The first time I heard “Big Yellow Taxi” was from a cover sung by Counting Crows featuring Vanessa Carlton. They covered Joni Mitchell’s song with a more upbeat vibe by contrasting the Counting Crows singer’s deep rasp voice with Carlton’s high pop voice. They sing it in a way that makes the song feel romantic and nostalgic, something that everyone can relate to.

Their music video also shows an industrialized city area showcasing the lack of nature. Counting Crows also point out the change in relationships with people, with either family or former lovers. That’s where they focus their idea of, “Don’t it always seem to go/ That you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.” The message in the music video shifts away from Joni Mitchell’s focus on preserving the environment and bringing awareness to its finite resources. Instead Counting Crows pivots towards a message about valuing your present relationships with people, acknowledging the change in circumstances but ultimately pushing for us to take control of what we want instead of letting it slip away. I value this cover for bringing the song “back” into the relevance and introducing me to Joni Mitchell.

In listening to both versions I came to realize how the different ways of delivering the song can make you feel the song differently. When listening to Joni Mitchell sing her song, it seems much more casual and personal, almost like a café solo. With just her taking the stage to sing and play the guitar it feels like she’s a narrator bringing you to each spot she illustrates in her song. She brings us along on her trip, which inspired the song. Her entreaties sound remorseful but at the end of the song, she drops her voice deep and has a little giggle, which ends the song on a more uplifting note. 

In another song cover sung by Sarah McLachlan and other women at the 1997 Lilith Fair music festival, this live performance shows a light-hearted take on the song. It was a music festival of all-female artists (Weiner), so the atmosphere was one of empowerment and “girl boss energy.” So using “Big Yellow Taxi” which was written by Mitchell, a successful female writer and musician shows how this medley of women saw her song as valuable to incorporate on their setlist. The sense of camaraderie on the stage sort of pushes the song into the background but it still demonstrates the timelessness of the song and its sense of community. The singers on stage do a great job mimicking Mitchell’s warbling voice while adding some rock to the song. 

This performance, similar to the Counting Crows cover, doesn’t portray Mitchell’s original message but they still harness it in a way that still delivers that sense of appreciation for something lost. Both covers demonstrate how this song functions as a platform for change in habits and a shift in community values.