Sometimes, the most unlikely collaborations are the best. Equally, other times they’re bloody terrible. Thankfully, this 1997 single by Janet Jackson, Q-Tip and Joni Mitchell falls into the former camp. Released on Jackson’s The Velvet Rope LP, ‘Got ‘Til It’s Gone’ is – as the title suggests – built around a sample from Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’.
Release in 1970 on Ladies of The Canyon, ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ sees Mitchell confront the environmental degradation and commercialisation of Hawaii. Speaking to The Los Angeles Times in 1966, Mitchell said: “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.”
In ‘Got ‘Til It’s Gone’, Jackson isolates the song’s sunny chorus, triggering it at neat intervals as a metrical backbeat swings pendulously beneath. Q-Tip joins Jackson on this particular offering, making numerous references to Mitchell throughout, who is credited as one of the track’s songwriters. Jackson was introduced to ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ by her producer Jimmy Jam, who was a life-long fan of Joni’s songwriting. While Mitchell’s original track is largely concerned with environmental decay, Jackson uses the “You don’t know what you got ’till it’s gone” line in reference to a relationship, conjuring up images of a fraught romance, the true value of which the speaker only became aware of when it was too late to go back.
That’s not to say Mitchell wasn’t also aware of the possible romantic connotations her listeners would draw from the track. In the final verse, she sings: “Late last night, I heard the screen door slam / And a big yellow taxi took my girl away / Don’t it always seem to go / That you don’t know what you got ’till it’s gone.” Here, an invented speaker mourns his “girl” walking out on him. As he watches the taxi taking her away, he suddenly realises that he may well have been happy after all. A little too late, Mitchell suggests.
If you haven’t already, make sure you check out Jackson’s sultry collaboration with Q-Tip and Mitchell. It’s bound to brighten up your day.