*as posted in February 2021
John Denver has never been to West Virginia. However, his first big hit, Take Me Home, Country Roads, to this day one of the most re-recorded songs in the world, sings of nostalgia for this American state far from the sea and close to the mountains. Released in May 1971, the song is an American classic and was chosen for the launch trailer for the CBS series Clarice. It wasn’t the first soundtrack to feature the hit, but it was a good idea (after all, part of the American capital, Washington D.C., is in Virginia. That’s where the FBI’s headquarters are).
Take Me Home, Country Roads appears on the album Poems, Prayers, and Promises, which made John a star. In it, there are other classics like My Sweet Lady and Sunshine on My Shoulders and it is one of the best country genres of all time. And it was almost part of Jonny Cash’s repertoire. It is a couple of Bill Danoff and his wife, Taffy Nivert began working on it for Cash to record, but upon learning of the song, John offered to “help”. In exchange, of course, he kept her for him.
The curious thing is that although they sing about coming home to West Virginia, the home of the mountains, the trio had never set foot in the state when they wrote the song. The inspiration came when the couple was traveling to a family gathering in Montgomery County, Maryland (Virginia’s neighboring state). But “Maryland” didn’t fit the right cadence of the melody. It needed to be bigger. They thought about “Massachusetts” (not to be confused with the Bee Gees hit!), but they arrived at “West Virginia”, which fit perfectly. They didn’t even know if there are mountains there or winding roads (which are mentioned in the lyrics). The important thing was the feeling of beauty, peace, and longing that was also in the melody.
Bill and Daffy were just starting out as musicians and dreamed of having access to a renowned artist to gain notoriety. At the time, they were in a band called Fat City when they started working on Take Me Home, Country Roads. They thought of Johnny Cash‘s voice. In a twist of fate, they played an opening gig for John Denver, with whom they became friends. The singer asked if they wanted to show any of their compositions and they chose the song they were working on in the car. It only had one verse and was unfinished. John immediately saw the potential. They stayed up all night working on it until the sun came up, altering the arrangements and lyrics. A classic was born.
The first time it was performed live, in December 1970, John received five minutes of uninterrupted standing ovations. It was like that at every show. The couple managed to fulfill their dream. The success entered the country singer’s (now historic) album, in 1971 reaching gold records almost immediately and re-recorded in more than 19 languages. Bill and Daffy formed the Starland Vocal Band and even won a Grammy with the group. John became a country superstar.
A true anthem, Take Me Home, Country Roads has appeared in several films and series. The version by Brandi Carlile used for the series Clarice revived interest in the song on its 50th birthday. In a darker version, in the spirit of David Lynch films, it follows Clarice M. Starling’s return to the FBI. An iconic song that fits perfectly with one of cinema’s best heroines. Listen.