Rubbish, piffle, tommyrot, drivel and utter bilge

Monday, April 11, 2011

100 Records That Shook The World, # 46

Ladies Of The Canyon (LP)

Joni Mitchell

Ladies of the Canyon is Joni Mitchell's third album, released in 1970. Its title refers to Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles, a center of popular music culture in Los Angeles during the sixties. It features several of Mitchell's most noted songs, including "Big Yellow Taxi", "Woodstock" and "The Circle Game".

At this point, Joni's artistic vision was becoming more defined. Here she was drawing inspiration from the complexities of love, from what she observed of the Woodstock generation, and from celebrity status and what it all meant. Ladies Of The Canyon is the difficult third album, the one that saw her departing from her folk-club beginnings and leaning towards more sophisticated and poignant work, giving us a taster of what was to come in later LPs such as Court And Spark and The Hissing Of Summer Lawns. And here was that monster hit Big Yellow Taxi, which has become a classic, and has been covered countless times.
Joni said this about writing the song to journalist Alan McDougall in the early 1970s:
"I wrote 'Big Yellow Taxi' on my first trip to Hawaii. 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.”
The song is known for its environmental concern (from the lyrics "They paved paradise to put up a parking lot", "Hey farmer, farmer, put away that DDT now") and sentimental sound. The line, "Took all the trees, put 'em in a tree museum/And charged the people a dollar and a half just to see 'em" refers to Foster Botanical Garden in downtown Honolulu, which is a living museum of tropical plants, some rare and endangered.

In the song's final verse, the political gives way to the personal. Mitchell recounts the departure of her "old man" in the titular "big yellow taxi", which may refer to the old Metro Toronto Police patrol cars (Joni's Canadian, but of course you knew that - right?) that until 1986 were painted yellow. In many cover versions the departed one may be interpreted as variously a boyfriend, a husband, or a father. The literal interpretation is that he is walking out on the singer by taking a taxi; otherwise it is assumed he is being taken away by the authorities.

Here's Joni.

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