"Big Rock Candy Mountain
" is a song
about a hobo
's idea of paradise
- a modern version of the medieval
concept of Cockaigne
, and similar to the fishermen's concept of Fiddler's Green
. It was frequently sung by President Franklin D. Roosevelt
's New Deal
Armies, nation-building schemes to employ men during the Great Depression.
The song describes a hobo's vision of utopia, a place where the "hens lay soft boiled eggs" and there are "cigarette trees". The song is also rather ironic and satirical in that it additionally describes mollified versions of things that one wouldn't think should exist in paradise at all, such as police (with wooden legs) and jail bars (made of tin), but sound appealing to someone whose lifestyle runs afoul of the law.
The song apparently dates to around the 1890s, as a hobo ballad
based on An Invitation to Lubberland
. Authorship is commonly attributed to Harry McClintock
, whose version is the first documented example of it. McClintock attempted to enforce a copyright on the song but lost his lawsuit
, which would put the song in the public domain
. Sheet music with a copyright date 1928, by Denton & Haskins Music Pub. Co. Inc., 1595 Broadway, New York, N.Y., identify the author as Billy Mack.
The song was first recorded in 1928 by Harry McClintock, also known as Haywire Mac. The Haywire Mac version peaked at #1 in 1939 country music charts printed by Billboard magazine. It is probably best remembered for its recording by Burl Ives in 1949, but it has been recorded by many artists throughout the world. A version recorded in 1960 by Dorsey Burnette reached #102 in Billboard, the biggest success for the song in the post-1954 "rock era".
Before recording the song, McClintock cleaned it up considerably from the version he sang as a street busker in 1897. Originally the song described a child being recruited into hobo life by tales of the "big rock candy mountain". Such recruitment actually occurred, with hobos enchanting children with tales of adventure called ghost stories by other hobos. In proof of his authorship of the song, McClintock published the original words, the last stanza of which was:
- The punk rolled up his big blue eyes
- And said to the jocker, "Sandy,
- I've hiked and hiked and wandered too,
- But I ain't seen any candy.
- I've hiked and hiked till my feet are sore
- And I'll be damned if I hike any more
- To be buggered sore like a hobo's whore
- In the Big Rock Candy Mountains."
In the released version this verse did not appear. Sanitized versions have been popular, especially with children's musicians; in these, the "cigarette trees" become peppermint trees, and the "streams of alcohol" trickling down the rocks become streams of lemonade. The lake of gin is not mentioned, and the lake of whiskey becomes a lake of soda pop. The 2008 extended adaptation for children by Gil McLachlan tells the story as a child's dream, the last stanza being:
- In the Big Rock Candy Mountains you're going on a holiday
- Your birthday comes around once a week and it’s Christmas every day
- You never have to clean your room or put your toys away
- There's a little white horse you can ride of course
- You can jump so high you can touch the sky
- In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.
A folk version of the song is included in the Gordon "Inferno" Collection in the Library of Congress, under the title "The Appleknocker's Lament".
- In 1986 The Beat Farmers released a version of the song, featuring a vocal by Country Dick Montana, on their mini-CD Glad 'N' Greasy, recorded in England in 1985.
- In 1988, renowned photographer and filmmaker Robert Frank released a feature film entitled Candy Mountain. The film was written by novelist and screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer and starred Tom Waits.
- The song was used in the 1989 movie Ironweed and sung by Tom Waits.
- In 2000, inclusion in the popular soundtrack for the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? brought the song to a modern audience. The version in the film, sung by Harry McClintock, includes the original references to "cigarette trees," "streams of alcohol," and the lake of whiskey as well.
- John Hartford sang the song in Down from the Mountain, the concert film of music from O Brother, Where Art Thou?
- Lisa Loeb sang a clean version of the song on her 2004 children's release, Catch the Moon, re-released in 2007.
- The song was used in a 2005 Burger King commercial, although the lyrics are changed to reference the food being promoted. In the commercial almost all of the promises of the song are shown in detail. Darius Rucker (of Hootie and the Blowfish) is shown as a cowboy singing the song. Brooke Burke also appears in the commercial as a cowgirl.
- The British anarcho-punk band The Restarts have recorded a version using an early, uncensored version of McClintock's lyrics, but their recording does not include the highly sexualized last stanza, reprinted above.
- The punk rock band Ashtray re-recorded the song but changed the name to "Punk Rock Candy Mountain" for the Rock 'n' Roll Three Way CD with The Secretions and Final Summation.
- In 1991, children's sing-along producers created "Wee Sing in the Big Rock Candy Mountains." The video includes a G-rated version of the song.
- Professional Wrestler Hobo Joe uses the song as entrance music.
- Shortly after the release of the song in 1928, some local residents, as a joke, placed a sign at the base of cluster of some brightly-colored hills a short distance north of Marysvale, Utah near Fishlake National Forest naming it “Big Rock Candy Mountain.” They also placed a sign next to a nearby spring proclaiming it “Lemon Springs.” The Big Rock Candy Mountain Resort currently sits at the base of the hills and is a major hub in the Paiute ATV trail
- The largest exposed rock in the South Platte rock climbing area of Colorado is also called "Big Rock Candy Mountain" because of its colored stripes resembling a candy cane.
- One of the peaks in the Capitol State Forest in Washington State is named "Big Rock Candy Mountain."
- A mine located approximately 24 kilometers north of Grand Forks, B.C., Canada, is called the "Rock Candy Mine". The mine was developed in the 1920s and is noted for its colorful fluorite and barite crystals.
- In 1943, Wallace Stegner published an autobiographical novel titled The Big Rock Candy Mountain. He published a further autobiographical work in 1992 entitled Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs, a reference to a line in the song.
- In 1945, George Orwell parodied this phrase in the book Animal Farm with an animal version of heaven named Sugarcandy Mountain.
- The song is also discussed in depth in the book The Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman, and performed by Jonathan Coulton in the audiobook.
- In the 1970s, Big Rock Candy Mountain was made into an environmental fairytale, published on an LP intended for children with the namesake and addition songs. It is the story of a goose, a crawdad, a family of rats, a whangdoodle, and two hobos who journey to the fabled mountain in search of a home. There they find Pollution Pete, Cement Sam, and a construction crew damming the rivers, cutting down forests, and turning the mountain into suburbia. The animals steal shovels, paint them with glow-in-the-dark paint, and use them to scare away the crew so that the mountain can be returned to its pristine state.
- In the Cormac McCarthy novel All the Pretty Horses, John Grady Cole comments on how much the Mexican Tavern keeper loves America by saying "He made that Country sound like the Big Rock Candy Mountains."
- In 1987, the British indie band The Motorcycle Boy released a single called "Big Rock Candy Mountain". This song has different words and music and is not related to the McClintock version.
- In 1990, Jane Wiedlin recorded a song with the same title on her album Tangled.
- The theme song to the TV series The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack draws heavy inspiration from this song. In fact, some of the lines in the theme song are lines from this song with a few words changed to include more references to candy (for example, "whiskey drippin' down the rocks" became "sody pop drippin' down the rocks.")
- Jack Goodman, "Life-Size Model of a Hobo Paradise," New York Times, June 11, 1950, p. 273.
- Ron F. Carlson, "Encounter: Stranded at Rock Candy Mountain," New York Times, Oct. 17, 1976, pp. 29-30.
- Photo the BRCM in Utah