "Court and Spark" is funny and lurid at the same time. If you had these four you wouldn't need any more.
Indeed Song to a Seagull is wonderful music. Agree with Martykl on the sound quality. We can blame David Crosby for that (-: If forced to live with only 3, I would likely chose Ladies, For the Roses, and Hejira. But I'm glad I get to keep Blue, Seagull, and Court. As much as I like all of these, I am sitting on a sealed copy of Hissing that I haven't opened for years. I can be strange like that.
She really has a great body of work. If we stick we the original question, it's got to be Blue, then Court & Spark as two starters.
The passion from so many here on a variety of LPs says much about her depth as an artist. There aren't too many artists who have passionate fans of what others might call her 10th or 11th best album! She is absolutely a benchmark in female vocals, folk, rock & jazz. Cheers,