Song of the Day, January 6: Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell

mitchelltaxiliveToday’s song has appeared in many versions, including three by its writer. Joni Mitchell wrote Big Yellow Taxi while staying in Hawaii. She was enchanted by the beauty, but horrified by the intrusion of modern life, later recalling:

I took a taxi to the hotel and when I woke up the next morning, I threw back the curtains and saw these beautiful green mountains in the distance. Then, I looked down and there was a parking lot as far as the eye could see, and it broke my heart.

She wrote a smart lyric of environmental concern, adding in a dash of romantic disappointment, all tied together with the observation “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” The song was included on  her third album, Ladies of the Canyon, and it became her first U.S. single, peaking at #69. Around the same time, vocal pop group Neighborhood also charted with their version, taking it to #29.

Mitchell loves the song, regularly featuring it in her live shows. For her first live album, recorded with jazz backing band L.A. Express, she captured a smart take and released it as another single. This time she bested Neighborhood, going to #24. Over the years many artists have covered the song, including minor chart hits by Amy Grant and Counting Crows with Vanessa Carlton. Janet Jackson and Q-Tip sampled the track for their #36 hit Got ‘Til It’s Gone, featuring a new vocal line from Mitchell.

Mitchell herself revisited it again on her most recent album, 2007’s Shine, fitting it in with the social and environmental concerns of the disc.

Enjoy all three Joni Mitchell versions of this wonderful song today: the studio original, the live hit, and the charming reinvention.

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About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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