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  • The story of a song: “Country roads.” (Aka “Take me home country roads.”)

    This was a popular song sung by the late John Denver. It is interesting to learn that this song which became a theme song for the state of West Virginia was originally written with another state in mind. The song was the work of a husband and wife couple who went by the group name “Fat City.” The song came about as the couple was driving through the state of Maryland. To pass the time away the husband came up with lyrics about traveling through Maryland. He changed the name of the state to West Virginian friend because wrote to him about the glories of that state. Apparently the lyricist, who wrote the words to the song, was not that familiar with West Virginia. Someone from that state mentioned to this writer that there were inaccuracies in the song.

    The song writing couple, of “Fat City,” had originally planned to sell the song to the famed country singer, Johnny Cash. But when John Denver heard the song, he wanted first dibs on the song. The song was included on his album Poems, Prayers and Promises released in 1971. Previous to that time Mr. Denver had to hustle for gigs. The album and that song “Country Roads” marked a turning point in his career.

    The song was covered by other artists such as Olivia Newton-John. The Newton-John version was in the top 10 on the Japanese record charts. So it was probably no surprise that her version appeared as the opening song in the Hayao Miyazaki movie WHSIPER OF THE HEART. One of the characters in the movie was given the assignment of creating a Japanese version of the song. Since Western Tokyo is not the same as West Virginia, she could not do a literal translation. In the end she had to capture the “spirit” of the song, which is nostalgia and homesickness. The movie closes with the Japanese version of that song. The song was even parodied in the movie with as song called “concrete roads.” Western Tokyo and the Tama region were at one time rural. But that is no longer the case. This writer found the parody to be hilarious.

    One wonders what would have happened if Fat City had sold the song to Johnny Cash, instead of letting John Denver get first dibs. Would Mr. Denver have achieved fame anyway? Or would he have labored in obscurity? Maybe it was just as well that events unfolded as they did. That song became one of John Denver’s trademark songs and perhaps only he could have given the song its proper expression and interpretation.

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