Single Review: Counting Crows & Vanessa Carlton “Big Yellow Taxi”

Big Yellow Taxi
Album: Two Weeks Notice Soundtrack
Year: 2003

The Counting Crows take the most liberty with Joni Mitchell’s classic, “Big Yellow Taxi.” The music is rearranged, lyrics are added or changed, and it’s at least two minutes longer than the original.

Bloated and pretentious, the Counting Crows seem to be lecturing listeners on the negatives of suburban sprawl. Duritz is condescending as he sings in the first verse “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot/With a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swingin’ hot spot/Don’t it always seem to go/That you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone/They paved paradise and put up a parking lot”) Duritz is resentful in the first verse. Each word is sung with disdain. Duritz’s cynical delivery hints he has given up on change.

In the second verse, Duritz has accepted the growth despite not supporting it (“They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum/And they charged the people a dollar and a half to see them”). The tree musuem is normal and while he is disappointed in the lack of trees, he’s not at all appalled people are being paid to see something they used to for free.

By the bridge, he is angry and shouts “Hey farmer, farmer, put away your DDT/
I don’t care about spots on my apples/Leave me the birds and the bees/Please”). For him, it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. Even though Duritz’s vocals are overdramatic, it’s the first time he’s passionate about the subject. However, he then adds a snide, “Why not?” before starting the third verse.

In the third verse, he finally is affected once he girlfriend leaves him. He expresses pain and loss as he mumbles the lyrics (“late last night, I heard the screen door slam/And a big yellow taxi took my girl away/Don’t it always seem to go/That you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone”).

In the extra verses, Duritz and Carlton are in a fight (“I don’t wanna give it
Why you wanna give it/Why you wanna giving it all away…I should wanna give it/
Now you wanna giving it all away…Cos you giving it all away/Hey, hey, givin it all/givin it all….away. Carlton then asks, “why do you want me.” To which he responds “‘Cuz you’re giving it all away”). Apparently, a single about not taking things for granted in life is now reduced to a couple’s squabble. Carlton needs some validation and she hears…a cryptic response which seems to be privy to only Duritz. What are they giving each other, besides circular arguments? Why does it matter? This section should’ve been cut out.

Vanessa Carlton’s contribution is minimal. She chimes in with the “oohh bop bop” after the choruses. She is barely heard over Duritz towards the end with the added lyrics, except for her short part.

The rearrangment, with the emphasis on bass instead of guitar as the opening is refreshing. It’s unrecongnizable. However, “Big Yellow Taxi” isn’t meant to be a long song and the extended instrumental between the verses is excessive.

Duritz’s apathetic attitude, except until the situation affects him, is the tone of the single. Why he should care? If the trees are gone, somebody will keep them. They won’t be gone forever. Then, his girlfriend, wanting some feeling and passion from him, leaves and suddenly he’s holding the protest sign and ready to condemn. Duritz’s self-centered view of the world reflects the modern U.S. society’s point of view: if it doesn’t happen in the U.S, then the media doesn’t care. It’s only is a short sentence in the newsticker, if even that.

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