Rita Ora remembers the first time she saw a photograph of Joni Mitchell. “I was like, ‘Who’s this awkward looking girl that’s got a guitar in her hand all the time?'” the English pop singer says in the latest episode of Spotify’s Under Cover podcast.
Ora was taken aback by the stark contrast between Mitchell’s sweet, fragile presence and her incendiary songwriting style. “You don’t expect how confident the words that she says are when you look at her,” Ora says. “Her lyrics have so much depth and substance and presence that you don’t actually consider her the underdog. I feel like that’s what makes her so special.”
Ora had never covered Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” until she recorded it at Spotify Studios in New York, but it’s often a song she sings with her friends when drunk. “I pick up a guitar, play the song and I just sing from the top of my lungs,” she says, admitting she’s not very good at guitar. “That’s when you know a record’s a smash, when you’re wasted and you like, play that song immediately.”
“‘Big Yellow Taxi’ is a perfect song,” Ora says of Mitchell’s 1970 classic. “It doesn’t really have a lot going on.” The singer went on to admire the simple, stripped-down arrangement—comprised of Mitchell’s voice and guitar—and the environmental theme of the track. “Obviously lyrically, she’s a genius,” she says.
“It’s not really a theme type of record,” Ora surmises. “It’s got folk, pop, rock, jazz…her whole inspiration hasn’t been stuck to one genre. It’s a bit like me, I really relate to that.” Ora’s cover of “Big Yellow Taxi,” which you can hear in the link above, keeps with the original’s purity, but Ora slowed it down so listeners can really absorb the lyrics. “That’s what music is, you come out of yourself,” Ora concludes. “I just wanted to feel like I was away from everywhere, and I feel like that’s what Joni does so well.”