Big Rock Candy Mountain
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"Big Rock Candy Mountain", first recorded by Harry McClintock in 1928, is a Bluegrass 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.
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".
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.
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).
- 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).
- 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.
- The song was used in a 2005 Burger King commercial, although the lyrics are changed to reference the Burger King TenderCrisp. In the commercial almost all of the promises of the song are shown in detail. Darius Rucker appears as the cowboy singing the song. Brooke Burke also appears as a cowgirl.
- Comedian Sarah Silverman sang a version on The Sarah Silverman Program in the episode "There's No Place Like Homeless".
- The song was sung by Harry Dean Stanton in his role as Roman Grant in the HBO series Big Love.
- Singer-songwriter Bruce Hornsby has occasionally used the song as an intro to his song "Candy Mountain Run" in live performances
- Natalie Maines of The Dixie Chicks sang a version of the song on the 2016 episode "Gal of Constant Sorrow" of the television show The Simpsons, with references to characters on the show.
- The children-friendly version of the song was used in the Rankin Bass stop-motion video "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?.
- 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 film adaptation of "Room", based upon the bestselling novel by Emma Donoghue.
- Sung by characters in the opening scenes of the 2003 movie Runaway Jury.
References to the song
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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 currently sits at the base of the hills and is a major hub on the Paiute ATV trail.
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. Additionally, one of the peaks in the Capitol State Forest in Washington State is named "Big Rock Candy Mountain".
- 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 Mur Lafferty's Heaven novella series, the Big Rock Candy Mountain is portrayed as the hobo afterlife.
In film and television
- A 1963 animated cartoon, Hobo's Holiday, features the adult lyrics which appear on screen with a bouncing ball.
- 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 legendary 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 2015 film Room, the character of Ma (Brie Larson) sings a version of the song to her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay).
- 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."
- "Roud Folksong Index No. 6696". Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved September 1, 2015.
- Rammel, Hal (1990). Nowhere in America: the Big Rock Candy Mountain and Other Comic Utopias. University of Illinois Press. Retrieved September 23, 2010.
- Granade, S Andrew (2014). Harry Partch, Hobo Composer. Boydell & Brewer. p. 205. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
- 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.
- "The Big Rock Candy Mountain (3)". Sniff.numachi.com. Retrieved 2013-07-01.
- "Through the Woods: An Appalachian Adventure Album" (PDF). Okee Dokee.org (pdf). Retrieved January 16, 2016.
- "O Brother, Where Art Thou? -- (Movie Clip) Credits, Rock Candy Mountain". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 19 October 2015.
- "Big Rock Candy Mountain Resort". Big Rock Candy Mountain. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
- "ATV Paiute Trail". Utah.com. Retrieved 2013-07-01.
- Wilkerson, Christine. "Big Rock Candy Mountain - Utah Geological Survey". Geology.utah.gov. Retrieved 2013-07-01.
- "Rock Climbing Routes in Big Rock Candy Mountain, South Platte Area". Rockclimbing.com. Retrieved 2013-07-01.
- Hansen, Brian. "Big Rock Candy Mountain". Climbing Boulder.com. Archived from the original on December 3, 2008.
- Goodman, Jack (June 11, 1950). "Life-Size Model of a Hobo Paradise". New York Times. p. 273.
- Carlson, Ron F. (Oct 17, 1976). "Encounter: Stranded at Rock Candy Mountain". New York Times. pp. 29–30.
- Rammel, Hal (1990). Nowhere in America: The Big Rock Candy Mountain and Other Comic Utopias. Champaign: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-01717-X.