15 Comments

  1. Joni did write it, but it was the song that made Judy a star. In my head, I think I’m more likely to hear Judy’s version. That might be because my father was a big Judy Collins fan, though.

  2. All good geezers should be more familiar with Judy’s cover of Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?”, anyway.

  3. “Big Yellow Taxi” seems like her metaphor — and the whole song — got away from her: an “I lost my love” love song (I mean, why is it called “Big Yellow Taxi” if it’s an environmental song?), so here are a couple of metaphors about what it’s like when you break up, but actually, hey, these metaphors are pretty compelling in their own right, and yeah, actually, isn’t it a big problem, all these environmental things? Yeah! So… where was I?
    (It might also be about a parent leaving, but I would suggest you don’t really need them leaving to let you know how good you had it while they were still there, whereas that sentiment works much better when about a lover, but I’ll grant it’s a plausible interpretation; nowadays “my old man” seems to exclusively mean “father”, such that we forget its meaning was once much less crystallized and was used to refer to “significant other”. Either way, her metaphor still got away from her.)

  4. FWIW I definitely associate it more with Joni than Judy. And much as I like Pete Seeger I really don’t like his cover at all.

  5. Apparently there is even more ambiguity in “Big Yellow Taxi” than if it’s about a parent or lover leaving: the titular big yellow taxi could be referring to a police car, and not an actual taxi, as the police cars in Toronto (where Mitchell lived and performed) were yellow at the time. So was her “old man” leaving on his own in a taxi he’d called, or was he being taken away by the police? If the latter, I would argue that the metaphor is even more out of control than I originally thought, because if your old man has to be taken away by the police, you may well realize that you don’t know what you had till it’s gone, but that thing you had was a massive honking NEGATIVE thing, and now that it’s gone, you realize how BADLY off you were — which doesn’t track well with the metaphor of paving paradise to put up a parking lot unless you are advocating that the parking lot is much better than the malarial swamp “paradise” you had before….

  6. Did the caption really *need* to specify “circa 2500 A.D.”?

    That just seems weird and confusing.

    Yes, I know Judy Collins … (goes and googles)… is still alive so this has to take place some time in the future and then it’d be creepy and off putting to put it only five or ten or even twenty years in the future, and that it needs to be some period of time later than that to get all the angels sick of it, but that’s really too much thought obfuscation for such a simply joke.

    A simple “Judy Collins in heaven” is surely enough and would be understandable, wouldn’t it?

  7. “because if your old man has to be taken away by the police, you may well realize that you don’t know what you had till it’s gone, but that thing you had was a massive honking NEGATIVE thing, and now that it’s gone, you realize how BADLY off you were — which doesn’t track well with the metaphor of paving paradise to put up a parking lot ”

    Just throwing this out there because I never thought of it as life before as a negative thing… but maybe “paradise” was memories and interpretations of ones life and “parking lot” is thoughts and interpretations of your life now that you’ve been enlightened. “I was so much happier and satisfied before I knew how miserable and awful I was”.

    The passive voice always threw me. “A taxi took away my old man” always sounded to me like a taxi came and hauled away her old man’s dead body and went off to dump it somewhere. But I always figured that was just my weird interpretation.

  8. I thought the caption was unnecessary too. I mean after even a few hours of hearing any song over and over, I would get tired of it regardless of how much I liked the song.

    FWIW I am more familiar with Judy’s version, maybe because it was popular around the time I started getting interested in pop music.

  9. In order for this joke to work you have to forget that Judy also had a big hit with this:

    It was a top 20 hit in the US. It was her top hit in the UK, reaching #5 and spending over a year (!) on the charts. In the U.S. “Both Sides” was her highest charting hit, but both “Grace” and “Send in the Clowns” stayed on the charts longer.

  10. In most cases I tend to prefer the “original” version of a given song over any “cover”, but I have to say that Judy Collins did a much better job of smoothing Joni Mitchell’s lyrics into flowing sentences. I did discover a live studio version in which Joni was almost as good, but it suffers from poor microphone work.

  11. And then there’s the incredible Dave Van Ronk version (which I think he titled simply “Clouds”):

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