Big Yellow Taxi – Joni Mitchell – 1970 and 1975

Not her biggest hit, probably not her best song, but the song Joni Mitchell is best remembered for, released in 1970 and 1975, Big Yellow Taxi.

norway and polio and cigarettes

Joni Mitchell was born Roberta Joan Anderson in 1943.  Her father was Norwegian and handed onto Joni that familiar blond hair.

a couple of interesting (to me anyway) facts about Joni;

At the age of eight, during the 1951 Canadian polio epidemic, Joni contracted the virus – the same time as Neil Young, then aged five and living in Ontario, contracted it.  It was to change Joni’s life.

Spending weeks in hospital she knew she came perilously close to living the rest of her life in an iron lung machine.  She says that during that time she became interested in singing;

They said I might not walk again, and that I would not be able to go home for Christmas. I wouldn’t go for it. So I started to sing Christmas carols and I used to sing them real loud… The boy in the bed next to me, you know, used to complain.

Realising she’d be unable to continue to play sports as she once had, Joni turned her attentions to music and the rest, as they say, is history.

The second interesting fact from her childhood is that she began her famous smoking habit at age nine.  She has been criticised by all manner of people for it but is quite unrepentant.

the taxi in hawaii

Big Yellow Taxi was written in Hawaii.  Joni was looking out the window of her Hawaiian hotel and noticed the juxtaposition of mountain scenery in the distance and the barrenness of the parking lot below her.  In Joni’s own words;

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.

save the planet and all that

Big Yellow Taxi was written at a time when the environmental movement was gaining momentum. It includes a reference to a botanical garden in Honolulu which contains a living museum of rare and endangered tropical plants.

…they took all the trees and put ’em in a tree museum…”

The final verse has remained a mystery since it was written.  Joni sings about the big yellow taxi coming and taking away her old man.  Who that refers to, she has never said.

for the record

Joni’s best song – my opinion – Magdalene Laundries.

big yellow taxi fax

  • Big Yellow Taxi was released in July 1970 and is from the Ladies of the Canyon album – Joni’s third album which also contained Woodstock and Circle Game.
  • Big Yellow Taxi reached only #70 on the US charts but climbed to #14 in Canada, #11 in the UK and #6 in Australia. 
  • Re-released as a live version in 1975, Big Yellow Taxi reached #24 on the US singles chart.
  • In 2005, Big Yellow Taxi was listed at #9 on the list of the 50 essential Canadian tracks.
  • The song was released a third time by Joni in 2007 on her album Shine.
  • The best known cover versions of Big Yellow Taxi have been released by: Bob Dylan, Amy Grant, Janet Jackson, and Counting Crows.
  • In concert Joni often varied the lyric singing about the “big yellow tractor” etc.
  • A number of cover versions change the lyrics slightly: Bob Dylan sings of a big yellow bulldozer taking away his old man; Amy Grant sings that all the trees are put in tree museum and are charged “twenty-five bucks to see ‘em.”  Joni, in her 2007 version sings that people are charged “an arm and a leg, to see ‘em.”  Counting Crows sing that the big yellow taxi “took my girl” away rather than their old man.
  • Big Yellow Taxi lyrics.

big yellow taxi – joni mitchell – 1970 version – video

I can’t believe the audience didn’t seem to recognise this song until she began to sing the lyric!!

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7 Responses to Big Yellow Taxi – Joni Mitchell – 1970 and 1975

  1. Kevin Simms says:

    Spot on GK. Personally I like Amelia & Coyote. Good Blog buddy

  2. Miki says:

    Good one – watching that clip it’s a relief she eventually found her voice – saw her in ’83 at the St James and she was magic and just keeps improving with maturity!

    • Greg.K. says:

      I think she’s one of the most sophistacated singers around. About her voice – that is the criticism that is leveled at her about her smoking… some people say it’s ruined her voice… I hadn’t noticed!! 🙂

      • Miki says:

        True – she seems to still have a great range – I can well remember the opening chords and then her amazing voice. Some of the songs are what I always thought of as stream of consciousness type stuff but her voice and the arrangements manage always to carry it.

        Thanks for the always interesting and succinct fax – good to hear your interpretations – it’s like ‘hearing’ between the lines!

  3. Mare C. says:

    I have so many favorite JM songs, but I’d have to say Song for Sharon and Blue Motel Room are two that really stand out in my mind right now. And while I’m at it, I read that she was admitted to the hospital recently, heard it might have to do something with her Morgellon’s. Hope she’s back on her feet soon. Go Joni!

    • Greg.K. says:

      Any song and every song is a favourite. Big Yellow Taxi is her best known song for sure – but not her best… She is phenomenal. And it was so sad to know she is unwell.

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