Traffic Jam

James Taylor, 1973

How has James Taylor used music to recreate the frustration of sitting in a traffic jam? Rhythm and tempo, like drumming on a steering wheel; talking verses = sitting in traffic, chorus = moving ahead a notch.

What does "driving down the road to ruin" mean? What is ruinous about traffic? Wastes time, road rage, etc. How does traffic ruin more than just drivers? Air quality, smog, ozone layer, acid rain, destruction of habitat, noise pollution, use too much fuel, etc.

How does traffic happen? Central city business districts, over-development in suburbs, unwillingness to build/use public transit, working same hours. Why hasn't building more roads solved the problems? Better roads encourage more people to use them, until they are congested too.

What has been tried to alleviate traffic congestion? Limited access highways, flextime, telecommuting, H.O.V. lanes, etc. Why hasn't mass transit caught on in most of the U.S.? How can we encourage people to leave their cars and use an alternate transit?

"Traffic Jam" performed by James Taylor on JT, New York: Columbia Records [CK69801], © 2000. Available on Itunes, Spotify, and YouTube.


For more information on James Taylor, visit his official website.

Rights have not been secured to reprint the words for this song. For the lyrics please consult this online source:

James Taylor
Cover of James Taylor's album JT.

Born in Boston in 1948, James Taylor grew up in the university town of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. As a young man Taylor had problems with drug abuse until he voluntarily institutionalized himself. During this period he began writing songs, many of which were recorded by Taylor and the Flying Machine, a band formed with childhood friend and guitarist Denny Kortchmar in 1966. After the breakup of the band, Taylor moved to London where he was the first non-Beatle to be signed to Apple Records. In 1969, Taylor moved to California, where he recorded the classic Sweet Baby James with a band that included guitarist Kortchmar and Carole King on piano. The success of this album helped popularize a new style of folk-pop characterized by quiet, introspective lyrics, as compared with the rebelliousness of the 1960s. This new style is best exemplified in the works of singer/songwriters such as Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and the trio Crosby, Stills and Nash.

This song appears on the album JT, which has been acclaimed as embodying the peak of Taylor's style. In March of 2000 James Taylor was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Get a map of your nearest urban area that shows highways and mass transit routes. Work in teams to design a new mass transit system that would serve congested areas and be appealing enough to actually use. Be creative! Are there unused waterways or railroad routes? Can people walk, bike, or skate? Combine systems. What incentives will encourage people to use your system? Plot your system on the map. Write a description and your incentive plan. Draw scenes of what it will look like.

Script a series of 30-second radio commercials to encourage drivers to take mass transit (or your plan above). Use sound effects and good acting!

Compare this song to:

"(Get Your Kicks) on Route 66"




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