Big Yellow Taxi (1970) – Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell 1970

Joni Mitchell 1970 with her Grammy

Big Yellow Taxi is the first song from Canadian singer songwriter Joni Mitchell to appear in the music library project. I was introduced to Joni’s music when she appeared on The Band’s legendary concert ‘The Last Waltz’. Joni is an extremely original and authentic artist. She’s a pioneer of sorts in the female folk scene and Rolling Stone described her ‘as one of the greatest songwriters ever’.  Her 1971 album Blue is often cited as one of the best albums of all time although today’s song Big Yellow Taxi is not from that record; it’s from her 1970 Ladies of the Canyon.

Joni speaks her mind and has sometimes found herself in hot water doing so. For instance she was reported by the LA times for saying Bob Dylan was a plagiarist, then in a later interview she denied having said it. But she did say that Bob just pulled songs out of a box and that he was ‘a bad guitar player and he’s got a lot of borrowed things’.

Big Yellow Taxi is one of Joni’s most recognisable tunes. According to wikipedia: 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. The song is known for its environmental concern:

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

The above lines refers to the Foster Botanical Garden in downtown Honolulu, which is a living museum of tropical plants, some rare and endangered…. There are various slight alterations of the lyrics from different versions. 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.” Bob Dylan’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” was recorded in 1970 and released in 1973 on Dylan.

“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.”- Michel Legrand

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10 comments on “Big Yellow Taxi (1970) – Joni Mitchell
  1. No doubt a great artist. I disagree with her about Dylan, though I will acknowledge that she is a much better guitarist than he is. She is, in fact, an excellent guitarist. A better songwriter than Dylan? She is excellent, but not better or as good, in my opinion.

    • I suppose it’s also a matter of taste and preferences and of course the end product. Technically both Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell were probably better guitar players than Bob. Bob even said that Joan was a really excellent guitar player. I concur with you on the whole at least according to my tastes.

  2. badfinger20 says:

    I don’t think Dylan would argue because everyone gets something from someone else. I think it was T.S. Elliot who said “Amateurs borrow, professionals steal” and Miss Mitchell was influenced by other people as well. I disagree with the bad guitar player quote. Joni plays in open tuning almost completely but is very good at it…Dylan is no slouch at all.

    I do love this song though…it’s one of her best. The chorus stays with you forever.

    • I agree Dylan wouldn’t probably argue with that and I don’t think he was any slouch on the guitar too! I like that TS Elliot quote. I mean… Dylan released ‘Love and Theft’ where he allegedly lifted a lot from a Japanese book. Funny that, given the title. I like this Joni song too although it’s not one of my absolute favourites. Cheers Max.

  3. selizabryangmailcom says:

    I felt left out of this convo. ’cause I’m terrible with titles and such, but when I played the song–DUH! Of course, it’s famous. I wonder what’s behind Ms. Mitchell dissing Dylan like that? I have no idea if it’s true or not, but from the comments above, it’s not. It reminds me of Denis Leary the comedian, who I used to kinda like, but then all this stuff came out about him not just “being influenced” or “borrowing” or even professionally stealing other people’s material–evidently he just outright robbed people of their stand-up bits.

    • Hey Stacey, Joni did say that Dylan was a bad guitar player and borrowed a lot of things. To be honest I think she is the first artist who I have heard say anything negative about his ability as a singer-songwriter. The link to the interview is in the post.

      I didn’t know that about Denis Leary. I must admit I didn’t see much of his stuff.

  4. Being Canadian we hear our own musicians a lot. I never minded this one.

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