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Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell

Album: Ladies Of The CanyonReleased: 1970Charted:
  • Mitchell (from a 1996 interview with the Los Angeles Times): "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."
  • This song is about taking things for granted and then missing them when they're gone. In the first verse she uses Waikiki, Hawaii as an example. It used to be paradise but now it's a fakey tourist destination. When you fly over the islands all of the other islands are nice and green, but when you go over O'ahu you see Waikiki and Honolulu buildings.
  • The line, "Took all the trees, put 'em in a tree museum, charged the people a dollar and a half just to see 'em" refers to Foster Gardens, a place in Waikiki which is basically a tree museum. It's a huge garden full of trees so tall you feel like Alice in Wonderland.

    The line, "Put away that DDT now, give me spots on my apples but leave me the birds and the bees" refers to the insecticide DDT, which was used on crops. The deleterious effects of the chemical were in the news, as Americans learned that their food was being contaminated by its use - those spotless apples looked great but held hidden dangers. Also, birds were eating the insects and fish poisoned by DDT, which caused them to lay brittle eggs and put many species in danger, including the bald eagle. In 1972, DDT was banned for most uses.
  • Most of this song deals with environmental concerns, but in the last verse, the singer's boyfriend leaves her (her "old man"). This is where we hear the song's title for the first time, as the big yellow taxi comes to take him away.
  • The line, "They paved paradise and put up the parking lot" refers to the destruction of The Garden of Allah, a Hollywood hotel renowned for its rowdy celebration parties.
  • Mitchell lived in Laurel Canyon, which is a section of Los Angeles, when she wrote this song (that's the reference in the album title). At the time, big news in California was the battle to save the redwood forests, which were threatened by developers eager to cut down the trees to build shopping centers and other amenities. As Mitchell implies in this song, this could lead to trees someday becoming something you could only see in a museum.
  • A group called The Neighborhood hit #29 in the US with their version of this in 1970. Others to cover this include Percy Faith, Bob Dylan, Amy Grant, and Counting Crows (with Vanessa Carlton singing backup). Janet Jackson also sampled it in 1997 for her hit "Got 'Til It's Gone," thanks to her producer Jimmy Jam, who is a big Joni Mitchell fan.
  • In 1975, Mitchell released a live version that hit #24 in the US.
  • Mitchell included a slightly revised version of this song on her 2007 album Shine. She explained why to Mojo magazine February 2008: "It fits the record. I didn't have to change anything except the price, which went from 'a buck and a half' to an arm and a leg."
  • At the suggestion of Joni Mitchell, Amy Grant updated some of the words on her version, for instance changing the price of the museum from $1.50 to $25. Her cover was released as a single in 1995 peaking at #20 in the UK and #67 in the US.
  • The Counting Crows covered the song as an afterthought and originally for a hidden track on their 2002 album Hard Candy. It was only released as a single after Vanessa Carlton's back-up vocals were added for a new version that featured on the soundtrack to the 2003 movie Two Weeks Notice. Their version became the band's only Top 20 single in the UK, peaking at #13. In the US it reached #42.
  • Reflecting on this song in a 1994 interview with Mojo, Mitchell said: "What I realize now is that songs like 'Circle Game' and 'Big Yellow Taxi' have almost become nursery rhymes, they've become part of the culture."
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Comments: 48

Claire has it right! "Old man" means "boyfriend". It was the vernacular of the times. I lived through them, as I imagine Claire did as well. Agree or not, Ms. Mitchell will go down in music history as one of the great popular composers of the twentieth century. I happen to agree. As a musician with over forty years of professional experience, I long for the level of songwriting and individuality demonstrated by this song; it seems that nowadays everything is written to try to satisfy the demands of the record execs-who want money above all. And just a note to the younger set (under forty)-there were a lot of things in the '60's & early '70's that we were yellin' about that helped to inspire change that subsequently have made the planet a better place. DDT, for example, had become almost totally ineffective as a control for mosquitos when it was finally banned. It had, however, decimated populations of numerous birds that are again plentiful (relatively). So please make sure you do some serious primary source research before espousing negative views about a period of history you neither lived through nor understand. K?
Again, peace & love. Support family planning.
Jon - Seattle
I know this will be hard to hear but an "old man" in this song is her boyfriend. If you're not from the 70's you wouldn't know this. Doesn't matter what your 50 something friends say, trust me in this song Joni is referring to her boyfriend. One of you talked like you were a family therapist giving reasons why a father leaves the family blah blah blah. Don't over think this song. Enjoy it and realize it's just a song! Where is the anger coming from in some of you anyway? Peace & Love.Claire - West Jordan, Utah, Ut
On December 22nd 1974, "Big Yellow Taxi" by Joni Mitchell entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; and on February 9th, 1975 it peaked at #24 (for 1 week) and spent 10 weeks on the Top 100...
This was a live performance of the song, her original version entered the Top 100 four years earlier on July 19th, 1970, it remained on the chart for 6 weeks and reached #67...
At the time Joni's original version was on the chart in 1970 a group named Neighborhood had their covered version also on the chart; they entered on June 21st, 1970 and on August 16th, 1970 it reached #29 (for 1 week)...
Ms. Mitchell, born Roberta Joan Anderson, celebrated her 70th birthday one month ago on November 7th.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
Along with Joan Osborne's song 'One Of Us', the Counting Crows version of Big Yellow Taxi uses shots from Coney Island's Astroland, as well as some surronding neighborhoods in Brooklyn, NY.Phil - Neenah, Wi
It's really true, you see it all over the place. But after the whole system collapses, nature will take over again. Man is only a small out-of-control insect on the planet.Jim - West Palm Beach, Fl
As a big fan of this song, I was always intrigued by the possibility that the Talking Heads' song "Nothing But Flowers" was a type of tongue-in-cheek rebuttal to it. In "Nothing But Flowers", the narrator complains about a peaceful, nature-filled lifestyle that he just can't seem to get used to. The references to "Big Yellow Taxi" are most obvious in the mentioning of "parking lots" and "paradise". Check it out and see what you think. Also, I think the cover of this song by the Counting Crows is actually quite good. Bands perform cover songs as a tribute to greatness and to artists that inspired them at some point in their lives or careers. The covering artist should not be viewed as trying to record a better version of the song. The better version in a listener's mind will almost always be the one they heard first, even if it happens to be the cover version. It's just human nature. I think the Counting Crows' version holds up very well.Jfv - Philadelphia, Pa
I love this song because Joni Mitchell dosent make it deprressing, she makes it seem like, It's okay, A Happy Song will ketch there attetion.Phoenix - Denver, Co
Hey, I like Mike, Matawan, NJ, but she's gotta be kidding me. Unless she canoed to Hawaii from the States (or wherever) she's just as much 'a part of the problem'. It's fairly safe to assume that she doesn't realize that this song was written about a moment she had one morning while looking outside her window and that it isn't about how she recycles like there's no tomorrow?Jude - Denver, Co
Hey, I like Joni, but she's gotta be kidding me. Unless she canoed to Hawaii from the States (or wherever) she's just as much 'a part of the problem'. It's fairly safe to assume that she took a jet airplane to Oahu, correct? How much CO2 did that jet release into the atmosphere helping to deplete the ozone layer, hmmmm???? She could have pitched a tent and camped out instead of staying in that nasty, tree-killing hotel, am I right? I'm all for conservation...I recycle like there's no tomorrow but...there's a limit.

Also, to Joel: "The Last Waltz" occurred on Thanksgiving Day November 25th, 1976, NOT 1974.
Mike - Matawan, Nj
Always a joy to hear this song of Joni Mitchell, specially the end when she starts laughing.Teresa - Mechelen, Belgium
oh gosh. i just listend 2 it & i realized i DEFINATELY had been listenin 2 the counting crows version...Tori - New Orleans, La
i didnt kno this song was sung by a girl!! (unless maybe i've been hearn the counting crowns version my whole life & not hav even known it). eiether way i think this song is rlly symbolic with the paradise & parking lot thing.Tori - New Orleans, La
In answer to Joseph, the Counting Crows sang that version in the '90's.Nikki - Hell, Mi
Is anyone familiar with a version of this song in which the line "pay a dollar and a half " is replaced with "pay a dollar fifty just to see'em" and the "just to see'em" part is drawn out? I'm anxious to know who did that version.Joseph - Chicago, Il
the "took away my old man" is actually refering to her boyfriend.Danielle - Dubbo, Australia
Joni can be seen performing this song in the film "Message to Love," about the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. She performed at the height of the festival, which brought 600,000 to the island located to the south of England.Barry - New York, Nc
This song should be played everywhere. People need to know and assume the consequences of their actions. There is only one environment and this is the period in time when we have to make dramatic changes. One last chance to change or we will lose the whole planet. Either we will go down in the history of the universe as a species that recognized the devastation that it was causing and changed, or a species that was just intelligent enough to be dangerous to itself and not intelligent enough to save itself.Justin - Mattituck, Ny
this song is so awsome. this version of the song is better. but...he makes a point.Jordan - --, In
a remix of Joni's version is included the soundtrack of "Friends".
this song... very thoughtful. i have a friend who can't forget me now coz i "introduced" the song to him and _he_ was awed with the part -- what else -- ".. paved paradise.. put up a parking lot".
Joycemorrison - Ph
Amy Grant covered this song as well, and did a fine job with it.Michael - San Diego, Ca
i think my old man referes to her father or her family in general.
the taxi taking him away is suggesting that there is a breakdown in her family or in a close relationship. it fits the general message of the song that things that used to be there for her are no longer there.
Jimjim - Dubbo, Australia
I'll take you're word for it. A lover would make a lot more sense that a parent in the context of the song any way.Mjn Seifer - Not Listed For Personal Reason, England
Maybe it's a cultural or age difference thing, but it was not uncommon in the 70s to refer to one's significant other as "old man" or "old lady". Maybe you're too young to remember that. I am about Ms Mitchell's age -- trust me, she means her boyfriend.
Jerry - Brooklyn, Ny
It's not her boyfriend who leaves it's her Dad! (Old Man means dad)Mjn Seifer - Not Listed For Personal Reason, England
just to let u all know, the pinhead gunpowder version of this song is just plain kick ass. check it outOliver - Fort Collins, Co
...gotta side with Dylan (et al) on this one...it's an OK song but WTF do all these keep covering it, it's not THAT good and no one yet has done a better job than the original. Also perhaps it's just me and my Libertarian biases coming out, but my take on the last verse is this. People often fervently take up "causes" to fight for in an effort to distract them from the problems in their own life. I'm not saying every member of PETA or Amnesty International is trying to escape, but I think we've all known a few people who were just a litle too into whatever cause (or religion) to be taken seriously. The last verse always makes me think that maybe she was distracting herself from her troubled relationship by worrying about the distruction of the environment. ...just a thought.Curtis - Cornwall On Hudson , Ny
DDT was used to control mosquitos in swamps and coastlines from after the WWII to the 1960s. It became a popular pesticide in agriculture too. This insecticide's widespread use spurred the creation of Endangered Species act in 1966. DDT was not banned until 1972 and the act was not ratified until 1973. Bald Eagles were removed from the endangered species list, (to threatened) in 1995. Songwriters like Joni and her BYT played a part in saving bald eagles.Lalah - Wasilla, Ak
As a kid I bought The Neighborhood's version as a 45 cause that's what got played on the AM radio station I listened to. My hip 7th grade science teacher made reference to this song (maybe in regards to the issues it raises) so I told him about the record I bought, and he was like, "Who's The Neighborhood?" And I was like, "Who's Joni Mitchell?" Now the allmusic.com website barely has a listing for The Neighborhood. I haven't listened to that 45 in a while (30 years?), but I believe The Neighborhood's rendition was kinda smoother and less hectic.Fyodor - Denver, Co
I thought at first that it was about destruction of the environment. Now look at how many issues it could mean today: the icecaps melting, global warming, paving the rain forest, hurricanes getting worse,etc.Alex - New Orleans, La
As far as covers go, the Counting Crows version isn't that bad. The original is better though. Btw, I had known theirs was a cover, I just didn't know who did it originally until I started listening to her music.Stefanie - Rock Hill, Sc
Whenever I hear the Counting Crows version, a part of me dies. Joni is SOO amazing and this is by far one of her best songs.Kevin - Grosse Pointe, Mi
I love Joni Mitchell, I could listen to Joni Mitchell all day. I'm very surprised when people don't agree with me - maybe I'm just being arrogant. But I have never heard a singer/songwriter deliver a story through a song like she does. The covers on this song are dreadful - no one should cover her songs, it seems to take away the real siginifigance of the song. I think Bernie Taupin said it best when he talks of Mitchell, "very few people on her level could reach her". I love her....Scott - Perth, Western Australia, Australia
love the song. rubbish vid. prefer counting crows and venessa carlton thoughPaul - Galway, Ireland
god the covers people do of this song are just plain awful. joni's the only one who can do this well.Dylann - Los Angeles, Ca
A very memorable song from Joni Mitchell that featured the line "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot." This best described places I remember growing up in Bloomington, MN in my teens where numerous places were torn down, most notably a restaurant I frequented that was replaced with a Park and Ride lot.Howard - St. Louis Park, Mn
I hate cover songs but the counting crows/vanessa carlton version is really good. I've never heard the original so it must be better.Rick - Humboldt, Ia
Dude, bob dylan covered it/ That's awesome man! that song is probably a good one for him to perform.Stefanie Magura - Rock Hill, Sc
the "took away my old man" comment in my personal believe is that in that time "old man" was used as a slang term for someone's father... so i always assumed that that line always meant that her "father" was conscripted and forced to fight in a war.James - Edmonton, Canada
What is often overlooked in this song is the entirely creepy last verse, where the Big Yellow Taxi comes to take away Joni's old man. This may be her boyfriend leaving her, but in the context of the song, it seems like a police state has taken over, as if she's saying that a society that doesn't respect nature can easily slip into brutality. BYTaxi is an environmental version of the old saying "When societies burn books, eventually they will burn people." Also, the Counting Crows version of this is tremendously bad. Can someone please explain to me their continued popularity? If we are going to start burning people, let's start with them.Craig - Madison, Wi
Ilove this song, b/c it talks about having something one minute and taking advantage of it, and then it being gone the next.Its a good song b/c I think alot of people take little things for granted and not even knowing and then when its gone,thats when we realize just how good it was!Cheyenne, - Mt. Airy, United States
great song. Joni's version is my favorite!Stefanie Magura - Rock Hill, Sc
"Joni (and many others) joined The Band onstage at Winterland in 1974 for The Last Waltz, The Band's last show."

so what? they didn't play this. your fact is useless.
Hal - Gaithersburg, Md
the counting crows also did a cover and i have also heard bob dylan sing it.Justin - Bakersfield, Ca
Joni (and many others) joined The Band onstage at Winterland in 1974 for The Last Waltz, The Band's last show.Joel - Montreal, Canada
The song became a children's favorite over the years following its release. Amy Grant released a cover version in 1994.Charles - Charlotte, Nc
I love Joni Mitchell and love this song!Kristie - Kountze, Tx
The only song that I know of with lyrics pertaining to Farmers and their DDT.Paul - Greenwood, Sc
Sung by Sara McLachlan, Alanis Morisette, Jewel, and Indi at the Lilith FairMandy - N/a, Ma
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