“Take Me Home, Country Roads” Reaches New Audiences

Sharing West Virginia with the world, John Denver perform “Take Me Home, Country Roads” in London, UK in 1976.

If you’re a West Virginian who came of age after 1971, chances are you can barely remember a time when John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” wasn’t the anthem. unofficial state.

Although it wasn’t officially adopted as a “state song” until 2014, it has apparently been played at every event all over the state. It became West Virginia University’s theme song in 1972 and has been performed at every home football game since.

Even if you’re not from West Virginia, chances are you’ve heard the song, which shot to the top of the charts the summer after its release and has sold millions of downloads since it is available digitally.

It is a favorite song in Japanese karaoke bars and has been performed by bands around the world (several versions of which follow at the end of this article.) It has become one of John Denver’s most popular songs and is considered by some to be his signature song. .

As recently as 2016, the Country Music Association released a single and music video called “Forever Country”, which was heavily inspired by Country Roads. As of August 2018, his Youtube release had garnered over 28,000,000 views:

In July 2018, Bethesda Softworks also released a version to accompany its online video game, Fallout 76and its Youtube version had also recorded over 4,000,000 views as of August 2018.

In the Capitol rotunda on March 8, 2014, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed the resolution adopting the song as the state song. There are now four official state songs: “The West Virginia Hills”, “This Is My West Virginia”, “West Virginia, My Home Sweet Home”, and “Take Me Home, Country Roads”.

Tomblin was joined this afternoon by Dreama Denver, a leading proponent of the song’s adoption. Denver, coincidentally, is not related to John Denver but is the late ex-wife Bob Denverthe actor best known for his role as “Gilligan” on the classic 60s sitcom Gilligan’s Island.

Bob and Dreama had retired to Princeton, Dreama’s hometown, in the 1990s, after which they became philanthropists, encouraging growth in the Mountain State. Ms Denver hailed the benefits of officially adopting the song, and the West Virginia Tourist Board secured the rights to use “Take Me Home, Country Roads” in its marketing efforts in 2017.


A love-hate relationship with “Take Me Home, Country Roads”

Strangely, or maybe not, many West Virginians have a love-hate relationship with the song. Some get nostalgic when they hear it broadcast. Others get irritated, almost exclusively because of the words used in the opening stanza:

“Almost heaven, West Virginia,
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River…”

The Shenandoah River sweeps toward its confluence with the Potomac.
The Shenandoah River crosses the Blue Ridge at its confluence with the Potomac. Photo: Rick Burgess.

Why? Apparently because the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah River are located at the far eastern tip of West Virginia’s Eastern Begging, in an area that some West Virginians consider ill-representative of the state.

The Blue Ridge, part of the Appalachians, stretches more than 500 miles southwest to northeast across the eastern United States from Georgia to Pennsylvania. Yet West Virginia’s easternmost border follows only about 14 miles from its crest.

Similarly, the Shenandoah travels over 100 air miles from its sources to its mouth in the Potomac at Harpers Ferry, but only the lower 20 miles are within the state. Denver reportedly sang the song at Morgantown High School in 1977 and changed the wording to “AppalachiaMonongahela River.”

The circumstances that led to its evocative and awkward lyrics make it clear that its creators could hardly have foreseen its popularity, and why should they, immersed in the native beauty of Appalachia, care about issues of toponyms?

Then-married songwriters and performers Bill Danoff and Mary “Taffy” Nivert were inspired in 1970 as they drove to a reunion of Nivert’s parents along Clopper Road near Gaithersburg, Maryland. Danoff made up a ballad about the winding roads they were following, briefly considering “Massachusetts” in place of “West Virginia.”

About a month later, the duo opened for Denver at The Cellar Door in Washington, D.C. After one performance, the three returned to Danoff’s apartment for an impromptu jam. Danoff and Nivert spoke to Denver about the song, which they hoped to sell to the country singer Johnny Cashbut when Denver heard it, he decided he had to have it, and the three stayed up until 6 a.m., changing the words and moving the lines.

Denver first performed it on December 30 during an encore at The Cellar Door, reading the words on a folded piece of paper. He received a five-minute standing ovation, one of the longest in club history.

He recorded it in January in New York, after which it appeared on his LP album “Poems, Prayers & Promises” and was released as a 45 rpm. It broke nationally in mid-April, but slowly climbed the charts.

After several weeks, RCA Records called Denver and told him they were dropping the single, but he insisted, “No! Keep working on it!” RCA did, and the single quickly went to No. 1 on the Record World Pop Singles Chart and the Cash Box Top 100 and No. 2 on the US Billboard Hot 100. On August 18, 1971, the Recording Industry Association of America certified it. “Gold” after one million copies have been shipped.

With the recent release of Fallout 76 and Forever Country versions of the song, it looks like its popularity may carry over into another generation. In 2020, the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of “Take Me Home, Country Roads”.


Lyrics: Take Me Home, Country Roads

Almost Heaven, West Virginia,
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River.
Life there is old, older than the trees,
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze.

Country roads, take me home
To where I belong—
West Virginia, mother of the mountains,
Take me home, country roads.

All my memories gather around her,
Miner, foreign to blue water.
Dark and dusty, painted on the sky,
Hazy taste of bootleg liquor, tear in my eyes.

Country roads, take me home
To where I belong—
West Virginia, mother of the mountains,
Take me home, country roads.

I hear her voice, in the morning she calls me.
The radio reminds me of my distant home,
And driving down the road, I feel like
That I should have been home yesterday, yesterday.

Country roads, take me home
To where I belong—
West Virginia, mother of the mountains,
Take me home, country roads.

Country roads, take me home
To where I belong—
West Virginia, mother of the mountains,
Take me home, country roads.

Take me home, on the country roads.
Take me home, on the country roads.


Global releases

In 2001, Hermes House Band released a cover of “Country Roads” which became their biggest hit in the UK, peaking at No. 7 in the UK Singles Chart and No. 1 in the Scottish Singles Chart in December 2001 and January 2002.

In 1973, Jamaican band Toots & the Maytals released a version that replaced the words “West Virginia” with “West Jamaica”. Other lyrics were morphed: “Real ridge mountains, shining on the river. All my friends there, older than those ridges, younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze.”

In 2015, Australian Emily Joy released a version of “Country Roads”, one of many folk and country songs from the United States that she has covered.


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Toya J. Bell