Got 'Til It's Gone

Album: The Velvet Rope (1997)
Charted: 6

Songfacts®:

  • This song is built around a sample of Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi." While Mitchell's song deals with the desecration of Hawaii, Jackson uses the line "Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone" to describe a relationship.

    It wasn't the first time Jackson took inspiration from the song. She mentioned it in "The Pleasure Principle" from her 1986 album Control: "Hey, take a ride in a big yellow taxi."
  • A Tribe Called Quest rapper Q-Tip performs on this with Jackson. He mentions Mitchell a few times, saying, "Joni Mitchell never lies."
  • The promo won the 1997 Grammy award for Best Music Video - Short Form. It was directed by Mark Romanek, who also did the Lenny Kravitz video for "Are You Gonna Go My Way" and the movie One Hour Photo. After hearing the song, Romanek decided to use African photography as a motif, creating what he called a "pre-Apartheid celebration based on that African photography." The photos that inspired Romanek came from a magazine called Drum, which can be seen in the video. The video looks like it was shot in Africa or some other exotic location, but it was done on a sound stage in Los Angeles.
  • Jackson wrote this song with Rene Elizondo and her producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. When we spoke with Jimmy Jam in 2011, he described this song as "avant-garde" and "funky." He added that Jackson didn't have preconceived notions about songs, which made her a "clean slate." Since they were all big fans of Joni Mitchell, the idea of using the sample went over well with all involved.
  • Jackson spoke with Jet magazine about the meaning of this song: "'Got 'Til It's Gone' is about a great lesson learned - appreciate what you have while you have it. In my life, I try to take nothing for granted, even if I don't always succeed."
  • Jackson called Joni Mitchell personally to ask permission to use the "Big Yellow Taxi" sample, even though everybody warned her she was wasting her time. "Everyone said it couldn't be done, but if [Mitchell] was going to say no to me, I had to hear it from her myself," she told USA Today. "I called her and told her I wanted her to hear it before she made a decision. Everybody was surprised when a couple of days later, she said yes."
  • The added exposure didn't hurt Mitchell, who welcomed the attention it brought to her music rather than her personal life (Mitchell had become a tabloid darling after her search for the "love child" she had given up for adoption was splashed all over the headlines). "My stock has risen lately with Janet Jackson sampling me in her hit 'Got 'Til It's Gone,'" she was quoted in the Joni Mitchell biography by Mark Bego. "More heads are turning at airports these days."

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