"River" as written by Balewa M. Muhammad, Raeford Godfrey Gerald, Luther E. Lynch, Frank Tremayne Oliphant, Terence L. Abney, Arama Mara Brown, Keir Lamont Gist, Noel Gourdin, Jonathan Lafayette, Eric Maurice Daniels and Marcellus...
It's coming on Christmas
They're cutting down trees
They're putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
But it don't snow here
It stays pretty green
I'm going to make a lot of money
Then I'm going to quit this crazy scene
I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I wish I had a river so long
I would teach my feet to fly
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I made my baby cry

He tried hard to help me
You know, he put me at ease
And he loved me so naughty
Made me weak in the knees
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I'm so hard to handle
I'm selfish and I'm sad
Now I've gone and lost the best baby
That I ever had
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I wish I had a river so long
I would teach my feet to fly
Oh I wish I had a river
I made my baby say goodbye

It's coming on Christmas
They're cutting down trees
They're putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
I wish I had a river
I could skate away on


Lyrics submitted by Novartza, edited by raymondjii

"River" as written by Joni Mitchell

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Crazy Crow Music / Siquomb Music Publishing

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River song meanings
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28 Comments

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  • +11
    General CommentThere's a very important fact about this song that I noticed you've all neglected to mention: Joni Mitchell is Canadian but she moved to California to be a hippie and pursue her music career, the song is about her spending christmas in a place and a way that is so foreign to her -- no snow no ice skating... (honestly, I'm jewish so whenever christmas comes along I feel like I'm being smothered in cheesyness, but I have spent it in canada a couple times and parts of it really are magical like she describes---- the snow, ice skating, amazing lights everywhere etc.)
    It's a song about wanting to get away from everything and go back to simpler more innocent times!!
    L-E-7on January 06, 2005   Link
  • +8
    General Commentit's the worst when he's left you, and you know everything was your fault. you just want to go away from everyone -forever.
    Empirer85on November 03, 2004   Link
  • +8
    Song MeaningI think you had to have been raised in a cold climate to really appreciate the subtleties of this remarkable piece. I say that because whenever I hear it, the mention of ”a river I can skate away on” evokes this powerful memory from when I was about 10 years old. I grew up across the street from the Naugatuck River in Connecticut, and spent a large part of my childhood winters skating on the thin ice that formed there. Out there on the ice by myself one cold January day, I ventured farther downstream than I had ever gone, past the rocks and rapids, until I found myself on a long, very smooth expanse that stretched down the river as far as I could see. It was like a road leading out of my small town into the great big world. The wind was at my back, so I opened my jacket as a sail and blew about two miles down the river — it felt just like flying. I was more exhilarated than I had ever been in my young life, and truly felt as though I could fly. And somehow, I got this glimpse of the long life I was about to embark upon.

    I’m a hard-hearted 55 year old man, and yet this evocative piece never fails to bring a tear to my eye because of that memory. By the way, there is a version of River on Herbie Hancock’s tribute to Joni Mitchell called the Joni Letters. On this CD, he performs the song with Corinne Bailey Rae on vocals, and it is absolutely wonderful. The two of them simply find the tune. Enjoy.
    soulrevueon April 20, 2010   Link
  • +5
    General CommentI think the 'best baby' referred to here is definitely a lover, rather than a child, if you read the context. Little Green is the song that deals explicitly with the daughter she put up for adoption.

    In Hotel California by Barney Hoskyns it points out that Blue was written very quickly after Joni's break-up with Graham Nash (of Crosby Still Nash and Young fame, and the Hollies). Apparently it was partly her jealousy and dedication to her music that drove them apart, though she loved him deeply.
    caryatison January 21, 2007   Link
  • +4
    General CommentThis is one of those songs, like many others, that fill you up with so much emotion you feel like you are going to burst. It makes you feel too many different things, and you end up in tears. Its just... too much.
    To me, this song represents someone caught in a situation where everyone is happy and celebrating something(christmas)and the person is going through the loss of a relationship and its the only thing on their mind... and they just want to escape everything... skate away
    laayylaon August 22, 2002   Link
  • +3
    General CommentFirst song I ever heard by Joni. And its breathtaking each time I listen to it. The emotion in this song runs so deep. The use of the river as a metaphor for escapism is amazing and shows pure talent in the lyrics.
    beforeromancedieson June 27, 2003   Link
  • +3
    My InterpretationSuch a beautiful song! Christmas time is such a bittersweet time - it is a time for joy, celebration, family and loved ones...but it is also a time when you think of those you're not sharing this special time with - people who have passed away; people who are far away; or someone you loved, hurt and have lost.

    I love how clever Joni was with her music, the piano beginning that has a hint of "Jingle Bells" in it, just to set the mood - I love it!
    MissElleon September 17, 2011   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI can't believe that I just found out about this song. It's wonderfully sad, there is just so much emotion. Her voice is perfect and the sole piano lends just enough background.

    A masterpiece.
    toadtwson September 02, 2002   Link
  • +2
    General CommentIt's quite simple song and a quite beautiful one. The singer feels completely out of place (no snow, crazy place), and the hypocritical ceremony (joy&peace vs. cutting) doesn't help. She's so lost and sad, that even a man who really loves her cannot stand it, and now she has the additional pain of being responsible for driving him away.
    Isn't it tragical.
    (Well, and don't we all know this...*sigh*)
    ledaethon July 25, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentFor me, this is a song epitomizes a particular feeling you hold for a particular relationship; a turning point where "things weren't supposed to be this way" and you wish things were undone almost as much as the ever-present instinct to flee and cut out those feelings. The metaphor of Christmas is very powerful to this understanding where there lies very strong nostalgia of timing and histories juxtaposed by hope for the future and the reighn of magic in the air. Perhaps there is even an allusion to the one who is undone or doomed, was betrayed by the loved one, a "you brought it on yourself" dilemma of being the root cause of coldness in such a warm and loving relation. It single-handedly raises the question: can the overwhelming sadness of one party destroy the potential for life between you? Can they ever understand where you've been or that you've known, or the mark you wear the rest of your life that you wish they'd understand or life with that aspect of you. If you've hurt someone, won't you just do it again, and like a child wishing for a snowday out of a unstudied test won't continue running from yourself and indeed them. This is one of my favorite songs.
    truesamwiseon October 31, 2004   Link

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