I start most of my university courses with music, and lately I have decided that this song is essential for the first day in both my survey course and my course focused on land protection. (For the latter, I play The Trees even before Taxi.)
I have been using two versions of Big Yellow Taxi:
A 2023 tribute recording on the occasion of her winning the Library of Congress Gershwin Award. Joni Mitchell listens as Angelique Kidjo, Cyndi Lauper, Annie Lennox, Brandi Carlile, Lidisi, and Lucius perform the song with great energy. I get particularly emotional at this rendition, both because of Joni's reaction throughout and because I have been lucky enough to see two of these performers (Kidjo and Lauper) in person.
and Joni Mitchell in Concert 1970, a perfect version despite the fuzziness of the video.
|Image: from the more-or-less official video|
This simple song -- written, indeed, in the form of a children's lullaby -- has been covered more than almost any other -- over 400 and counting. In just a few minutes, she outlines much of what was wrong on our planet a half century ago -- and much of what continues to ail us.
Writing for the Financial Times in 2019, journalist Charles Morris explains that part of the appeal of this song is Mitchell's ability to connect the political and the personal in just a few, simply worded lines -- without hubris. His article explains the history of the song -- both origin and aftermath -- with deftly embedded audio clips.
Before really listening to Big Yellow Taxi, I had been most familiar with Mitchell's 1994 Turbulent Indigo, which I had heard while staying with an American-Brazilian friend for a few days in the Amazon in 1996. The CD became a staple in our household for years, and is a rich, lyrical tapestry.
It includes Magdalene Laundry, an ode to the victims of a brutal institution to which Sinead O'Connor's bravely brought global attention with her 1992 protest on Saturday Night Live.