Tag Archives: Joni Mitchell

Taylor Swift’s “Lucky” #PhillipsSongOfTheDay

I have this weird thing where I will wake up with a song playing in my head.  For the past week or so, it’s been “The Lucky One” by Taylor Swift.  I’m not entirely sure why, but I went back to listen to it, and I’m again blown away by Swift’s incredible songwriting, making it #PhillipsSongOfTheDay.

Taylor Swift is one of the greatest songwriters there is.  Since the release of her self-titled debut album in 2006, Swift has been knocking my socks off with her ability to created incredible melodies, hooks, and stories.  When I first heard her song “Teardrops On My Guitar,” I remember putting it on repeat and just being kind of in awe.  I’ve always had a passion for stories and music, but I never really realized that songwriting was putting them together.  My musical training only dealt with classical music (I’ve been playing the violin and cello since I was five), and my definition of music was pretty much going to orchestra and playing music from the 1600s (or whenever Bach and Mozart were alive).  I didn’t live a sheltered life; my parents were exposing me to all types of music since my birth (I still remember being like two and my mom playing a  Pat Benatar record for me), but I never fully realized that pop/rock/country music was in fact…music.  I know, it sounds incredibly stupid.  But, Taylor Swift is one of the few artists who writes all her music, and every song she writes is it’s own story.  She’s not here to make a political statement or preach to people on how to live their lives (like some other artists); she’s here to speak her truths through music.  Which I think is beautiful.

“The Lucky One” is truly an example of Taylor Swift’s superior songwriting and story-telling ability.  The story starts out describing a character moving out to L.A. in search of fame, and it actually working out.  Fast forward a little bit, and the character isn’t so happy with their new found fame, especially with having to deal with the press and with “feel[ing] used.”  We finally learn at the end that the character escapes fame, and “disappears.”  It has been speculated that this song is about Joni Mitchell, a music goddess and one of Swift’s inspirations.

The intriguing thing about these lyrics is the fact that Swift has this pre-chorus that she modifies throughout the song to magnify the character’s changing attitude.  For example, in the beginning, the character is excited about their success, and Swift sings “Another name goes up in lights, like diamonds in the sky,” (i.e. it’s a beautiful, incredible thing).  Then, in the second verse, the character isn’t so happy, and Swift modifies this lyric to be “Another name goes up in lights, you wonder if you’ll make it out alive.”  Finally, during the bridge, Swift relates to this character and sings, “Because now my name is up in lights, but I think you got it right.”  It’s just cool that she’s keeping the lyrical content consistent but changing ever so slightly.

This song is also classic Swift because she manages to create unique, intriguing lyrics that subtly rhyme.  Read the first verse:

“New to town with a made up name in the angel city,
Chasing fortune and fame.
And the camera flashes, make it look like a dream.
You had it figured out since you were in school.
Everybody loves pretty, everybody loves cool.
So overnight you look like a sixties’ queen.”
Does it appear that Swift is rhyming her words?  Not really.  She is just telling the story the way it needs to be told, and it naturally rhymes; she doesn’t sacrifice the integrity of the story to get it to rhyme.  Some artists, though, painfully make their songs rhyme.  A song that’s a classic example with this flaw is Bruno Mars’ song “Grenade.”  Take the line from that song, “Oh, I would go through all this pain/ Take a bullet straight through my brain.”  Colloquially, we would never say “I take a bullet straight through my brain,” we would say “take a bullet to the head” or perhaps even “chest” or “heart.”  The brain is never really an organ or body part that is referenced in everyday language.  Yet, the writers of “Grenade” (which I think Mars is one of them) chose to make this sacrifice for the song, and it’s just…awkward.  Another example from that song is when Mars sings “I’d catch a grenade for you/Throw my hand on a blade for you.”  Again, who refers to knives or shape objects as blades?  It just seems too forced to me.  Meanwhile, in “The Lucky One,” Swift writes “Now it’s big black cars, and Riviera views/ And your lover in the foyer doesn’t even know you.”  Here is a clever rhyme of “view” and “you;” it’s not forced, it’s natural.  She’s painting a scene of staying a swanky hotel and feeling lonely; she’s using common language, instead of taking liberties and forcing words to work.
As for the music within the song, the guitar strumming and steady drum gives the song a nice thought-provoking, yet real, air to it.  I’m not too thrilled with Jeff Bhasker’s production.  Compared to her other songs, this production quality is “eh, okay.”  I mean, I don’t really understand the ten seconds in the beginning of dead air.  The song, while great, would have been better if Swift worked with her usual co-producer Nathan Chapman, or perhaps co-produced it with Bhasker.  Bhasker’s production just doesn’t really feel like Swift.  Take a listen, let me know what you think:
“The Lucky One,” by Taylor Swift
You don’t need to be a swiftie or a big T. Swift fan to like her music or appreciate good songwriting.  Honestly, just spend an hour with Taylor on any of her albums, and you might find yourself standing in line for one of her concerts.  She’s that good.

“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: