Single Review: Amy Grant “Big Yellow Taxi”

Big Yellow Taxi
Album: House of Love
Year: 1995

Joni Mitchell’s signature song “Big Yellow Taxi” was written after seeing a “picture book scenery, palm tree swaying in the breeze” in Hawaii. Shen then, “looked down and there was this ugly concrete car park in the hotel grounds. She thought “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot’,” according to Jonimitchell.com.

“Big Yellow Taxi” is still relevant today as suburban sprawl occurs in daily in neighborhoods around the United States. While the songwriting is top notch, Mitchell’s version does not feel as organic as it should be. Mitchell is polished and forced as she giggles at the end, disrupting the serious tone she had throughout the single. With an unneeded giggle, Joni Mitchell becomes a smarter, earthier pop star ready to sing about first crushes and the prettiness of life.

“Big Yellow Taxi” is straightforward and descriptive without being overwritten. In the first verse, Mitchell imagines what else might be built near the Hawaii hotel (“they paved paradise/And put up a parking lot/With a pink hotel, a boutique And a swinging hot spot”). She hints she never really appreciated the beauty of nature in the chorus (“that you don’t know what you’ve got/Till it’s gone/ They paved paradise/And put up a parking lot”). In the second verse, she imagines the country has become consumed with growth to the point trees are no longer in existence (“They took all the trees/And put them in a tree museum/And they charged all the people/A dollar and a half just to see ’em”). In the third verse, she eventually imagines humans become the next thing to go (“Late last night/I heard the Screen door slam /And a big yellow taxi/ Took away my old man”). However, it’s also symbolic of the relationship she has taken for granted with her father.

Amy Grant’s version is softer and better sung. The tempo is a bit slower than the original, extending the song by 45 seconds. There’s an acoustic guitar intro which is added before the original opening. However, Grant’s version has a compassionate tone and not a storyteller feel. Grant is thoughtful instead of limiting herself to an observer (as Mitchell did). Grant’s version adds some harmony to the single which wasn’t in the original. Grant’s major flaw is her raspy voice cannot reach the high notes in the chorus.

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