♫ Big Yellow Taxi ♫

A conversation with David yesterday triggered the thought of tonight’s song, a very meaningful one back then … and now.

Released in 1970, Big Yellow Taxi was written, composed, and originally recorded by Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell.

“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.

Interestingly, the song fared better almost everywhere than it did in the U.S.big-yellow-taxi

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.

Now, Joni Mitchell’s is the iconic version of the song, but many in the U.S. may better remember a later recording by a group called Counting Crows … and so, I present you with both here … take your pick, or check them both out!

Big Yellow Taxi
Joni Mitchell/Counting Crows

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got til its gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

They took all the trees
And put ’em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half to seem ’em

No no no
Don’t it always seem to go,
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Til its gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Hey farmer farmer
Put away the DDT
I don’t care about spots on my apples
Leave me the birds and the bees
Please!

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Til its gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
Hey, now they paved paradise
To put up a parking lot
Why not?

Listenin’ late last night
I heard the screen door slam
And a big yellow taxi
Took my girl away
Now, don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Til its gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Hey now, now
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got
Til its gone
They paved paradise
To put up a parking lot
Why not?
They paved paradise
To put up a parking lot
Hey hey hey
Paved paradise
To put up a parking lot

I don’t want give it
Why you want give,
Why you want give it all away?
Hey hey hey
Now you want give it,
Ah she want to give it
Cause she givin’ it all away
Now now now

I don’t want give it
Why you want give,
Why you want give it all away?
Giving it all, giving it all away

Why you want it?
Why do you want it? (She’s giving it all away)

Hey pave paradise
Put up a parking lot

Songwriters: Joni Mitchell
Big Yellow Taxi lyrics © Crazy Crow Music / Siquomb Music Publishing

23 thoughts on “♫ Big Yellow Taxi ♫

  1. Jill, I love this song. The title though is counter to 95% of the song. Only in the last couple of lines does the big yellow taxi appear. Most of us likely referred to it as the “Paved Paradise” song. Keith

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha ha … you’re right, of course, and the song had made its point long before the appearance of the ‘big yellow taxi’. Rather like the literary trick whereby you’re scratching your head as you read the book, wondering at its relevance to the title, and then on the last page the author finally reveals it! Still, I’m glad you liked the song!

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  2. A song that shows the problems we were having back then were not too different than what we’re having now. They stopped using DDT and are now using worse things and they’re still paving over nature. Thanks for sharing. —- Suzanne

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are so right on all counts. And the cumulative effect of our ignorance and greed is that we are destroying our home, the only planet that can sustain life as we know it. And yet, some still turn a blind eye. I guess that old saying is right … “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Some of us have known along that we need trees, birds, and bees much more than parking lots. Others may be starting to wake up ever so slowly. I’m thankful this song is still around, here and there, sending out the truth.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love Joni Mitchell! She lived in my home province of Saskatchewan (although she was born in Alberta), and is an amazing song writer! River is one of my favourite songs of hers…but this one is up there too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I must go back and listen to “River” … I know I know it, but it is eluding me at the moment. I had no idea she was from Saskatchewan or Alberta. I have friends in both places … small world, yes? Anyway … I’m glad you liked the song!

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  5. I don’t understand, Jill. Joni wrote the song, yet you put up the words to the Counting Crows. Not that I’m a purist, but I feel somehow defiled by this one. “Hey, brother farmer, put away the DDT now” is a much more powerful line than “farmer, farmer.” She loves the farmer, and recognizes the human bond; the Crows version distances farmers from others.
    Meanwhile, my favourite song by Joni is Songs to Aging Children Come, off her Clouds album. It is in my top ten songs of all time (but so are about a hundred others, lol).

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is a superb record just as good and appropriate now as when it first came out. I don’t mind Counting Crows but Joni is the one who gets the kudos here. Written by her and performed by her. I’m sure Farmer, Farmer put away some of that

    Liked by 3 people

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