On April 6, 2000, the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City was host to An All-Star Tribute to Joni Mitchell, a televised event where various performers — James Taylor, Cassandra Wilson, Richard Thompson, Shawn Colvin and Elton John, among them — paid tribute to Joni Mitchell through cover performances of some of her most iconic songs. Mitchell also performed, accompanied by a full orchestra.
The standout performance of the night, however, may well have been Cyndi Lauper’s cover of “Carey,” a beloved song from Mitchell’s iconic 1971 album Blue.
Her performance is legendary for several reason. Lauper completely transformed the song, which originally featured Mitchell’s dulcimer and Stephen Sills’ bass and acoustic guitar, into a smoky, late-night jazz strut. She imbued the song with a wistfulness and melancholy that was always there in the original but only fully brought out in Lauper’s rendition. And, of course, there’s the part in the middle where she sways along with the musicians, the entire Hammerstein Ballroom completely spellbound. Even Mitchell, who was in the audience that night, was enjoying it.
Lauper finished the performance to a much-deserved standing ovation. I’ve heard many, many covers of Mitchell songs, but as far as I’m concerned, this is the definitive cover of “Carey.”