Counting Crows, ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ – Terrible Classic Rock Covers
Let’s just get this out of the way: We really like the Counting Crows. In fact, the first three albums they released in the ’90s still get plenty of spins around here. But sometime after the turn of the century, things took a turn for the worst.
‘Hard Candy’ (from 2002) had a lot going for it — like a great opening title track with a Byrds-style Rickenbacker guitar thing, and a song that pays tribute to the late, great Richard Manuel of the Band (well, at least its title does). But like so many CD-era albums, there’s a hidden track at the end of ‘Hard Candy’: a cover of Joni Mitchell’s classic ‘Big Yellow Taxi.’
What’s so fun about Mitchell’s original version of the song is its carefree feeling, even though it’s basically pessimistic with a stern warning — if you mess up the environment, you’ll have hell to pay in the future. The “big yellow taxi” is a mere metaphor for bigger issues here. Add Mitchell’s signature open-tuned acoustic guitar and that higher-than-high vocal part near the end (which causes her to laugh), and you have yourself a winner of a song.
But the Crows’ cover has us asking, Why? First off, the beat sounds like it comes from one of those old Casio synths that hipsters really dig these days. Singer Adam Duritz’s scatty rendering of some of the choruses is beyond laughable. And most inexplicably, pop star Vanessa Carlton shows up doing this weird “ooom bop-bop-bop” thing. Finally, when the “screen door slams” in the Crows’ version, the big yellow taxi takes their “girl” away. Cue ironic applause.
We admit that Duritz’s vocals are actually pretty good, and the instrumentation, as is usually the case with Counting Crows songs, is impeccable. But if this song got paved forever under a parking lot forever, the world would be a whole lot better place.