Sunday, 12 June 2016

My Top Ten Taxi Songs


This week, ten songs that'll get you home in a hurry.

Special mentions to the band Death Cab For Cutie (named after a Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band song) and Rick Springfield & Randy Crawford's Taxi Dancing, which was another contender for my Bickering Couples Top Ten.

Sorry, Joe le Taxi fans, I was 15 in 1987... and even then, I was too old for 14 year old Vanessa Paradis.

10. Bob James - Angela

The theme from Taxi: simple as that. Jazzy but cool. If you're of a certain age... even if you didn't watch the sitcom that gave us Danny DeVito, Andy Kaufman and Christopher Lloyd (not to mention Judd Hirsch, Marilu Henner and Tony 'Who's The Boss?' Danza)... this will likely bring back warm and fuzzy memories. I was ever-so slightly too young for it myself - Cheers was more my era - but it still makes me feel good.

See also Bernard Herrmann's Theme From Taxi Driver: same era, equally jazzy... not quite as warm and fuzzy. You talkin' to me?

9. Jens Lekman - Black Cab

Sweden's answer to the Magnetic Fields (via Jonathan Richman) isn't too fussy who he picks up in his cab...
They might be psycho-killers, 
But tonight, I really don't care...
Still in Scandinavia, check out Jens' Norwegian equivalent Sondre Lerche, with his Airport Taxi Reception. Taxi songs are big in Europe. You're still not getting Vanessa Paradis.

8. Tim Buckley - Nighthawkin'

Like a lot of struggling songwriters, Tim Buckley moonlighted as a taxi driver, which was probably the inspiration for this song about picking up a crazy Viet Nam vet on a scary night in L.A.

7. Warren Zevon - My Ride's Here

The final track on Zevon's penultimate album, many saw it as him preparing to shake hands with the reaper following his diagnosis with terminal cancer. By all accounts, the song was written well before that though... which makes the whole taxi-death metaphor eerily prescient.

I was staying at the Marriott
With Jesus and John Wayne
I was waiting for a chariot
They were waiting for a train
The sky was full of carrion
"I'll take the mazuma"
Said Jesus to Marion
"That's the 3:10 to Yuma
My ride's here..."

6. Prince - Lady Cab Driver

8 minutes of funky jam from the 1999 album; here, Prince gets taken for a ride by the eponymous lady and then she joins him in the back seat. You can guess the rest... but who the hell's driving the cab?

5. Bruce Springsteen - City Of Night

Another one you won't find on youtube, this is an outtake from the Darkness On The Edge Of Town sessions, finally released a few years back on The Promise collection. It begins with Bruce hailing a cab but then heads downtown into a deeper meditation on how we survive the darkness...

4. Harry Chapin - Taxi

Another epic story song from the Raymond Carver of popular music. Here Harry is a taxi driver who picks up an old flame on a rainy night. After she initially pretends not to recognise him, they eventually get to talking about old times and the space in between.

You see, she was gonna be an actress,
And I was gonna learn to fly.
She took off to find the footlights,
And I took off to find the sky.

When the ride's over, the guilty woman overtips her former lover and he pockets the change without further comment. But as with many Harry Chapin songs, this one has a sting in its tail. It seems both of them achieved their ambitions in life... metaphorically, at least.

3. Paul Simon - Gumboots

It starts and ends as a conversation in a taxi cab, and sandwiched in between is some of Paul Simon's finest witty wordplay. Although it's ultimately a song about very little (the Seinfeld of pop songs), Gumboots has always been one of my favourite tracks from Graceland.

I was walking down the street
When I thought I heard this voice say
"Say, ain't we walking down the same street
Together on the very same day?"
I said, "hey senorita
That's astute," I said
"Why don't we get together and call ourselves an institute now?"

Of course, the words are pure Paul Simon, but the tune is based largely around a melody by South African musicians Lulu Masilela and Jonhjon Mkhalali. It appeared on an unlabelled cassette compilation called Accordion Jive Vol. III which somebody gave Simon in the early 80s. It took him a while to hunt down the music's origins, but when he did, Graceland was born. Of course, there's controversy over how much credit (or money) those original artists received, but popular music as a medium has been ripping off its own roots for decades: Paul Simon didn't invent that practice. Elvis, Lennon & McCartney, the Stones, Led Zep... it's been going on for years. (And still is, as Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith can attest.)

Graceland is 30 years old this year. Just to make you feel ancient again.

2. Arctic Monkeys - Red Lights Indicate Doors Are Secured

I've liked a lot of what the Arctic Monkeys did next, but that debut album is close to perfection. It was written by a bunch of chancers who had no idea how big they'd become... and as soon as they became that big, they'd never write anything like it again.

Red Light... is Alex Turner's stream-of-consciousness ramble about trying to get a taxi home with his mates on a Saturday night in Sheffield. It's full of the kind of everyday lyrical minutiae only people who aren't pop stars can write, while also managing to reference both the Stones and Springsteen during a drunken altercation at the taxi stand. Brilliant.

1. Joni Mitchell - Big Yellow Taxi

"They paved paradise and put up a parking lot..." has to be one of the greatest opening lines ever (I must try to remember it when I do Volume 2 of My Top Ten Opening Lines). Alliteration doesn't always work in lyrics, but here it provides Joni's pop opus with the prerequisite punch.

This ecological protest song was written after Joni visited Hawaii and opened her hotel curtains to see acres of parking lots, but what's most interesting is that the eponymous taxi may not even be a taxi at all... it might be slang for the big yellow police cars in her native Toronto. Which gives us a slightly different way of interpreting what might be happening when said taxi takes away her old man...

The song's been covered by a number of people, including Bob Dylan, Amy Grant and the Counting Crows... who annoyingly destroy the big yellow taxi line by changing the lyrics to say "took my girl away" which neither rhymes nor scans like the original and annoys me every time I hear it. Janet Jackson also used the hook for her hit 'Got 'Til It's Gone'.

Big Yellow Taxi is also the second best song in the history of pop to feature a slamming screen door. But I'll hold onto that for my Top Ten Screen Door Songs...

Which one gets your meter running?


  1. I usually enjoy the majority of your selections, even if odd tracks aren't really my bag, but I have to say that this particular Top 10 is nigh-on impeccable from start to finish. And you get bonus points in my book for not including 'Mr Cab Driver' by Lenny Kravitz!
    (Can I also recommend the sublime 'Taxi Driver' by The Mlimani Park Orchestra and the equally great 'Cab It Up' by The Fall.)

    1. Yeah, not got a lot of time for Lenny's pseudo-"rock star" histrionics.

      Can't access The Mlimani Park track, I'm afraid, but I listened to some of their other stuff which was cool.

      Cab It Up was a contender.

  2. All my favorites are here - well done :)

  3. Ah, I used to love Taxi, even if my age meant most of my exposure to it was repeat showings. I especially enjoyed how no-one was driving the cab in the end credits sequence... see from fourteen seconds in here.

    1. I don't think I ever noticed that before.

      Angela has been my earworm for the past week now.

      "Goodnight, Mr. Walters!"


  4. Where's "Death Cab For Cutie" by The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band ?!?!??!?!

    1. Opening paragraph...although I'd mistakenly attributed it to Zappa for some reason, so thanks for the correction.


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