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‘‘Take Me Home, Country Roads,’’ which branded West Virginia ‘‘almost heaven,’’ has been one of the most popular songs about the state since its release in 1971 by singer John Denver. The song was written with his friends Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert of the Fat City Band.

Danoff first started composing the song while riding with Nivert to her family reunion in Gaithersburg, Maryland. References to the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah River have always raised questions with some about whether the song was truly written about West Virginia. While both geographic features appear in Jefferson County for about nine miles, they are more generally associated with the area along Interstate-81 in Virginia, which Danoff and Nivert frequently traveled. However, Danoff has said the song was influenced more significantly by a group of West Virginia friends, including actor Chris Sarandon. So, he began adding more specific references to the Mountain State, particularly the line "I hear her voice in the morning hour she calls me, the radio reminds me of my home far away,” inspired by listening to country music on the Wheeling Jamboree from his childhood home in Massachusetts on WWVA’s powerful 50,000-watt station. Nivert even tried to work “rhododendron,” West Virginia’s state flower, into the song, but it did not fit lyrically. For a brief time, “Rhododendron” was even the song’s working title.

Originally, Danoff wanted Johnny Cash to record the still-unfinished song, but Nivert talked him into playing it for Denver. According to Denver, “I flipped” when he heard it the first time. After a Washington, D.C., show on December 29, 1970, the three stayed up all night and completed the song. Denver debuted it live the next night, December 30, accompanied by his cowriters, at The Cellar Door club while singing the lyrics from a sheet of paper. He recorded it the next month, and it was first released as a single on April 12, 1971. ‘‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’’ climbed the charts, eventually reaching number two and remaining in the top 40 for 14 weeks. The song was included on Denver’s Poems, Prayers, and Promises album, and before the year’s end, both the single and the album had gone gold.

The song’s appeal quickly went worldwide due to its catchy melody and universal lyrics but also due to a coincidence of international politics. According to the 2013 BBC documentary John Denver: Country Boy, President Richard Nixon took a cassette tape of the song with him to the People’s Republic of China as a gift when he normalized relations with that country in 1972. The song spread rapidly throughout China. With little exposure to Western music prior to this, the people of China became enthralled with the song, many learning it by heart. Interestingly, in 1969, Denver had recorded the song “The Ballad of Richard Nixon,” consisting of four seconds of silence, a not-so-subtle critique of the newly inaugurated president.

Denver performed ‘‘Country Roads’’ in West Virginia on several occasions, notably for the opening of the new Mountaineer Stadium in Morgantown in 1980 and on a telethon broadcast statewide from the Culture Center in Charleston to benefit victims of the disastrous 1985 floods. A popular arrangement of ‘‘Country Roads’’ by Dr. James Miltenberger is regularly performed by the West Virginia University Mountaineer Marching Band as part of its pre-game activities. In 1999, the state secured the rights to use ‘‘Country Roads’’ to promote tourism in West Virginia. Like other songs about West Virginia, ‘‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’’ emphasizes love of homeplace and is proudly sung throughout the state. In many corners of the world, it is often the sole thing people know about West Virginia. Just about any West Virginian who has traveled internationally can recount an instance of singing along with with others to the strains of “take me home to the place where I belong, West Virginia, mountain mama, take me home.”

On March 7, 2014, the state legislature approved a resolution naming “Country Roads” as West Virginia’s fourth state song. On April 12, 2023, the Library of Congress’s National Recording Preservation Board named “Take Me Home, Country Roads” to its National Recording Registry, in addition to 24 other recordings, including W. C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues,” Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe,” John Lennon’s “Imagine,” Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville,” and the 1985 main theme song from the Mario Brothers’ Nintendo video game. The registry highlights recordings that have made a significant cultural impact on United States culture.

This Article was written by H. G. Young III

Last Revised on April 14, 2023


Sources

West Virginia University Athletics. Take Me Home, Country Roads. , January 29, 2014.

Segraves, Mark. Co-Writer of ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads' Dispels Myths Surrounding Song's Origins. NBC4 Washington, December 31, 2020.

Freer, Steve. John Denver: Country Boy. : BBC, 2013.

Burnside, Mary Wade. Take Me Home. Charleston Gazette, 8/5/1999.

Denver, John, Bill Danoff & Taffy Danoff. "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Port Chester, NY Cherry Lane Music, 1971.

Denver, John. Poems, Prayers, and Promises. RCA recording 0445, 1971. reissued on CD, RCA 5189-2-R.

Cite This Article

Young III, H. G. "‘‘Country Roads’’." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 14 April 2023. Web. 27 May 2024.

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