"Take Me Home, Country Roads" is a song written by John Denver, Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert, and initially recorded by John Denver. It was included on his 1971 breakout album Poems, Prayers and Promises; the single went to #2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.
After many other hit singles, "Take Me Home, Country Roads" remains Denver's signature song.
Denver was heading the bill in December 1970 at Washington, D.C. folk club The Cellar Door
; Danoff and Nivert opened for him as a duo named Fat City. After the post-Christmas re-opening night (the booking was for two weeks), the three headed back to their place for an impromptu jam. On the way, Denver's left thumb was broken in an automobile accident. He was taken to the hospital, where a splint was applied. By the time they got back to the house, he was, in his own words, "wired, you know".
Danoff and Nivert then told him about a song that they had been working on for about a month. Inspiration had come while driving to a family reunion of Nivert's relatives in nearby Maryland
. To pass the time en route, Danoff had made up a ballad about the little winding roads they were taking. Later, he changed the story to fit that of an artist friend, who used to write to him about the splendors of the West Virginia
countryside. Contrary to popular belief, there was no "risque" verse that was edited out.
They sang the song for Denver and as he recalled, "I flipped." The three stayed up until 6:00 a.m., changing words and moving lines around. When they finished, John announced that the song had to go on his next album.
The song was premiered December 30, 1970, during an encore of Denver's set, the singers reading the words from a folded piece of paper. This resulted in a five-minute ovation, one of the longest in Cellar Door history. They recorded it in New York City in January 1971.
"Take Me Home, Country Roads" appeared on the LP Poems, Prayers, and Promises and was released as a 45 in the spring of 1971. It broke nationally in mid-April, but moved up the charts very slowly. After several weeks, RCA called John and told him that they were giving up on the single. His response: "No! Keep working on it!" They did, and on August 18 it was certified a million-seller.
Reception in West Virginia
The popularity of the song has inspired resolutions in the West Virginia House of Delegates and Senate to change the state song of West Virginia to "Take Me Home, Country Roads". So far, such resolutions have not carried, due to the fact that Denver occasionally sang the lyrics as "Take me home to the place where I belong Colorado, take me home Country roads."
According to a radio interview with Nivert, the road that inspired the song is nowhere near the state. It is a road close to her native Washington, D.C., in nearby Montgomery County, Maryland, where Denver often visited. Clopper Road still exists today, but the landscape has changed drastically from the bucolic landscape that once surrounded it.
Popularity in Asia
The song (and writing alternate lyrics to it) is a plot point in the 1995 Japanese animated film Whisper of the Heart
from Hayao Miyazaki
and Studio Ghibli
Cover versions and citings
- Scottish singer and entertainer Andy Stewart (musician) recorded a version using the original "West Virginia" lyrics for his album My Homeland.
- Aleksander Mežek recorded a Slovene adaptation of the song as Siva pot (The gray path), in which the praise is changed to being for the Slovenian region Gorenjska, instead of West Virginia. This adaptation was recorded again by the Sloveno-Croatian Yugo-pop band Mambo Kings, whose cover added two fake verses: one imitating the Hungarian language, and the other imitating the Japanese language.
- Toots & the Maytals recorded a reggae version in which the lyrics are altered to describe Jamaica: "Almost heaven, West Jamaica," for instance, replaces Denver's "West Virginia." This version was itself covered in Almost Heaven, a 2005 German film directed by Ed Herzog. In the story, Helen Shuster is a German girl with a terminal illness who dreams to be a country singer Nashville style and winds up in Jamaica. The song is sung by Heike Makatsch, who plays Helen.
- German singer Daisy Door scored a minor hit with her German cover version "Straße der Vergangenheit", in 1973.
- Olivia Newton-John recorded a cover version in 1973 that reached the top 10 in Japan and the #15 in the UK, but only bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 119 in the United States. It is this recording which is eventually used as the opening song for Whisper of the Heart (1995) a Studio Ghibli anime that uses "Take Me Home, Country Roads" as a plot device featuring several renditions in Japanese including an end-title version performed by Yoko Honna.
- Jason & The Scorchers recorded a cover version for their 1995 album "A Blazing Grace"
- Hermes House Band recorded a cover and performed on Top Of The Pops when the single was released in 2001.
- Ray Charles recorded a cover version which can be found on the 2002 album Ray Charles Sings for America.
- The punk rock band Me First and the Gimme Gimmes have also done a cover using the original lyrics.
- Israel Kamakawiwo'ole (Bruddah Iz) recorded a cover version of the song, with the lyrics changed to describe his native Hawaii.
- Pavel Bobek, Czech country singer also recorded a cover of the song. The title he used was "Veď mě dál, cesto má" (which could be roughly translated as "Lead me on, my road").
- The song was used in the American Dad episode "American Dream Factory".
- The song was used in the Prison Break episode "First Down", where the character of David "Tweener" Apolskis completely butchers the lyrics.
- The song was used in the The Sopranos episode "Remember When".
- A rap cover of the song, sung by Doug E. Fresh, is used with altered lyrics at the start of each New York Knicks home game as well as on television commercials for the team.
- The song ranked #18 on CMT's 100 Greatest Songs in Country Music in 2003.
- Football club Manchester United and their fans use this song as one of their chants, changing the lyrics and title to "Take Me Home, United Road".
- West Virginia University has performed the song at every football game pregame show since 1972. In 1980, John Denver performed it for a sold-out crowd at the first game of head coach Don Nehlen, which was also the dedication of Mountaineer field.