“They Paved Paradise and Put Up a Parking Lot”

For the past three days I’ve had “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell/Counting Crows stuck in my head.  And I think the line “They paved paradise to put a parking lot” is just #brill, so “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell/Counting Crows is #PhillipsSongOfTheDay.

“Big Yellow Taxi” is a song written and performed by Joni Mitchell on her 1970 album Ladies of the Canyon.  However, I first heard the chorus of the song during a scene in the 2002 movie Two Weeks Notice, and it’s such a memorable melody.

Listen to the original version of “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell:

The Counting Crows cover version, featuring Vanessa Carlton:

My boss asked my colleagues and me during a staff meeting “do you guys know the Joni Mitchell song ‘Big Yellow Taxi?'” to which we all stared at him blankly.  I googled it the other day and I realized it was the song from Two Weeks Notice (yes, I know how lame that sounds) and I was floored that it was originally by Joni Mitchell.  Like, I would’ve known the song if I heard it, but I had no idea the name of the song when he was talking about it.

I really love the chorus of “Big Yellow Taxi,” I think it’s lyrically magnificent:

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

In the song, I believe Joni Mitchell is talking about saving the environment and stuff like that (there’s a memorable line where she asks a farmer to “put away the DDT”), but I take the song in a more personal sense.  It’s so true that “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

The line “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot” has been swirling around my head this past week because I just think it’s such an incredible symbol/image.  According to Joni Mitchell’s website, she wrote the song literally about a hotel in Hawaii that destroyed trees when it was built.  And, apparently, there is a “tree museum” in Hawaii where they charge people to see the types of trees that were cut down to build said hotel.  But, I think you can take this line out of her literal context and think about life.  For example, a parking lot is a rather practical thing for business and is something you should have for your customers.  So if you do something in life that is practical or worth doing because it is deemed valuable by others it may be at the cost of your “paradise.”  I just think this line, and the song, works on so many beautiful levels.

Further, according to Joni Mitchell’s website, “Big Yellow Taxi” has been covered 350 times, which is insane.  The most notable has to be the Counting Crows version featuring Vanessa Carlton.  I like the fact that they made the song their own without destroying it.  I’ve heard people cover iconic songs like “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and “Both Sides, Now” and just ruin them because they were “making it their own” because “they’re artists.”  I feel like the Counting Crows’ version holds the integrity of Mitchell’s version, but they give it a warmer color with the bass and drums (listen to both version above).

An interesting thing about Joni Mitchell that I’ve noticed is that she has written some iconic songs that many musicians cover, but she had very little success in terms of radio hits and chart performance.  The only song she had land in the top 10 of the  Billboard Hot 100 was her song “Help Me” from the 1974 album Court and Spark.  But songs like “Big Yellow Taxi,” “Both Sides, Now,” “River,” and “Woodstock” have been covered copious amounts of times.  Even on her website, they list out how many recordings were made of these songs; “Both Sides, Now” was covered and recored a whopping 955 times!  The list is actually intriguing to look at, read it here.

So, “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell/Counting Crows is #PhillipsSongOfTheDay because the lyrics work on so many levels, and because both versions rock.  I commend Mitchell’s guitar performance, which, like her song “Both Sides, Now,” is in her own unique style, but I also like at the end how she sings the song up an octave then down and octave and laughs.  The Counting Crows version again takes Mitchell’s song to a whole new mellow place, which deserves the #PhillipsSongOfTheDay mention.


P.S. If you haven’t seen Two Weeks Notice starring Sandy B (Sandra Bullock) then you need to.  Here’s the trailer:

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