Big Yellow Taxi

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"Big Yellow Taxi"
Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell 1970 Canadian vinyl.png
Side A of 1970 Canadian single
Single by Joni Mitchell
from the album Ladies of the Canyon
B-side"Woodstock"
ReleasedApril 1970
Recorded1970
Genre
Length2:16
LabelReprise
Songwriter(s)Joni Mitchell
Producer(s)Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell singles chronology
"Chelsea Morning"
(1969)
"Big Yellow Taxi"
(1970)
"Carey"
(1971)

"Big Yellow Taxi" is a song written, composed, and originally recorded by Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell in 1970, and originally released on her album Ladies of the Canyon. It was a hit in her native Canada (No. 14) as well as Australia (No. 6) and the UK (No. 11). It only reached No. 67 in the US in 1970, but was later a bigger hit there for her in a live version released in 1974,[3][4] which peaked at No. 24. Charting versions have also been recorded by the Neighborhood (who had the original top US 40 hit with the track in 1970, peaking at No. 29), and most notably covered by Amy Grant in 1994 and Counting Crows in 2003. The song was also sampled in Janet Jackson's "Got 'til It's Gone" (1997).

Mitchell's composition and recording[edit]

Joni Mitchell (pictured in 1974) wrote and recorded the song "Big Yellow Taxi".

In 1996, speaking to journalist Robert Hilburn, Mitchell said this about writing the song:

I wrote 'Big Yellow Taxi' on my first trip to Hawaii. 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 […] this blight on paradise. That's when I sat down and wrote the song.[5]

The song is known for its environmental concern – "They paved paradise to put up a parking lot" and "Hey farmer, farmer, put away that DDT now" – and sentimental sound. The line "They took all the trees, and put 'em in a tree museum / And charged the people a dollar and a half just to see 'em" refers to Foster Botanical Garden in downtown Honolulu, which is a living museum of tropical plants, some rare and endangered.[6]

In the song's final verse, the political gives way to the personal. Mitchell recounts the departure of her "old man" in the eponymous "big yellow taxi", which may refer to the old Metro Toronto Police patrol cars, which until 1986 were painted yellow.[7] In many covers the departed one may be interpreted as variously a boyfriend, a husband or a father. The literal interpretation is that he is walking out on the singer by taking a taxi; otherwise it is assumed he is being taken away by the authorities.

Mitchell's original recording was first released as a single and then, as stated above, included on her 1970 album Ladies of the Canyon. A later live version was released in 1974 (1975 in France and Spain) on Miles of Aisles and reached No. 24 on the U.S. charts. Billboard regarded the live version as "more full of life" than any of the singles Mitchell released in a long time.[8] Cash Box called the live version "a great rendition of this excellent lyrical song."[9]

In 1995, to coincide with the song's inclusion in the American sitcom Friends, the song was rereleased as a maxi-single with new remixes in a variety of styles.

The song still receives significant airplay in Canada; in 2005, it was voted No. 9 on CBC's list of the top 50 essential Canadian tracks.

In 2007, Joni Mitchell released the album Shine, which includes a newly recorded, rearranged version of the song.

Music video[edit]

An animated music video of Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" was produced by John Wilson of Fine Arts Films as an animated short for the Sonny and Cher television show in the mid-1970s. The only commercial release of this full-length music video was in the Video Gems home video release on VHS titled John Wilson's Mini Musicals, also released as The Fantastic All-Electric Music Movie. The home video also contains an animated music video of Mitchell's song "Both Sides, Now".

Track listing[edit]

1995 maxi-single

  1. "Big Yellow Taxi" (Radio Mix)
  2. "Big Yellow Taxi" ("Friends" Album Version)
  3. "Big Yellow Taxi" (Late Night Club Mix)
  4. "Big Yellow Taxi" (N.Y. Cab To Club Mix)
  5. "Big Yellow Taxi" (Double Espresso NRG Mix)
  6. "Big Yellow Taxi" (Tribal Dub)
  7. "Big Yellow Taxi" (Original A Cappella with Guitar)

Charts[edit]

1970 weekly chart performance for "Big Yellow Taxi"
Chart (1970) Peak
position
Australia (Kent Music Report)[10] 6
Canada Top Singles (RPM) 14
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[11] 19
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[12] 11
US Billboard Hot 100[13] 67
US Billboard Easy Listening[14] 33
1974–1975 weekly chart performance for "Big Yellow Taxi"
Chart (1974–1975) Peak
position
US Billboard Hot 100[13] 24
US Billboard Easy Listening[14] 27
1996 weekly chart performance for "Big Yellow Taxi"
Chart (1996) Peak
position
US Billboard Hot Dance Club Play[15] 39

Certifications[edit]

Certifications for "Big Yellow Taxi"
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[16] Platinum 80,000double-dagger
United Kingdom (BPI)[17] Silver 200,000double-dagger

double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Amy Grant version[edit]

"Big Yellow Taxi"
Amy Grant Big Yellow Taxi UK Single Cover.jpg
UK single cover
Single by Amy Grant
from the album House of Love
ReleasedMarch 1995
Length3:01
LabelA&M
Songwriter(s)Joni Mitchell
Producer(s)Keith Thomas
Amy Grant singles chronology
"Say You'll Be Mine"
(1994)
"Big Yellow Taxi"
(1995)
"Oh How the Years Go By"
(1995)
Music video
"Big Yellow Taxi" on YouTube

In 1995, American singer Amy Grant released a cover of "Big Yellow Taxi" to pop and adult contemporary radio in the United States and United Kingdom. The song was the fourth (third in the US) pop radio single from her 1994 album, House of Love. Grant's version featured slightly altered lyrics, which she changed at Joni Mitchell's request.[18]

The cover peaked at No. 67 on the US Billboard Hot 100, No. 25 in Canada, No. 20 on the UK Singles Chart, and No. 4 in Iceland. Grant also released a music video for the single, which was aired in the US and UK and released to home video on Grant's Greatest Videos 1986-2004 DVD. Grant also performed the song for her 2006 concert album, Time Again... Amy Grant Live.

Track listings[edit]

US CD single

  1. "Big Yellow Taxi" (Paradise Mix)
  2. "Big Yellow Taxi" (Alternative Paradise Mix)
  3. "Big Yellow Taxi" (LP Version)

UK CD single

  1. "Big Yellow Taxi" (Paradise Mix)
  2. "House of Love" (South Street Mix)
  3. "Every Heartbeat" (Piano Mix)
  4. "Lucky One"

Charts[edit]

Weekly charts[edit]

Weekly chart performance for Amy Grant's version of "Big Yellow Taxi"
Chart (1995) Peak
position
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[19] 25
Canada Adult Contemporary (RPM)[20] 4
Europe (Eurochart Hot 100)[21] 67
Iceland (Íslenski Listinn Topp 40)[22] 4
Scotland (OCC)[23] 17
UK Singles (OCC)[24] 20
US Billboard Hot 100[25] 67
US Adult Contemporary (Billboard)[26] 18
US Adult Top 40 (Billboard)[27] 28

Year-end charts[edit]

Year-end chart performance for Amy Grant's version of "Big Yellow Taxi"
Chart (1995) Position
Canada Adult Contemporary (RPM)[28] 47
Iceland (Íslenski Listinn Topp 40)[29] 96
US Adult Contemporary (Billboard)[30] 38

Counting Crows and Vanessa Carlton version[edit]

"Big Yellow Taxi"
BYTCounting Crows.jpg
Single by Counting Crows featuring Vanessa Carlton
from the album Hard Candy
ReleasedJanuary 13, 2003 (2003-01-13)
Recorded2002
GenrePop rock
Length3:47
LabelGeffen
Songwriter(s)Joni Mitchell
Producer(s)Steve Lilywhite
Counting Crows singles chronology
"Miami"
(2002)
"Big Yellow Taxi"
(2003)
"If I Could Give All My Love (Richard Manuel Is Dead)"
(2003)
Vanessa Carlton singles chronology
"Pretty Baby"
(2002)
"Big Yellow Taxi"
(2003)
"White Houses"
(2004)

In 2002, Counting Crows covered the song with backing vocals by Vanessa Carlton. It was featured on the soundtrack to the film Two Weeks Notice. Originally, the song was a hidden track on the band's 2002 album Hard Candy, and it did not include Carlton until it was to be featured in the film. New releases of the album included it as a track with her added, as with her in the video (which was shot on Coney Island, Brooklyn, and in nearby Bensonhurst), although Counting Crows and Carlton neither appeared in the video together nor recorded together. This version slightly changed Mitchell's original lyrics to describe when the eponymous taxi "took my girl away", instead of Mitchell's "took away my old man". The original version of the song without Vanessa was included on the album Nolee Mix, which was released to promote the My Scene dolls.

This cover reached No. 42 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and entered the top five on three other Billboard listings. The song became the band's only top-20 single in the United Kingdom, peaking at No. 13, and it reached the top in Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand. The single was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America and Platinum by the Australian Recording Industry Association.

Critical reception[edit]

The Village Voice named this cover the worst song of the 2000s,[31] and the Village Voice's scathing review of the cover is archived on Joni Mitchell's website.[32] The review derided the cover as having paved paradise (Mitchell's original song) and put up a parking lot.

Adam, we don't know if you misunderstood the song's anti-globalization, anti-industrialization, anti-corporation message, or just chose to ignore it so you could get free Frappucinos for life. But we're gonna hip you to a harsh reality. Seriously, you know the line about how they "paved paradise and put up a parking lot?" Like how they replaced something beautiful with something cold and heartless and commercial? That's you. You're the parking lot, motherfucker. You drove your shitty steamroller over something everyone loved so you could pander your sensitive pussyhound whine to people waiting in line at the Carl's Jr. They paved Nirvana and put up a Counting Crow. Argh!

Additionally, NME also included this cover on its list of the worst songs of the 2000s,[33] and Ultimate Classic Rock highlighted this song in its Terrible Classic Rock Covers series.[34] In April 2022, American Songwriter ranked "Big Yellow Taxi" at number 10 on their list of "The Top 10 Counting Crows Songs".[35]

Track listing[edit]

Australasian CD single[36]
No.TitleWriter(s)Length
1."Big Yellow Taxi" (featuring Vanessa Carlton)Joni Mitchell3:48
2."Big Yellow Taxi"Mitchell3:56
3."If I Could Give All My Love (Richard Manuel Is Dead)" (live and acoustic)Adam Duritz4:00
4."Hard Candy" (live and acoustic)Duritz3:41
5."Big Yellow Taxi" (enhanced video)  

Charts[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Certifications for Counting Crows' version of "Big Yellow Taxi"
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[64] Platinum 70,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[65] Silver 200,000double-dagger
United States (RIAA)[66] Gold 500,000*

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Release history[edit]

Region Date Format(s) Label(s) Ref.
United States November 11, 2002 (2002-11-11) Hot adult contemporary radio Geffen [67]
Australia January 13, 2003 (2003-01-13) CD [68]
United States Triple A radio [69]
February 3, 2003 (2003-02-03) Contemporary hit radio [70]
United Kingdom
  • CD
  • cassette
[71]

Other notable cover versions[edit]

Many other artists have covered the song.

References[edit]

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External links[edit]