"500 Miles" (also known as "500 Miles Away from Home" or "Railroaders' Lament") is a song made popular in the United States and Europe during the 1960s folk revival. The simple repetitive lyrics offer a lament by a traveller who is far from home, out of money and too ashamed to return.
The song is generally credited as being written by Hedy West, and a 1961 copyright is held by Atzal Music, Inc. "500 Miles" is West's "most anthologized song." Some recordings have also credited Curly Williams, and/or John Phillips as co-writers. David Neale writes that "500 Miles" may be related to the older folk song, "900 Miles," which may itself have origins in the southern American fiddle tunes "Reuben's Train" and "Train 45."
- The song appears on the 1961 self-titled debut album by The Journeymen; this may have been its first release.
- The song was heard on the February, 1962 Kingston Trio live album College Concert (a 1962 US #3).
- It was further popularized by Peter, Paul and Mary (it was the second track on their US #1, May 1962 debut album).
- Rewritten with new lyrics (by Bobby Bare), it charted as a hit single by American country music singer Bobby Bare in 1963 (#10 US, #7 NOR, #9 SWE, #16 DEN). Bare's version features a spoken recitation following the repeat of the refrain, before he sings one original line of his second verse. Following this, he makes a transition from the key of G to the key of D for the third verse, featuring a counterpoint portion by the backup singers, before making a transition back to the key of G for the last refrain, before the song's fade.
- The song was covered by Sonny & Cher on their 1965 album Look at Us. This version was played over the credits of the 1966 BBC TV film Cathy Come Home.
- The lyrics feature heavily in the Bob Dylan song "I Was Young When I Left Home."
- Dick and Dee Dee released a version of the song on their 1964 album, Turn Around.
- The Hooters recorded a version of this song with additional lyrics, dedicated to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. It goes: "A hundred tanks along the square, one man stands and stops them there. Some day soon, the tide will turn, and I'll be free."
- It has also been recorded by the Brothers Four, Johnny Rivers, Reba McEntire, Jackie DeShannon, The Seekers, Elvis Presley, The Highwaymen, The Seldom Scene, Nick Cave, Richard Anthony, Franco Battiato, Rosanne Cash, Bad Astronaut, Peter and Gordon, Eric Bibb, Hootenanny Singers, the innocence mission, Joan Baez, Takako Matsu, Justin Timberlake, The Persuasions and many others. Recently, the song has been recorded by Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan and Stark Sands for the soundtrack of the film Inside Llewyn Davis.
In other languages
- Richard Anthony had a hit with a French version of the song, "Et j'entends siffler le train" (English: "I Hear the Whistle of the Train"). It reached number-one in France in 1962.
- In 1963 the German version, "Und dein Zug fährt durch die Nacht" (English: "And Your Train Goes Through the Night") was a success for Peter Beil.
- Also in German, Santiano in 2012 released a marine-themed version, "500 Meilen" on their album Bis ans Ende der Welt.
- The Swedish release by The Hootenanny Singers is titled "Så länge du älskar är du ung" (English: "As Long As You Love, You’re Young").
- In 1967 Waldemar Matuška and Helena Vondráčková made Czech cover named "Tisíc mil" (1000 Miles), which was smash hit in that year.
- An Assamese version, "Ketiyaba Bejarote" by singer Jayanta Hazarika exists, which is about a son missing his mother who is far away from him. The song was released in 1970-80s.
- There is an Indian Hindi version called "Jab Koi Baat Bigad Jaaye" from movie Jurm (1990) sung by Kumar Sanu and Sadhana Sargam.
- Popular Bengali singer Anjan Dutta sung the song in Bengali called "Mr. Hall" in his album Keu Gaan Gaye.
- The Japanese duo Wink included it as the B-side of their 1989 single 淋しい熱帯魚 (Samishii Nettaigyo?), under the title 背中 まで 500 マイル (Senaka Made 500 Mairu; 500 Miles Back?).
In popular culture
- In an episode of Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., Jim Nabors, in the title role, sang the song to character Lou-Ann Poovie, played by Elizabeth MacRae, resulting in Lou-Ann choosing Gomer as her boyfriend.
- It is sung by Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan and Stark Sands in Inside Llewyn Davis.
- Blood, Peter and Annie Patterson (eds), Rise Up Singing, Sing Out Corporation, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, United States, 1992, p.232
- Anderson, Yohann (ed), Songs, Songs and Creations, Inc., San Anselmo, California, United States, 1983, p.29
- Hunt, Ken (3 August 2005). "Obituary: Hedy West". The Independent. Retrieved 17 September 2009.
- David Neale, "Elvis Presley: Original Versions of Songs He Sang"
- Cohen, Norm (2000). Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folksong, 2nd Ed. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. pp. 503–517. ISBN 0-252-06881-5. Retrieved 2012-02-19.
- Allmusic review, Peter, Paul and Mary
- "Top Selling Folk Artists". Billboard Magazine (Nielsen Business Media, Inc.): 18. 19 January 1963. ISSN 0006-2510.
- Dick and Dee Dee, Turn Around Retrieved May 2, 2015
- "Hedy West: Songs Composed by", Allmusic
- "Les Chansons Classées par Nb de Semaines N° 1". Retrieved 2011-12-31.
- "淋しい熱帯魚 (MEG-CD)". amazon.co.jp. Amazon. Retrieved May 1, 2015.