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What are Green Songs? Joni Mitchell and Neil Young sing them

Updated on December 18, 2014

What are Green Songs?

"Green Songs" are any that make reference to the Earth and raise awareness about environmental issues. They are about our relationship with Mother Earth and about the damage being done to the ecosystem by pollution, deforestation and the destruction of the environment. Green Songs could also be about wildlife conservation.

They are usually in the form of protests songs but don't necessarily get written and recorded by singers known for working in that genre. For example the late Michael Jackson, who was known as the "Prince of Pop," released his very dramatic, almost operatic, single Earth Song. Neil Young and Joni Mitchell are two more world-famous singer-songwriters who have written and recorded Green Songs.

Big Yellow Taxi

Big Yellow Taxi artwork from the single by Joni Mitchell. Copyright Warner Bros. Records but used as an illustration and believed to constitute Fair Use.
Big Yellow Taxi artwork from the single by Joni Mitchell. Copyright Warner Bros. Records but used as an illustration and believed to constitute Fair Use. | Source

Big yellow taxi ( with lyrics ) - Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi

Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi just had to be included here. This song became a classic protest song from the tail end of the sixties that spoke out about the destruction of nature and the dangers of pesticides.

Big Yellow Taxi was soon an international hit after being released in 1970. It has been covered by others artists since then, including Bob Dylan, The Neighborhood, Amy Grant and Counting Crows.

Joni Mitchell explaining her inspiration for the song, once told the journalist Alan McDougall: “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.”

Big Yellow Taxi makes reference to the dangers of pesticide use in the lyric: “Hey farmer, farmer, put away the DDT now.”

Prophetically, as it has turned out with the problems bees have faced in recent years with what has been termed "Colony Collapse Disorder", she voices her concerns about the insects where she sings: "Give me spots on my apples but leave me the birds and the bees, please."

And commenting on deforestation Joni sings: "They took all the trees, and put 'em in a tree museum/And charged the people a dollar and a half just to see 'em."

Big Yellow Taxi is one of Joni Mitchell's most successful and well-known songs and it is still as popular today as when it was first released. With the all too obvious ongoing environmental destruction and the cutting down and burning of forests, the song has become even more relevant.

Michael Jackson's Earth Song

Earth Song was a single taken from Michael Jackson’s album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book 1. It went to number one in December 1995 in the UK charts and stayed there for six weeks, as Michael Jackson’s most successful single ever in Britain. It also went to the top of the charts in Switzerland, Spain and Germany and was a hit internationally.

Earth Song was not the usual fast-paced style many of Jackson’s other songs but is a gospel-flavoured epic and accompanied by a very lavish video set in various locations and dramatically showing Michael walking through scenes of devastation in a burned down forest, as well as singing out as destruction is going on all around him.

There are shots of African villagers and a dead elephant, of trees being cut down and forests destroyed. Towards the end of the video we see the trees miraculously restored and the elephant comes alive again. Michael Jackson is framed in many of the shots with arms outstretched, almost in Crucifixion stance as he makes a plea to God, and we can make a mental jump to ideas about Christ and rebirth in some future Paradise regained.

Neil Young's Greendale

Greendale is a very unusual album by Neil Young that was a real “concept album” and evolved into a multi media project as a graphic novel, a movie, a tour and a comic adaptation. Set in the American fictional town of Greendale it follows the fortunes and misfortunes of the town’s residents and in particular the Green family.

For the album’s recording and tour Neil Young was backed by the rock band Crazy Horse, as he has so often been in the past.

Greendale was such a change of style for Neil Young as a singer-songwriter and rock guitarist that some of his fans didn’t know what to make of the album, and the same went for the music critics. It is an album you either love or hate really. I am in the former category and think it is one of his finest moments!

Sun Green

Sun Green, the daughter in the Green family, becomes a heroine of the album’s narrative and also very much an activist. After her grandpa dies she starts speaking out at anything “unjust and packed with lies” she finds. In a public demonstration she chains herself to part of the PowerCo building and armed with a megaphone starts yelling words of protest including: “There’s corruption on the highest floor.”

Sarah White, a friend of Young's daughter Amber, plays the part of Sun Green on stage and in the film.

In the songs Sun Green and Be The Rain we see how Sun gets involved with "Earth Brown" and in being a “Goddess in the planet wars” to “try to save the living things.” The lyrics of the latter song talk of saving the planet and going to Alaska “before the big machines”.

Michael Jackson - Earth Song

Roy Harper

British singer-songwriter and guitarist Roy Harper has frequently used the state of the world and the environment as subject matter for his songs that are a mixture of social commentary and protest song, and often epic in length and depth.

I Hate The White Man, from the Harvest album Flat Baroque and Beserk that was released in 1970, is one of Harper's most powerful lyrics ever and, not surprisingly, a big hit with his fans.

In the song, backed only by his semi-acoustic guitar, Harper sings that "there once was a time for you and me." And he continues: "Where the winds blow sweetly, and the easy seas flow still, where the barefoot dream of life can laugh and cry its fill."

But sharply contrasted with this is the "plastic universe" that the "White man" creates as he "tries to rule the dust".

Because of the terrible destruction the "White man" brings to the world it causes Harper to "hate the white man, and the man who turned him loose."

The online music guide Allmusic said of this song: "certainly one of his most notable (and notorious) compositions, a spew of lilting verbiage that's hard to peg. It could be irony, it could be ironic self-hatred, it could be muddled reflections on the chaos that is the modern world, or it could be a combination of all of them."

Because "the man who turned him loose" is clearly a reference to God some people may find the song offensive but Harper is an atheist and has covered the subject of his lack of belief in other songs. And he is clearly a "white man" himself!

Buy This Is Our Planet on Amazon

Green Songs as an album

I have had the idea for a personal project I would love to see come together some day if the backing can be found to make this a reality. I think a compilation album entitled Green Songs and featuring Various Artists would attract a lot of interest and sell well.

My personal involvement in it would be as the person who thought up the idea, and I would want to see my song This Is Our Planet included in the selection of songs. Will this ever happen? Only time will tell!

This Is Our Planet

For very problem there's an answer somewhere in this world

And for every lonely boy somewhere there's a lonely girl

For every wrong there must be a right

For every day there's always night

And I've been told this is our planet and utopia could be

If we get it right this time we could all be really free.

Whatever's going wrong right now its cause lies in the past

Whatever you think you can always have you really know it cannot last

And life and love they often change, I'm sure you must agree

And one day soon you'll have to choose on which side you want to be.

And I've been told this is our planet and utopia could be

If we get it right this time we could all be really free.

For very problem there's an answer somewhere in this world

And for every lonely boy somewhere there's a lonely girl

For every wrong there must be a right

For every day there's always night

And I've been told this is our planet and utopia could be

If we get it right this time we could all be really free.

Words by Steve Andrews/Bard of Ely

© 2012 Steve Andrews


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