The Original vs The Cover – “Big Yellow Taxi”

The song for this month’s The Original vs. The Cover is “Big Yellow Taxi” written by Joni Mitchell. The song is off her 1970 album ‘Ladies of the Canyon’. The song saw moderate success at the time going to #14 in her home country of Canada, but only #67 on the Billboard Charts. But in 1974, she released a live version of the song and it went to #24 on Billboard. We will focus on the studio song for this comparison. There have been many covers including a popular one from Amy Grant back in 1994, but I am going to put it up against the cover I know better which is Counting Crows’ version featuring Vanessa Carlton. The song was from their album in 2003 called ‘Hard Candy’. The song for them went to #42 on the Top 100, but did much better on the other charts going to #5 on Adult Top 40 and #2 on Top Adult Alternative Songs.

The song was inspired by a trip Joni had made to Hawaii. She arrived in Hawaii and took a cab to the hotel. I am assuming it was night, as when she woke the next morning, she threw open the curtains and saw such a beautiful view until she looked down and saw a massive parking lot. It was her political statement to the world about how we pave over everything that is beautiful. She even goes further talking about farmers and the use of the poisonous DDT chemical which is killing everyone.

She even puts a little humor in it as she jokes about the fact we take the trees and put them in museums and pay $1.50 to see them which was based on the Foster Botanical Gardens in Hawaii that she visited. There is even another line that a taxi took her old man away which either means he left her and drove away in a taxi or he was arrested as Metro Toronto Police cops cars were yellow at that time. I believe she is from Toronto so that makes sense as well. Enough of the backstory to the song, lets talk about each artist’s version.

JONI MITCHELL:

Joni’s version is more acoustic and folksy as that is who she is. The song is only an acoustic guitar and some percussion and I think that is all I hear. Her majestic vocals are all you really need anyway. Her voice sounds almost childlike in its tone, but is so smooth and beautiful. The background vocals add more depth to the overall sound. It is a soft, yet upbeat sounding song despite the fact it is a song talking about such sad imagery. I love at the end where she goes real deep with vocals and then laughs. It shows a lot of humor and I think adds to the beauty of the song.

COUNTING CROWS (Feat. VANESSA CARLTON):

Counting Crows version plugs the band in and adds more drums, a great bass groove and some good old electric guitar. Vanessa Carlton is on backing vocals duties with a lot of “ooh bop bops” which actually is a nice touch. Adam Duritz vocals are strong and his tone is really cool as well. He lacks a little of the humor that Joni had which I think makes the song slightly less impactful. The Crows version adds a little vocal break at the end where Adam sings in a little scat like way with Vanessa adding more backing vocals with some great fills. It is still a really great version of the song.

VERDICT:

It isn’t really a tough choice. I do really like the Counting Crows version a lot as it was the first time I really remember hearing the song. But Joni’s version is the best, hands down. Joni’s smooth, childlike, innocent vocals are just so hard to beat. The acoustic version gives it a more poignant vibe and I really loved the little bit of humor she threw in to the song which I think helped bring home the point how ridiculous we are paving over our world and taking away everything that is beautiful about it. I see it everyday where I live as the farms that are near us are disappearing and all the trees are getting cut down to build, yet another, subdivision. Just what we need.

I am really interested in hearing what everyone else thinks of these two songs.  Let me know which version you like the best and why.  Feel free to leave a comment and talk about the song and tell me how right or wrong I am on this one.  Thanks for stopping by and have a great day.

LYRICS:

“Big Yellow Taxi”

They paved paradise
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 it’s gone?
They paved paradise
Put up a parking lot

They took all the trees
Put ’em in a tree museum
Then they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see ’em

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

Hey, farmer, farmer
Put away that DDT now
Give me spots on my apples
But 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 it’s gone?
They paved paradise
Put up a parking lot

Late last night I heard the screen door slam
And a big yellow taxi took away my old man

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

I said
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?
They paved paradise
Put up a parking lot

They paved paradise
Put up a parking lot
They paved paradise
Put up a parking lot

38 thoughts on “The Original vs The Cover – “Big Yellow Taxi”

  1. Tough one to split. Joni is magnificent, especially with that nervous giggle at the end. Like yourself, the Counting Crows truly introduced me to Big Yellow Taxi, so I think I’m going to sit on the fence for this week’s the original vs. the cover.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I vote original. I think the song’s folk roots are too deep to ignore. I also have patriotic reasons for the vote. I love Counting Crows. I have the cover on CD. They did a good job with the cover. It’s faithful to the original.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I hate the Counting Crows version. Hate hate hate hate it. I don’t know why. I don’t think the original is untouchable. I don’t hate Counting Crows in general, though this song makes me dislike other Counting Crows songs that I used to enjoy.

    Hate.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh wow, I just started digitising my father’s VHS collection, starting with the music video VHS, and since then I’ve been having a lot of the songs popping up all over the place like never before. The Counting Crows version of this song was one of them, and it’s definitely my pick. And speaking of Vanessa Carlton, the song where she sits at the moving piano was also one of the ones on the VHSs, and I heard it on the radio shortly after for the first time in a decade probably.

    Liked by 1 person

          1. Let’s bask in the elucidation of our mutual ignorance. I thought she was just a former dirty hippie turned dried up pro-censorship government worshipping sellout. Turns out that she’s actually a Canadian former dirty hippie turned dried up pro-censorship government worshipping sellout.

            Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, definitely. When I run out of mix CDs for Mix CD Monthly, I’ll dedicate a couple issues to these VHSs and the songs on them. They were actually quite foundational in my early years and their effects resonate through to this day.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I was not aware of the political message behind the song. I sang “Big Yellow Taxi” with my intermediate school chorus and I literally thought it was about a big yellow taxi, haha. I’m more familiar with the Counting Crows version, so I pick their version. My initial thoughts to hearing Joni’s voice for the first time was, “wow, this girl cannot sing!” For the people that like her voice, that’s fine, but it’s not for me.

    Liked by 1 person

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