Take Me Home, Country Roads

Take Me Home, Country Roads

performed by John Denver
written by Bill Danoff, Taffy Nivert, and John Denver
released on April 12, 1971

[Verse 1]
Almost heaven, West Virginia,
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River
Life is old there, older than the trees,
younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze

[Chorus]
Country roads, take me home
to the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain mamma,
take me home, country roads

[Verse 2]
All my memories gather round her,
miner’s lady, stranger to blue water
Dark and dusty, painted on the sky,
misty taste of moonshine, teardrop in my eye

[Chorus]
Country roads, take me home
to the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain mamma,
take me home, country roads

[Bridge]
I hear her voice in the morning hour, she calls me,
the radio reminds me of my home far away
And driving down the road I get a feeling
that I should have been home yesterday, yesterday

Country roads, take me home
to the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain mamma,
take me home, country roads

Country roads, take me home
to the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain mamma,
take me home, country roads

Take me home, down country roads
Take me home, down country roads

______________________

COMPOSITION:

Inspiration for the song had come while Nivert and Danoff, who were married, were driving along Clopper Road in nearby Montgomery County, Maryland to a Nivert family reunion in Gaithersburg.[4] According to a radio interview with Nivert, the road is close to Washington, D.C., where Denver often worked. To pass the time en route, Danoff had made up a ballad about the little winding roads they were taking. He had even briefly considered using “Massachusetts” rather than “West Virginia” as both four-syllable state names would have fit the song’s meter. Today, the landscape around Clopper Road has changed drastically due to development and little resembles the countryside scenery that once surrounded it.[5]

To Danoff, the lyric “(t)he radio reminds me of my home far away” in the bridge is quintessentially West Virginian, an allusion to when he listened to the program Saturday Night Jamboree, broadcast from Wheeling, West Virginia, on WWVA at his home in Springfield, Massachusetts during his childhood in the 1950s.[6]

Danoff had some other West Virginia associations to draw from as well. He became friends with actor Chris Sarandon as well as a group of hippies from a West Virginia commune who used to sit in the front row of the little clubs in which his groups used to play:[6] “They brought their dogs and were a very colorful group of folks, but that is how West Virginia began creeping into the song,” Danoff said. “I didn’t want to write about Massachusetts because I didn’t think the word was musical. And the Bee Gees, of course, had a hit record called “Massachusetts”, but what did I know?”.[6]

Starting December 22, 1970, Denver was heading the New Year’s bill at The Cellar Door, with Fat City opening for him, just as Denver had opened at the same club for then headliner David Steinberg. After the club’s post-Christmas reopening night on Tuesday, December 29 (Cellar Door engagements ran from Tuesday to Sunday and this booking was for two weeks), the three headed back to the couple’s apartment for an impromptu jam. On the way, Denver’s left thumb was broken in a collision. He was rushed to the emergency room, where the thumb was put in a splint. By the time they got back to the apartment, he was, in his own words, “wired, you know.”[citation needed]

When Danoff and Nivert ran through what they had of the song they had been working on for about a month, planning to sell to Johnny Cash, Denver “flipped.” He decided he had to have it, prompting them to abandon plans for the sale.[citation needed] The verses and chorus were still missing a bridge, so the three of them went about finishing.

Nivert got out an encyclopedia to learn a little more about West Virginia, and the first thing that came upon was the Rhododendron, the state flower, so she kept trying to work the word Rhododendron into the song. Rhododendron was the title that Nivert had written down on the lyric sheet, which they later sent to ASCAP.[6] The three stayed up until 6:00 a.m., changing words and moving lines around.[7]

The geographical features named in the first verse of the lyrics – Blue Ridge MountainsShenandoah River – which are more prominent in the state of Virginia than in West Virginia, can be found in Jefferson County, West Virginia.[8]

When they finished, on the morning of Wednesday, December 30, 1970, Denver announced that the song had to go on his next album.[7] Later that night, during Denver’s first set, Denver called his two collaborators back to the spotlight, where the trio changed their career trajectories, reading the lyrics from a single, handheld, unfolded piece of paper. The resulting ovation is said to have been five minutes long and was certainly one of the longest in Cellar Door history.[citation needed] The next day was Denver’s 28th birthday. They recorded it in New York City in January 1971.


THE CHARTS:

Chart (1971)Peak
position
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[17]3
Canada Adult Contemporary (RPM)[18]5
Canada Country Tracks (RPM)[19]17
US Billboard Hot 100[20]2
US Adult Contemporary (Billboard)[21]3
US Hot Country Singles (Billboard)[22]50

As mentioned above, this song is of particular importance to the people of West Virginia, USA. The state adopted the song as the “theme song” of West Virginia University and it has been performed at every WVU home football pre-game since 1972. The song is performed again after football games when the Mountaineers win.

On September 6, 1980, at the invitation of West Virginia Governor Jay Rockefeller, songwriters Danoff, Nivert, and Denver performed the song during pregame festivities to a sold-out crowd of Mountaineer fans. This performance marked the dedication of the current West Virginia University Mountaineer Field and the first game for head coach Don Nehlen.

  • Jay Rockefeller is a member of THE Rockefeller family. He went on to become a long serving US Senator from West Virginia.
  • Don Nehlen’s first game as Head Coach – featuring the song – turned out to be auspicious. He went on to become a Hall of Fame coach and the most successful in WVU history.

Here is a video of what I believe to be one of the coolest traditions in American sports. Honestly, the song (which is now fifty years old and not exactly a popular present day genre) should come across corny but the sincerity from West Virginians inoculates it from that feeling.

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If you want to hear a cleaner version of the song, performed by John Denver, here you go:

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8 thoughts on “Take Me Home, Country Roads

  1. I’m not generally a live music snob, but the first time I heard this song as a kid it was performed by a local band at swap meet and I’ve never heard a recorded version I like half as much.

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