Big Rock Candy Mountain

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"Big Rock Candy Mountain", first recorded by Harry McClintock in 1928, is a country folk song about a hobo's idea of paradise, a modern version of the medieval concept of Cockaigne. It is a place where "hens lay soft boiled eggs" and there are "cigarette trees." McClintock claimed to have written the song in 1895, based on tales from his youth hoboing through the United States, but some believe that at least aspects of the song have existed for far longer. It is catalogued as Roud Folk Song Index No. 6696.[1]


The song was first recorded by McClintock, also known by his "hobo" name of Haywire Mac. McClintock claimed credit for writing the song, though it was likely partially based on other ballads, including "An Invitation to Lubberland" and "The Appleknocker's Lament". Other popular itinerant songs of the day such as "Hobo's Paradise", "Hobo Heaven", "Sweet Potato Mountains" and "Little Streams of Whiskey" likely served as inspiration, as they mention concepts similar to those in "Big Rock Candy Mountain".[2]

Before recording the song, McClintock cleaned it up considerably from the version he sang as a street busker in the 1890s. Originally the song described a child being recruited into hobo life by tales of the "big rock candy mountain". In later years, when McClintock appeared in court as part of a copyright dispute, he cited the original words of the song, the last stanza of which was:

”The punk rolled up his big blue eyes
And said to the jocker, "Sandy,
I've hiked and hiked and wandered too,
But I ain't seen any candy.
I've hiked and hiked till my feet are sore
And I'll be damned if I hike any more
To be buggered sore like a hobo's whore
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains."

In the released version this verse did not appear.[3]

The song was not popularized until 1939, when it peaked at #1 on Billboard magazine's country music charts. But it achieved more widespread popularity in 1949 when a sanitized version intended for children was re-recorded by Burl Ives. It has been recorded by many artists throughout the world, but a version recorded in 1960 by Dorsey Burnette to date was the biggest success for the song in the post-1954 "rock era", having reached No. 102 on Billboard's chart.

Sanitized versions have been popular, especially with children's musicians; in these, the "cigarette trees" become peppermint trees, and the "streams of alcohol" trickling down the rocks become streams of lemonade. The lake of gin is not mentioned, and the lake of whiskey becomes a lake of soda pop. The 2008 extended adaptation for children by Gil McLachlan tells the story as a child's dream, the last stanza being:

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains you're going on a holiday
Your birthday comes around once a week and it’s Christmas every day
You never have to clean your room or put your toys away
There's a little white horse you can ride of course
You can jump so high you can touch the sky
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.


Folklorist John Greenway published the song in his American Folksongs of Protest (1953), redacting only the second to last line. Bowdlerized versions are included in Irwin Silber's Songs of the Great American West (1967) and Alan Lomax's The Penguin Book of American Folk Songs (1964).[4]

A folk version of the song is included in the Gordon "Inferno" Collection in the Library of Congress, under the title "The Appleknocker's Lament".[5]


  • Immediately after Harry McClintock's record, in November 1928, Ernie Hare covered the song as "Hobo Jack Turner".
  • Vernon Dalhart and Company recorded this as The Big Rock Candy Mountains, on Edison Diamond Disc No. 52472-L, in February 1929. This version is now available on cylinder record, released in November 2016 by the Vulcan Cylinder Record Company.
  • A version of the song was recorded by Pete Seeger for Folkways Records in 1957 (Track 2, Side 2 in the American Favorite Ballads, Vol. 1 LP).
  • Bing Crosby included the song in a medley on his album 101 Gang Songs (1961)
  • The New Christy Minstrels did a version of the song, which was included in a special compilation by Columbia Records of children's songs.
  • The song was used in the 1987 film Ironweed and sung by Tom Waits.
  • In 1990 the London UK-based leftist big band The Happy End recorded an upbeat version for their album The World Turned Upside Down.
  • Lisa Loeb sang a clean version of the song on her 2004 children's album Catch the Moon.
  • In his 2004 album The Nifty Mervous Thrifty, Muck Sticky made a cover of this song.
  • A version of the song was recorded by The Restarts, a punk band from London, England.
  • In 2014, The Okee Dokee Brothers recorded a more family-friendly version of the song for their album Through the Woods, replacing references to alcohol and whiskey with chocolate and marmalade, for example.[6]

Other renditions[edit]

It was used in the UK TV series "Budgie" in the 1971 episode "Some Mother's Sons".

Soundtrack appearances[edit]

  • The children-friendly version of the song was used in the Rankin Bass stop-motion TV special, The Easter Bunny Is Comin' to Town.
  • The original Harry McClintock recording was included in the soundtrack for the 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?.[7]
  • A performance of the song by John Hartford appears on the Down from the Mountain concert and soundtrack in 2000.
  • A recording of the song was used as background music in a 2010 L.L.Bean commercial for the outdoor apparel maker.
  • A recording of the song by Brie Larson appears on the soundtrack to the 2015 drama film Room, based on the novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue.
  • Sung by characters in the opening scenes of the 2003 movie Runaway Jury.
  • A Burl Ives version of the song appears in season four of Better Call Saul.[8]
  • A recording of the song opens and closes Series 1, Episode 2 of the TV drama Budgie - Some Mothers’ Sons (1971) - London Weekend Television.
  • A Burl Ives version is used during a final scene of the Van Helsing Series S1 E8 ‘Little Thing’ and also for the final / closing credits of that episode.

References to the song[edit]

Physical locations[edit]

A cluster of brightly colored hills just north of Marysvale, Utah, near the Fishlake National Forest, is named the "Big Rock Candy Mountain". In 1928, after the song had been released, some Utah residents jokingly placed a sign at the base of the hills labeling it the "Big Rock Candy Mountain", along with a sign next to a nearby spring proclaiming it "Lemonade Springs". The Big Rock Candy Mountain Resort[9] currently sits at the base of the hills offering lodging and an assortment of high adventure activities through Big Rock Adventure.[10] The resort is also a major hub on the infamous Paiute ATV trail.[11][12]

Other rock formations in the United States have also borrowed the name of the song; the largest exposed rock in the South Platte rock climbing area of Colorado is also called "Big Rock Candy Mountain" because of its colored stripes resembling a candy cane.[13][14] Additionally, one of the peaks in the Capitol State Forest in Washington State is named "Big Rock Candy Mountain".

In literature[edit]

  • In 1943, Wallace Stegner published an autobiographical novel titled The Big Rock Candy Mountain. He published a further autobiographical work in 1992 entitled Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs, a reference to a line in the song.
  • In 1945, George Orwell referenced the song in the book Animal Farm with an animal version of heaven named Sugarcandy Mountain.
  • In William Kennedy's 1979 novel "Ironweed," the character Rudy sings lines from the song to his fellow bums in a flophouse.
  • In Glen Cook's 1982 novel Shadowline, first in the Starfishers trilogy, a planet named the Big Rock Candy Mountain is the location for several scenes.
  • The song is discussed in depth in the book The Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman, and performed by Jonathan Coulton in the audiobook.
  • In 2005, Lucius Shepard referenced the song in the story 'Over Yonder'.
  • In Mur Lafferty's Heaven novella series, the Big Rock Candy Mountain is portrayed as the hobo afterlife.
  • In the 2014 Valiant Comics series The Delinquents, the Big Rock Candy Mountain is presented as a mesa, atop which is the "lost treasure of the hobos", a giant horn of plenty.
  • In Kyle Stark's 2017 Rock Candy Mountain comic book, the Big Rock Candy Mountain is the main character's final destination.

In film and television[edit]

  • The 1963 Famous Studios Screen Song, Hobo's Holiday, features the adult lyrics which appear on screen with a bouncing ball.
  • The 1977 Rankin-Bass special The Easter Bunny Is Comin' to Town.
  • In 1987, photographer Robert Frank directed a screenplay by Rudy Wurlitzer entitled Candy Mountain that references the song.
  • The 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou? uses this song in the opening credits.
  • The theme song to the 2008-2010 TV series The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack is a version of the song with modified lyrics, referring to "a place called Candied Island" instead of "Big Rock Candy Mountain". The series itself echoes the song, as it features two hobo-like characters searching for the fabled paradise of Candied Island.
  • During the first dream sequence in the 2011 horror film Twixt, the lyrics of the song are sung with an alternate melody.
  • In the 2003 film Runaway Jury, an adaptation of a John Grisham legal thriller, Jacob Wood has to learn the words of the song for his son's birthday. This does not occur in the novel.
  • In the 2015 film Room, Ma (Brie Larson) sings a version of the song to her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay).
  • In the SyFy channel series Van Helsing, Sam sings bits of the song in the episode "Little Thing" and the Burl Ives rendition is played over the closing credits of several episodes.
  • A version of the song by Burl Ives is played in the season 4 episode "Something Stupid" of AMC's crime drama Better Call Saul.
  • Throughout DuckTales (2017 TV series) episode GlomTales, Scrooge McDuck and his family are traveling to Rock Candy Mountain to find the Hobo King's treasure.

In music[edit]

  • In the 1970s, "Big Rock Candy Mountain" and other songs were made into an environmental fairytale, published on an LP intended for children. It is the story of a goose, a crawdad, a family of rats, a whangdoodle, and two hobos who journey to the fabled mountain in search of a home. There they find Pollution Pete, Cement Sam, and a construction crew damming the rivers, cutting down forests, and turning the mountain into suburbia. The animals steal shovels, paint them with glow-in-the-dark paint, and use them to scare away the crew so that the mountain can be returned to its pristine state.
  • In 1987, Scottish indie pop band The Motorcycle Boy released an original song with the same title as a single.
  • In 1990, Jane Wiedlin recorded an unrelated song with the same title on her album Tangled.
  • The song "Candy Mountain Cave", from the online video Charlie the Unicorn, parodies this song (to the tune of the "Clarinet Polka").
  • In 1978, country singer Mel Tillis released the single "Ain't No California", which includes the line, "Ain't no Big Rock Candy Mountain."
  • In 2014, folk-punk singer Jesse Stewart makes reference in his song "Marauder" where he asks, "Well, where? Oh where? Is the Big Rock Candy Mountain."


  1. ^ "Roud Folksong Index No. 6696". Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved September 1, 2015.
  2. ^ Rammel, Hal (1990). Nowhere in America: the Big Rock Candy Mountain and Other Comic Utopias. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 9780252017179. Retrieved September 23, 2010.
  3. ^ Granade, S Andrew (2014). Harry Partch, Hobo Composer. Boydell & Brewer. p. 205. ISBN 9781580464956. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  4. ^ DePastino, Todd (2003). Citizen Hobo: How a Century of Homelessness Shaped America. Chicago / London: University of Chicago Press. pp. 88, 286, note 112. ISBN 9780226143781.
  5. ^ "The Big Rock Candy Mountain (3)". Retrieved 2013-07-01.
  6. ^ "Through the Woods: An Appalachian Adventure Album" (PDF). Okee (pdf). Retrieved January 16, 2016.
  7. ^ "O Brother, Where Art Thou? -- (Movie Clip) Credits, Rock Candy Mountain". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 19 October 2015.
  8. ^ "'Better Call Saul' Editor on Doing "Something Stupid" and Passing Time". The Hollywood Reporter. September 18, 2018.
  9. ^ "Big Rock Candy Mountain Resort". Big Rock Candy Mountain. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
  10. ^ "Big Rock Adventure". Big Rock Adventure. Retrieved 19 February 2019.
  11. ^ "ATV Paiute Trail". Retrieved 2013-07-01.
  12. ^ Wilkerson, Christine. "Big Rock Candy Mountain - Utah Geological Survey". Retrieved 2013-07-01.
  13. ^ "Rock Climbing Routes in Big Rock Candy Mountain, South Platte Area". Retrieved 2013-07-01.
  14. ^ Hansen, Brian. "Big Rock Candy Mountain". Climbing Archived from the original on December 3, 2008.

Further reading[edit]