KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #116: Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #116: Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell.

“Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell has become known as one of the biggest pro-environmental songs of all-time. For those who may not know, the idea for the song came to Joni one morning when she was visiting in Hawaii. Upon waking up, she went to her window and looked out at a seemingly endless ribbon of lush, green mountains and lovely azure waters and then, she gazed downward and saw pavement stretching as far across the land as she could see. The pavement ran like a scar. It filled her with a sense of disappointment and disgust which caused her to write the iconic line, “They’ve paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

I am not sure why Joni MItchell was in Hawaii as 1970 dawned. I do know that Buffy St. Marie lived there for most of her life and that, as well, she and Joni were friends so, it could have been that Joni was there visiting with Buffy but, alas, they didn’t consult me, as I was only in Grade 1 at the time. Among the other things that raised Joni’s ire was the fact that, on a chain of islands that are home to some of the most exotic types of plants and wildlife in the world, there is a museum in Oahu that houses trees so that they can be protected from humans. None of it made sense to Joni so she exorcised her frustrations by creating the lyrics to a song that became “Big Yellow Taxi”.

“Big Yellow Taxi” came from an album called, “Ladies of the Canyon”. While not her most famous album, “Ladies of the Canyon” is, none-the-less, heralded as being a very important album for Mitchell in the evolution of her career. “Ladies of the Canyon” was her third studio album. It was an album that saw her beginning to move away from her purely Folk roots. On this album, Mitchell wrote songs that used back-up harmonies, greater use of backing instruments and so on. The bulk of the album was written while she lived in a part of California known as Laurel Canyon; hence, the use of “Canyon” in her album title. As the 1960s drew to a close and the 70s began, Laurel Canyon was home to a vibrant Arts scene. Some of Joni Mitchell’s neighbours in Laurel Canyon included James Taylor, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Neil Young, Brian Wilson, Michelle Phillips and many more. During this time, it was quite common for each of these wonderful performers to show up at one another’s door, guitar in hand, ready to share new ideas that they had. There was a feeling of community in Laurel Canyon that bonded these artists and helped to solidify the “California” sound that began a few years earlier with the Beach Boys, CSNY, the Byrds and so on. It is, also, said that, in addition to sharing musical ideas with each other that, on occasion, romance was shared, as well.

Regardless of whether she was waking up in Hawaii or Laurel Canyon, alone or with a lover, Joni Mitchell was entering some of the most productive and important years of her career as the 1970s began. “Ladies of the Canyon” and her next album, “Blue” yielded some of the most well-known and loved songs of all-time; “Big Yellow Taxi” being one of them, for sure. One of the mysteries that arose from this song was its title. What did a “Big Yellow Taxi” have to do with covering Hawaii with asphalt? Well, the story is that the “Big Yellow Taxi” referenced in the song was actually a Toronto police car (apparently, they were yellow back in the day). Before Joni left Canada for the US, someone close to her was taken away by the police. This caused her to harbour the sentiment that you don’t always miss what you had until it is gone. That sentiment returned to her, full force, when she thought about how we, humans, are treating the environment. I feel that way, too, with every farmer’s field around Cobourg that is being plowed under so that subdivisions can be built and land developers can line their greedy little pockets. But anyway, as mentioned, “Big Yellow Taxi” has gone on to become one of Joni Mitchell’s most well-known songs. In a musical catalogue filled with big hits, that “Big Yellow Taxi” resonates so, points to the power of a good line and the value of promoting important ideals that so many hold dear.

Without further delay, here is Joni Mitchell with “Big Yellow Taxi” from her album, “Ladies of the Canyon”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell, can be found here.

The link to the official website of Joni Mitchell, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #20: Case of You by Joni Mitchell.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #20: Case of You by Joni Mitchell.

“Case of You” by Joni Mitchell is a love song, a break-up song and an empowerment song, all rolled up into one song. But, as we all know from our own listening preferences, from an examination of some of the songs in this very countdown and from our own personal life experiences, there are plenty of love songs, break up songs and/or empowerment songs out there in the world. So, the question becomes, what is it that makes this particular song, “Case of You” by Joni Mitchell, that merits it being ranked as one of the very best songs of all-time? What is it about this love song, break-up song, empowerment song that has caused it to be covered by over 200 different artists; many of whom state that this song changed how they wrote their own music and how they listened to the music of others? What is it that makes “Case of You” so special? Let’s see if I can explain it in any satisfactory manner at all. Here goes.

“Case of You” comes from an album called, “Blue”. This album is hailed by many people as being Joni Mitchell’s best work. In her own words, Mitchell describes this period of her life as being one where her emotional defences were completely down and, as such, she was open to experiencing all manner of things that Life had to offer. Just prior to starting to write the songs for “Blue”, Mitchell had moved into her famous abode in Laurel Canyon, California, and was just starting to launch what would become her legendary career. As a woman, she had tried and failed to start her own career in Toronto. She had given birth to a child who was put up for adoption. She married a man who convinced her to move to the US and then, they divorced. Finally, Mitchell arrived in California and got to know a community of musicians such as Carole King, Buffy Ste. Marie, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Neil Young, David Crosby, Brian Wilson and Graham Nash, with whom she began a relationship. For many reasons, her relationship with Nash was Mitchell’s first taste of a love that felt genuine and true. With Nash, she felt safe…..safe enough to let her emotional defences down and allow him into her heart. With trust came commitment and for the better part of a year, they were a couple. With that portion of her life seemingly in order, Mitchell had the confidence to follow her musical muse wherever it took her. She produced great songs of her own and, as well, played with many of the musicians she called friends, on projects of their own. Those were heady days, personally and professionally, for Joni Mitchell. And then, just like that, it was over.

For a myriad of reasons, Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash broke up. From the ashes of that loss came the inspiration for the songs that ended up on the album, “Blue”. In particular, the song “Case of You” is directly inspired by her feelings for Graham Nash. To my mind, one of the things that makes “Case of You” stand out from the roster of similar-themed songs in the world…..yes, Taylor Swift, I am looking at you…….is the maturity with which Mitchell deals with the depth of emotions at play in her heart and mind. In the song, Joni Mitchell sings of how strong the bonds were and how she would readily do it all over again, even knowing how it would end, if it meant feeling the high of it all, one more time. Mitchell sings of the strain that caused the breakup and accepts her role in it, without denying Nash his part in their story. Finally, Mitchell sings of the gratitude she feels for having experienced what she has and that, the experience of it has made her stronger and will serve her well, going forward into an unknown future.

But, for the most part, I really think you have to watch and listen to her sing the lyrics of “Case of You” to get why it is different from all of the other love/breakup songs out there. When I listen, I hear a woman singing…..not a girl. I can feel how deep these emotions run and how close to the surface they still are. This song seems very real when Joni Mitchell sings it. My reaction to her performance springs from childhood stories such as “The Velveteen Rabbit” where the rabbit was all worn down and ragged but showed as beautiful because the rabbit had been loved. Love changes you. You grow in ways that can’t be drawn up as part of some marketing strategy. Loving someone and being loved in reply is not like being on-brand. It is so much deeper and richer and life-altering than that. It is everything. So, when Joni Mitchell sings:

I would drink a case of you, darling

And I would still be on my feet.

I feel everything, too. I am sure that many of those who view “Case of You” as being musical treasure come at it, first with their hearts and then, their ears, as I do. This isn’t a song about sex or body parts or money or fame….it is about Love. In my opinion, there is nothing better in life than that. For that reason, I think that Joni Mitchell has captured the essence of what Love means better than anyone ever has and, as such, that is why her song is revered as it is and why it finds itself so very near the top of this list of the best and most important songs of all-time. When Love exists, it causes you to let someone into your heart. Joni Mitchell has trusted us, as listeners, with her heart at its most vulnerable. We, in turn, have returned that trust in full. That’s what Love does. That’s why “Case of You” is such a special song.

The link to the video for the song, “Case of You” by Joni Mitchell, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Joni Mitchell, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #158: Helpless by Neil Young.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #158: Helpless by Neil Young.

There is a town in north Ontario,

Dream comfort memory to spare

And in my mind, I still need a place to go,

All my changes were there.”

And so begins Neil Young’s answer to the question, “Where are you from, son?”

To be technically correct, “Helpless” was a song that was first released on an album called “Deja Vu”, which is a Crosby, Still, Nash and Young album. He didn’t officially release “Helpless”, as his own song, until almost seven years later when he released his “Decade” compilation album. To be honest, I have always considered it to be his song (as opposed to CSNY) because it is an homage to the place where he spent much of his childhood.

The town that Neil is referring to is Omeemee, Ontario. Although he was born in Toronto, Neil Young spent his youthful days in Omeemee. Having said that, Omeemee, Ontario is hardly in “north Ontario”. It resides approximately an hour northwest of where I live in Cobourg, which sits on the shores of Lake Ontario. By contrast, my lovely wife, Keri, attended university in Thunder Bay which, by car, is a full eighteen hours away and, even then, it is not the northern-most place one can reach and still be in Ontario. This speaks to the vastness of the land we call, Canada. But, perhaps, back in the early 1970s, when “Helpless” was written, being an hour north of Lake Ontario made Neil feel that he was in “north Ontario”.

Neil Young describes Omeemee as being a small town where all of the kids walked to school on their own and where everyone knew everybody else. He has said that there was a lot of freedom to go anywhere and do anything he wanted in Omeemee because, basically, there was nothing really there so all of the games he played were made up, with imagination being a pre-requisite for fun. But, some of his memories are bittersweet, as well. For instance, he developed polio as a very young child and, actually, spent some time in Florida where his parents believed the warmer climate would be beneficial. It was, also, during his time in Omeemee that his parents divorced; with Neil going to live with his mother, while his father, journalist/writer, Scott Young, continuing to make a national name for himself in Canada. As Neil says in his lyrics, “All my changes were there”.

“Helpless” was a song that filled many Canadians with pride when it was first released. In the late 1960s/early 1970s, we, as Canadians, still measured the success of our singers and movie stars, in terms of their acceptance in America. So, first of all, to have singers like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen and, soon to be, Anne Murray, become stars, in their own right, in America, meant that they had truly made it in our national eyes, too. But, more than that, the fact that Neil Young wrote of Canada and that he sang the words, “north Ontario” to U.S. audiences, was very special to us. The way Young sang “Helpless” almost made Omeemee sound exotic and alluring, in the same manner that some others sang of Kashmir or Marrakech.

One thing about Neil Young is that he is a very generous person. He has voluntarily performed at numerous benefits, such as LiveAid and FarmAid (helping to organize the latter) and has sung “Helpless” at all such events. However, the video that I am going to share comes from a different event which was, the final concert of the group known as “The Band”. Their final concert was made into a movie/documentary called “The Last Waltz” and was filmed by famous director, Martin Scorcese. In this video, Neil Young is introduced as a special guest. He sings “Helpless” along side Robbie Robertson and Rick Danko, with backup accompaniment by Joni Mitchell. Because of the skill of Martin Scorcese with how he shot this song, along with the emotion of the moment among those on stage, this version of “Helpless” has always been my favourite. What a gorgeous rendition this is. Wow! If you have a different version that tickles your fancy, feel free to pop it into the comments below.

For now, please enjoy Neil Young’s ode to Omeemee, Ontario. Here is “Helpless”.

The link to the video for the song, “Helpless” by Neil Young, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Neil Young, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #52: Both Sides, Now by Joni Mitchell/Judy Collins.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #52: Both Sides, Now by Joni Mitchell/Judy Collins.

As mentioned in a previous post *(which you can read here), Joni Mitchell had gotten off to a somewhat difficult start to her life. She had moved away from her family. She had tried to start a music career for herself in Toronto and failed. She had become pregnant and had given her child up for adoption. Finally, she had moved to the US to marry a man named Chuck Mitchell; a marriage that quickly ended in divorce. So, Joni Mitchell found herself sitting on an airplane, reading a book by Saul Bellow about giving up one’s traditional life and starting anew, far from where you had been. In Joni’s case, she was heading to California, eventually settling in Laurel Canyon. But, at the time she was reading the book, she came to a passage about clouds that gave her pause. As she absorbed Bellow’s words about clouds and the images they possess and the meaning that may have for the observer, Mitchell gazed out of her airplane window and saw the most beautiful cloud formations, too. She was immediately inspired to write down the myriad of thoughts that were forming in her mind. Those thoughts ended up taking the form of a song called, “Both Sides, Now”.

When Joni Mitchell settled into her new home in California, she wasn’t the star that she would become. Instead, Mitchell was just another young singer with a passion for music and a few original songs in a notebook. However, once ensconced in her new home, she began travelling to local coffee houses and cafes and soon met a man named Al Kooper, who was in the music business. Mitchell told him she had a notebook of songs in her home and if he wanted to hear them, she would sing for him. He agreed. One of the songs her heard was, “Both Sides, Now”. Immediately, Kooper recognized the potential of the song. He knew Judy Collins and asked Mitchell if she wanted him to contact Collins, on her behalf. Mitchell was said to have been very excited. So, Kooper got Collins on the phone and had Joni Mitchell sing her “Both Sides, Now”. Like Cooper, Judy Collins loved the song the first time she heard it, too. Collins thought it was a beautifully written song and that it captured the world as seen through a woman’s eyes better than anything she had ever heard before. Mitchell agreed to let Judy Collins record the song. It was her first major song sale. Under Judy Collins skilled watch, her rendition of “Both Sides, Now” raced up the charts and became one of her signature tunes. In doing so, it opened the door for Joni Mitchell to enter the music business in a formal way. From that point on, Mitchell began making many industry connections, which lead to an offer to record an album. Her second album ended up being called, “Clouds”, based upon the song, “Both Sides, Now”. Joni recorded her own version of the song for that album and it scored a chart success as well. Several decades later, Joni Mitchell re-recorded “Both Sides, Now” for a retrospective album. Many people; especially, many women, like her second version better because, as they say, she sings those lyrics with greater wisdom and weariness from having lived a woman’s life lo, those many years.

As time passed, Joni Mitchell went on to become the legendary performer that we have all come to know her as. However, during that time, she has been often asked about how she got her start and how Judy Collins singing her song helped jumpstart her career. With each interview, Joni Mitchell has grown more bitter and resentful of the attention given to Judy Collins. Mitchell has even gone so far as to publicly claim that she does not even like Collins’ version of the song and never has. When Judy Collins was asked for her reaction to Joni Mitchell’s change of tune, she could only express her sadness, saying that it is always it is always disappointing when a song’s original writer proclaims a dislike for your interpretation of their song. But, aside from that, Judy Collins has not backed down and has left Joni Mitchell to stew in her own bitterness.

That the two principal performers in this story have chosen to remain estranged is too bad because it detracts from the beauty of the message contained within the lyrics of this song. “Both Sides, Now” is a lovely song. Its’ lyrics are wispy and ethereal, evoking images of lives lived, choices made, with regrets and affirmations being collected along the way. It is not surprising that “Both Sides, Now” has been covered by countless singers and has been played in numerous movies and television series. It is a song about Life’s journey, as told by a woman. That the point of view is from the female perspective means everything. It is a song with a message that continues to resonate almost sixty years after it was first written by a young woman on a plane, above the clouds, in search of a new life in a far away land.

Without further delay, here is “Both Sides, Now” by both, Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins. Enjoy both versions. They are equally terrific.

The link to the video for the song, “Both Sides, Now” by Joni Mitchell, can be found here.

The link tot he official website for Joni Mitchell, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Both Sides Now” by Judy Collins, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Judy Collins, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #194: Help Me by Joni Mitchell.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #194: Help Me by Joni Mitchell.

To be honest, I feel somewhat inadequate to do justice to the career of Joni Mitchell. Her career and her life read like an epic novel. I will try to capture her essence in this post (and in the three others to follow over the course of the rest of this countdown). Joni Mitchell is a legendary musical figure; one who is respected and adored by everyone from Madonna to Prince, from Pink to Alanis Morissette, from folk singers to jazz singers and everyone in between. She was a first-ballot inductee to The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. She is a polio-survivor, a smoker from childhood, a fiercely independent person in all regards, a lover of many and a devotee of few. Her musical catalogue spans almost sixty years yet, she had only one Top Ten hit ever…..it was a song called, “Help Me” from her most commercially successful album, “Court and Spark”. Here is the story of “Help Me”.

Joni Anderson was born in 1943. She grew up a military brat and moved around a lot as a child; eventually settling in Saskatoon. It was in her youth that she contracted polio. She was able to overcome the disease but, one of the lasting affects it had on her was that it made her wrists weak. Thus, when Joni decided that exploring her creative side was the path she would follow, she began by painting and by playing the acoustic guitar. In both cases, the weakness in her wrists caused her to have to resort to unconventional techniques when it came to holding a brush and strumming her guitar strings. In particular, with music, her style of guitar playing (along with the quality of her poetry/song lyrics) was what brought her to the attention of her first audiences. What could have been seen as a defect was, instead, viewed as being breath-takingly original and haunting. On a second important note from her youthful years in Saskatchewan, because she moved around a lot, Joni never made permanent friends. Being transitiory in nature caused her to experiment socially with things like drugs and alcohol but, most notably, with smoking. Anderson was a full-fledged smoker BEFORE entering high school. Needless to say, the copious amounts of smoking she did gave her voice a unique timbre, as well. So, once again, what could have been seen as a character flaw ended up becoming one of her defining traits.

Joni left Saskatchewan and moved to Toronto when she was just turning twenty. It was her aim to become a major player in the burgeoning Folk Music scene that was coalescing around Yorkville and around people like Gordon Lightfoot, Buffy Sainte Marie and Leonard Cohen (from Montreal). The Folk scene in Toronto never really worked out for Joni. She found the scene very closed-off and the singers very territorial about their music. It was while in Toronto that she became pregnant. Barely making enough money to afford food and rent for herself, she reluctantly gave her newborn up for adoption. One of her first songs ever recorded was about her child and was called, “Little Green” (which ended up on her critically acclaimed album, “Blue”, which we will talk about more on a future post). Not long after giving birth, she met a man named Chuck Mitchell, who promised her that a career in the US was waiting for her, as long as she agreed to follow him there. He was a singer and musician, too. Joni fell in love with him and soon they were married. Joni Anderson became Joni Mitchell. Her American adventure was now at hand.

I will continue with her life story in the next post. But, suffice to say, her early upbringing had a huge influence on her career. One of Mitchell’s defining personal traits was her unwillingness to conform to societal expectations. She always wanted to do her own thing, in her own style, at her own pace. So, when she recorded the song, “Help Me”, it was only after deciding that she was tired of being pigeon-holed as a Folk singer. She always thought she was more than that and, to prove it, she hired a Jazz ensemble called “The L.A. Express” to be her backing band. Thus, the album, “Court and Spark” became known as Mitchell’s “Jazz album”. Whatever the case, it was her most well-recieved album and the one that brought her the most commercial success. Naturally, Mitchell bristled at her fame. In later years, she referred to “Help Me” as a “Company song” that pleased record executives more than it pleased her. But, none the less, it was her only Top Ten hit and is what you shall all shortly hear for yourselves.

Joni Mitchell is an artist in every sense of the word. She embodies what it means to think and live artistically; this is seen in the products she creates and in the manner in which she views other people and her own life, too. She has high personal standards for those she loves and for her work. She suffers no fools, either. As this countdown unfolds, we will visit with Joni Mitchell again three times. Hopefully, by the end of those three remaining posts, we will all have a much fuller view of this lady’s incredible life. For now, we have “Help Me” from “Court and Spark”, the song that, for many casual fans, was their introduction to Joni Mitchell. I hope that you enjoy it. Have a wonderful day, all!

The link to the video for the song, “Help Me” by Joni Mitchell, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Joni Mitchell, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.