“Country roads, take me home, to the place I belong…”
If there ever was a more universally beloved, iconic line in a song, I haven’t heard it yet.
On this date in 1971, the late, great John Denver released his mega hit “Take Me Home, Country Roads” in 1971.
Written by Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert (who were married at the time and performing as a duo called The Danoff’s), along with some help from John Denver, it was released as a single in 1971 and also included on Denver’s Poems, Prayers & Promises album.
At a show one evening in Washington, DC in the early 70’s, where The Danoff’s were opening for Denver, he went back to their house afterwards and they played the song for him, though it was still unfinished at the time.
And actually, John almost didn’t even make it, because he got into a car wreck on the way there and had to go to hospital with a thumb injury.
Eventually, they finished the song at 6AM, and sang it at a show the next night. You can hear the Danoff’s singing background vocals on the studio recording, as well.
And funny enough, none of the three writers had ever even been to West Virginia at the time… Bill had recalled listening to the AM station WWVA out of Wheeling, West Virginia, which he heard in Massachusetts growing up.
He told NPR in 2011:
“I just thought the idea that I was hearing something so exotic to me from someplace as far away.
West Virginia might as well have been in Europe, for all I knew.”
And in my favorite part of the story, the Danoff’s had originally wanted Johnny Cash to record the song, and they almost didn’t play it for Denver because they didn’t think it was his style. But Denver was having no part of that once he heard it, and knowing (or hoping, at least) it would be a huge hit, he wanted it for himself.
The single had a slow climb up the country charts that spring and summer, but eventually, became Denver’s first big #1 hit, and of course, an all-time classic and signature country song we all know and love to this day.
The song is considered a symbol of West Virginia (though some would argue it’s actually about western Virginia), and is played at every West Virginia University home football game, in addition to being one of the four official state anthems of West Virginia.
And though we certainly lost John Denver tragically and way too soon at the young age of 53 in a plane crash in October of 1997, he certainly left an indelible mark on country music, and the world, with this song.
It’s hard to sum up exactly why “Take Me Home, Country Roads” resonates across very different people, countries and even generations, but the top Youtube comment said it quite perfectly:
“This is the type of song that can make you feel homesick while you’re sitting at home.”
Amen to that… there really is no place like home.
“Take Me Home, Country Roads”
And how about John Denver’s live performance from The Wildlife Concert back in 1995: