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  • Writer's pictureGabrielle Bossy

"Sugar Mountain" & "The Circle Game": A look at ending youth for Joni Mitchell and Neil Young

Updated: May 29, 2021

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"Sugar Mountain" is arguably one of Neil Young's most beloved songs of all time. A lament and goodbye to youth, Young wrote this song on his 19th birthday (or possibly 20th birthday, sources conflict), as he came face to face with adulthood and yearned for the simple joys of his youth.

According to Young, he wrote 126 verses to the song and only ended up including four, including what he considered to be the worst one[1]:

“Now you’re underneath the stairs/ And you’re givin’ back some glares/ To the people that you met/ And it’s your first cigarette.”

Perhaps it’s this universal sentiment that continues to resonate with people today- not the bit about trying cigarettes under the stairs and glaring at people but the simple sadness that bubbles to the surface when you reflect on your youth.

What came next though, is a truly beautiful and simple Canadian story. In short, Joni Mitchell wrote a reply.

“The Circle Game” gave a little light at the end of the tunnel. Still sad, it brought a youthful glow to adulthood.

According to Mitchell at a concert in October of 1970, referring to Young’s “Sugar Mountain”, “I thought, you know, if we get to 21 and there’s nothing after that, that’s a pretty bleak future…So I wrote a song for him, and for myself, just to give me some hope.”[2]

Peace, love & history.

[1] Live on Sugar Mountain [2] Concert at Royal Albert Hall, 1970

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