In early 1986, Joni went along with Larry Klein when he traveled to Peter Gabriel's studio in Bath, called Ashcombe House. Since Gabriel had mostly finished his album, he offered Joni and Larry the use of his studio if they wanted to record. They did, and the result was the track "My Secret Place" featuring a duet of Joni and Peter. Joni told Musician magazine about this song: "It's a love beginning song. The song's about the threshold of intimacy. It's a shared thing so I wanted it to be like the Song of Soloman, where you can't tell what gender it is. It's the uniting spirit of two people at the beginning of a relationship".
In February 1987, Joni saw Billy Idol performing his song "To Be A Lover" on the Grammy Awards show. She felt he captured the original spirit of rock'n'roll along with a new spark of energy, and would be perfect for a cameo on her song "Dancin' Clown". Billy came over to Joni's studio one evening a few days after the Grammys and recorded his part, complete with yelps and howls. Joni told Macleans magazine about this pairing up: "It was for the contrast he provided. It's a great little cameo for him, and he brings real life to the part." Later, Tom Petty recorded his cameo on the same song.
On Chalk Mark, Joni told interviewer Kristine McKenna: "I've discovered that with your focus no longer on finding a mate, you get a heightened sense of community, and I've become a bit more political - not too political though".
Most of the recordings on Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm were begun in very early 1988. Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm was readied for release in March 1988, but a pre-release single was serviced to radio stations in January with Joni's duet with Don Henley on her song "Snakes And Ladders" which received decent airplay on rock radio.
Contemporary commercialism is addressed in the songs "Number One", "Lakota" which deals with the destruction of Native American culture and the unusual "The Reoccuring Dream" was constructed from samples Mitchell collected by recording TV commercials on her VCR for 2 weeks. "Cool Water" (a Mitchell rewrite of the Bob Nolan original) also discusses water pollution.
War is explored in two very different stories: "The Tea Leaf Prophecy (Lay Down Your Arms)" tells the tale of Mitchell's parents meeting during World War II after a surprisingly prophetic tea-leaf reading, while "The Beat of Black Wings" is about an embittered Vietnam vet she met during the late 1960's named Killer Kyle, who found it difficult to get the sound of helicopter blades out of his head.
In the more straight lovesongs, Mitchell sings of intimacy in "My Secret Place", and young, rambunctious love in "Snakes and Ladders" and the poorly received "Dancin' Clown". A music video was filmed for "Dancin' Clown", in which Mitchell dances with her cat in her kitchen.
The official first single of the album was "My Secret Place." It was released in March and "bubbled under" for a few weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. The video, a black & white film featuring Joni and Peter Gabriel, got a bit of video airplay on VH-1, where it premiered in May of 1988.
Billboard magazine's Steve Gett reviewed the new album and awarded it an early rave. Other reviews were mostly very favorable, and the fact that there were cameos by many well-known musicians brought it a great deal of notice. The album easily bested Dog Eat Dog's chart position, peaking at #45 on the Billboard Top Album chart.
To promote the album, Joni also travelled to Australia in late May, appearing on a few TV shows including "The Midday Show with Ray Martin," "Rock Arena" and the morning show "Sunday" where she performed "Number One" and "Night Ride Home".