Joni Mitchell remembers the inspiration for "Big Yellow Taxi" very well.
"I wrote 'Big Yellow Taxi' on my first trip to Hawaii," she told the L.A. Times in 1996. "I took a taxi to the hotel and when I woke up the next morning, I threw back the curtains and saw these beautiful green mountains in the distance. Then, I looked down and there was a parking lot as far as the eye could see, and it broke my heart . . . this blight on paradise. That’s when I sat down and wrote the song."
Originally appearing on Mitchell's Ladies of the Canyon album, "Big Yellow Taxi" would be released as a single in April 1970. While the song would initially stall as a single at #67 on the Hot 100, the tune's environmental message picked up steam in the place that inspired it.
"When it first came out, it was a regional hit in Hawaii because people there realized their paradise was being chewed up," Mitchell explained. "It took 20 years for that song to sink in to people most other places in the country. That is a powerful little song because there have been cases in a couple of cities of parking lots being torn up and turned into parks because of it."
Mitchell would release Miles of Aisles, her first live album, in November 1974. The live version of "Big Yellow Taxi" recorded in Los Angeles would be released as a single, and fare much better than the original. Building on the momentum gained from recent charting singles, the live version would crash into the top 30, peaking at #24 on Valentine's Day 1975. The #1 song in America that week: Linda Ronstadt's "You're No Good."
The song has been covered by a wide range of artists from Counting Crows to the Neighbourhood. "Big Yellow Taxi" was famously sampled by Janet Jackson for her 1997 hit, "Got 'Til It's Gone."
Speaking to Mojo in 1994, Mitchell explained that she came to a realization about her music: "What I realize now is that songs like 'Circle Game' and 'Big Yellow Taxi' have almost become nursery rhymes, they've become part of the culture."