Cotton Fields

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"Cotton Fields (The Cotton Song)" (also known as In Them Old Cotton Fields Back Home) is a song written by American blues musician Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, who made the first recording of the song in 1940.

Early versions[edit]

Recorded by Lead Belly in 1940, "Cotton Fields" was introduced into the canon of folk music via its inclusion on the 1954 album release Odetta & Larry which comprised performances by Odetta[1] at the Tin Angel nightclub in San Francisco with instrumental and vocal accompaniment by Lawrence Mohr; this version was entitled "Old Cotton Fields at Home". The song's profile was boosted via its recording by Harry Belafonte first on his 1958 album Belafonte Sings the Blues, with a live version appearing on the 1959 concert album Belafonte at Carnegie Hall. Belafonte had learned "Cotton Fields" from Odetta and been singing it in concert as early as 1955. A #13 hit in 1961 for The Highwaymen, "Cotton Fields" served as an album track for a number of C&W and folk-rock acts including Ferlin Husky (The Heart and Soul of Ferlin Husky 1963), The Delltones (Come A Little Bit Closer 1963), Buck Owens (On the Bandstand 1963), the New Christy Minstrels (Chim-Chim-Cheree 1965) and the Seekers (Roving With The Seekers 1964). Odetta also made a new studio recording of the song for her 1963 album One Grain of Sand. The Springfields included "Cotton Fields" on a 1962 EP release; this version is featured on the CD On an Island of Dreams: The Best of the Springfields. "Cotton Fields" was also recorded by Unit 4+2 for their Concrete and Clay album (1965). A rendering in French, "L'enfant do", was recorded in 1962 by Hugues Aufray and Petula Clark.

The Beach Boys cover[edit]

Single by The Beach Boys
from the album 20/20
B-side"The Nearest Faraway Place"
ReleasedApril 20, 1970
RecordedNovember 18–19, 1968 (album version)
August 8 & 15, 1969 (single version)
Length2:21 (album version)
3:05 (single version)
Songwriter(s)Huddie Ledbetter
Producer(s)Brian Wilson and Al Jardine (album)
The Beach Boys (single)
The Beach Boys singles chronology
"Add Some Music to Your Day"
"Slip on Through"
Official audio
"Cotton Fields" (The Cotton Song)" on YouTube

American rock band the Beach Boys first recorded "Cotton Fields" on November 18–19, 1968. The track (with Al Jardine on lead vocals) debuted on the group's 1969 album 20/20. It was Jardine's idea for the band to cover the song. He explained:

I first heard [the song] in the mid-'50s. I loved Lead Belly's vocals and of course his 12-string guitar sound but it was really his heartfelt emotional lyrics written during the Great Depression that affected me. I was determined to record a new version for the Beach Boys at a time when we were going off in quite a few different musical directions.[2]

Dissatisfied with Brian Wilson's baroque pop-influenced arrangement of the song, Jardine prevailed upon the group to record a new version (inspired by the contemporaneous vogue for country rock, as exemplified by such acts as The Flying Burrito Brothers, Stone Poneys and Michael Nesmith & The First National Band) in August 1969. The re-recording featured notable session musician and longtime Nesmith collaborator Orville "Red" Rhodes on pedal steel guitar. Retitled "Cottonfields", the second iteration afforded the Beach Boys their most widespread international success while also denoting the end of the group's hit-making career in the US (although they would enjoy periodic comebacks there). "Cottonfields" would be the final Beach Boys' single released on Capitol Records – the group's label since May 1962 – and their last single released in mono.

While underperforming in the United States (peaking at #103 in Billboard) despite a promotional appearance on the short-lived variety show Something Else, the song succeeded across the Atlantic, reaching #5 in the UK Singles Chart (and number 2 on the Melody Maker chart[3]) and later listed as the tenth-biggest seller of the year by the New Musical Express. Outside of North America, it nearly replicated the success of the group's "Do It Again" two years before, peaking at #1 in Australia and Norway; #2 in Denmark, South Africa and Sweden; #3 in Ireland; #12 in the Netherlands; #13 in New Zealand; and #29 in West Germany. Because of this popularity, it was placed on the international release of the group's Sunflower album. The single achieved sales of over 50,000 copies in Australia, being eligible for the award of a Gold Disc.[4]

The single was initially only issued in mono, though a reprocessed stereo mix opened international issues of the Sunflower album. It was remixed into stereo for the 2000 compilation Hawthorne, CA. A further stereo remix found on the Feel Flows box set opens with Al Jardine's son trying to count off the song with the help of his father. Unlike the older stereo mix, this version recreates the reverb effect on the opening vocals.

Chart history[edit]

Chart (1970) Peak
Australia (Go-Set)[5] 1
Australia (Kent Music Report)[6] 1
Denmark (IFPI)[7] 2
Finland (Suomen virallinen lista)[8] 21
Germany (Official German Charts)[9] 29
Ireland (IRMA)[10] 3
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[11] 12
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[12] 13
New Zealand (Listener)[13] 13
Norway (VG-lista)[14] 1
Rhodesia (Lyons Maid)[15] 5
South Africa (Springbok)[16] 2
Sweden (Kvällstoppen)[17] 2
UK Singles (OCC)[18] 5
UK Melody Maker Pop 30[19] 2
UK New Musical Express Top 30[20] 3
US Bubbling Under the Hot 100 (Billboard)[21] 103
US Cash Box Top 100[22] 101
US Record World Top 100[23] 95


Sourced from Craig Slowinski.[24][25]

Album version[edit]

The Beach Boys

Additional personnel

  • Hal Blaine – drums
  • Ed Carter – guitar, electric bass
  • Lyle Ritz – upright bass
  • Bill Peterson, Virgil Evans, Roy Caton – horns
  • Al Vescovo – banjo, guitar

Single version[edit]

The Beach Boys

Additional personnel

  • Frank Capp – percussion
  • Ed Carter – bass
  • Daryl Dragon – keyboards
  • Orville "Red" Rhodes – pedal steel guitar
  • Bill Peterson, Fred Koyen, David Edwards, Ernie Small – horns
  • The Beach Boys – producer

Creedence Clearwater Revival cover[edit]

"Cotton Fields"
Single by Creedence Clearwater Revival
from the album Willy and the Poor Boys
Songwriter(s)Huddie Ledbetter

Creedence Clearwater Revival included their cover of "Cotton Fields" as the third track on their 1969 album Willy and the Poor Boys. Their version hit No. 1 in Mexico in 1970.



The original lyrics, written by Lead Belly, state that the fields are "down in Louisiana, just ten miles from Texarkana". Later versions (e.g., Creedence Clearwater Revival's) say the fields are "down in Louisiana, just about a mile from Texarkana". While the twin cities of Texarkana (in Texas and in Arkansas) are about 30 miles north of the Arkansas–Louisiana border,[31][32][33] the larger Texarkana metropolitan area directly abuts the Arkansas-Louisiana state line.

Further use[edit]

The song has been taken up by bluegrass musicians far from actual cotton-producing regions; for example, the German skiffle band Die Rhöner Säuwäntzt describe their style as "Musik von den Baumwollfeldern der Rhön," which means "music played in the [imaginary] cotton fields of the Rhön Mountains."[34] In Spanish, the song was covered by the '60s rock and roll group Los Apson titled "Cuando Yo Era Un Jovencito" (When I Was A Young Boy). In order to keep the words sounding similar, the meaning of the song was completely changed.[35] Regional Mexican musician Ramon Ayala also covered the Spanish version of "Cottonfields" in 1989, and it became a well-known hit for years.


  1. ^ Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 19 – Blowin' in the Wind: Pop discovers folk music. [Part 2]" (audio). Pop Chronicles. University of North Texas Libraries.
  2. ^ "The Beach Boys' Al Jardine – My Life In Music". Uncut. 18 July 2022. Retrieved 11 August 2022.
  3. ^ McAleer, Dave (2004). Singles Top 20 Charts From 1954 To The Present Day. Backbeat Books. ISBN 9780879308087.
  4. ^ The Go Set Chart Book, Australia's First National Charts. 2 April 2018. p. 13. ISBN 978-1-387-71246-5.
  5. ^ "Go-Set Australian charts - 25 July 1970".
  6. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  7. ^ "De tyve". Ekstra Bladet. 20 August 1970. p. 30.
  8. ^ "Sisältää hitin: Levyt ja esittäjät Suomen musiikkilistoilla vuodesta 1960: Artistit BAT - BIF". Sisältää hitin. 13 August 2015. Retrieved 2022-02-24.
  9. ^ "The Beach Boys – Cotton Fields" (in German). GfK Entertainment charts.
  10. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Cotton Fields". Irish Singles Chart.
  11. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – The Beach Boys" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40.
  12. ^ "The Beach Boys – Cotton Fields" (in Dutch). Single Top 100.
  13. ^ "flavour of new zealand - search listener". Archived from the original on 2022-02-24. Retrieved 2022-02-24.
  14. ^ "The Beach Boys – Cotton Fields". VG-lista.
  15. ^ Kimberley, C. Zimbabwe: Singles Chart Book. Harare: C. Kimberley, 2000
  16. ^ "SA Charts 1969–March 1989". Retrieved 24 February 2022.
  17. ^ "Cotton Fields av Beach Boys". NostalgiListan (in Swedish). Retrieved 2022-02-24.
  18. ^ "Beach Boys: Artist Chart History". Official Charts Company.
  19. ^ "Pop 30". Melody Maker. 27 June 1970. p. 2.
  20. ^ "Top 30". New Musical Express. 27 June 1970.
  21. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1982). Joel Whitburn's Bubbling Under the Hot 100 1959–1981. Record Research. p. 15. ISBN 9780898200478.
  22. ^ "Looking Ahead" (PDF). Cash Box. 23 May 1970. p. 36. Retrieved 24 February 2022.
  23. ^ "100 Top Pops" (PDF). Record World. 30 May 1970. p. 27. Retrieved 24 February 2022.
  24. ^ "Cottonfields / Cotton Fields - BW and AJ version". Archived from the original on 2018-07-03. Retrieved 2018-07-03.
  25. ^ "'70s Beach Boys Songs Brian Didn't Sing on". Archived from the original on 2020-07-28. Retrieved 2019-03-21.
  26. ^ "Top 5 Creedence Clearwater Revival Songs".
  27. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961-2001. Record Research. p. 115.
  28. ^ "Hits of the World: West Berlin" (PDF). Billboard. November 7, 1964. p. 28.
  29. ^ "Tesla - What You Give". Discogs. 1992.
  30. ^ "Elton John – Cotton Fields - 16 Legendary Covers From 1969/70 (2004, CD)". Retrieved May 30, 2021.
  31. ^ "Our City". Archived from the original on October 23, 2010. Retrieved December 29, 2010.
  32. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. February 12, 2011. Retrieved April 23, 2011.
  33. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
  34. ^ see Bo kömmsten du hää? ; Wo kommst du denn her? (where you from?), Textbook, Die Rhöner Säuwäntzt, Lieder von den Baumwollfeldern der Rhön, 1995, ISBN 3931796086 ID: m37416m58671, Rhön Verlag 1995
  35. ^ "Cuando Era Un Jovencito - LOS APSON". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-14. Retrieved May 30, 2021.