Big Yellow Taxi
|"Big Yellow Taxi"|
Side A of 1970 Canadian single
|Single by Joni Mitchell|
|from the album Ladies of the Canyon|
|Joni Mitchell singles chronology|
"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, 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), Maire Brennan, Amy Grant, Bob Dylan, and Counting Crows.
Mitchell's composition and recording
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.
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.
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. 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) and reached No. 24 on the U.S. charts. Billboard regarded the live version as "more full of life" than any of the singled Mitchell released in a long time.
Mitchell's playful closing vocals have made the song one of the most identifiable in her repertoire, still receiving 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.
There are various slight alterations of the lyrics from different versions. Joni Mitchell's original version runs:
They took all the trees
And put them in a tree museum
Then they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see 'em
whereas in Amy Grant's version, the people are charged "twenty-five bucks", and in Mitchell's own 2007 re-recording, the people are charged "an arm and a leg". British musician Wally Whyton also recorded the song in 1971, changing the price to "one pound fifty" as well as changing "people" to "punters".
Bob Dylan, instead of singing about the "big yellow taxi" that "took away my old man", sings, "A big yellow bulldozer took away the house and land." Similarly, in Mitchell's live version of the song released on Miles of Aisles in 1974, she sings about "a big yellow tractor" that "pushed around my house, pushed around my land". She then repeats the same verse, but with the original lyrics. While Amy Grant retains the taxi, her final reprise of the line about "paved paradise" reads "steam rolled paradise".
On Counting Crows's 2002 cover version, lead singer Adam Duritz sings "took my girl away" in place of "took away my old man".
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 All Electric Music Movie. The home video also contains an animated music video of Mitchell's song "Both Sides, Now".
- "Big Yellow Taxi" (Radio Mix)
- "Big Yellow Taxi" ("Friends" Album Version)
- "Big Yellow Taxi" (Late Night Club Mix)
- "Big Yellow Taxi" (N.Y. Cab To Club Mix)
- "Big Yellow Taxi" (Double Espresso NRG Mix)
- "Big Yellow Taxi" (Tribal Dub)
- "Big Yellow Taxi" (Original A Cappella with Guitar)
Máire "Moya" Brennan version
In 1993, Máire "Moya" Brennan covered the song.
Amy Grant version
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.
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.
Counting Crows and Vanessa Carlton version
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 and is the most successful version of the song to date (U.S. Billboard Adult Top 40). The single was certified Gold on 25 October 2004 by the Recording Industry Association of America. 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 song became the band's only Top 20 single in the UK, peaking at No. 13. 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.
The Village Voice named this cover the worst song of the 2000s, and the Village Voice's scathing review of the cover is archived on Joni Mitchell's website. Additionally, NME also included this cover on its list of the worst songs of the 2000s, and Ultimate Classic Rock highlighted this song in its Terrible Classic Rock Covers series.
Other cover versions
Many other artists have covered the song.