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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 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), 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
|Single by The Beach Boys|
|from the album 20/20|
|B-side||"The Nearest Faraway Place"|
|Released||April 20, 1970|
|Recorded||November 18-19, 1968 (album version)|
August 8 & 15, 1969 (single version)
|Length||2:21 (album version)|
3:05 (single version)
|Producer(s)||Brian Wilson and Al Jardine (album)|
The Beach Boys (single)
|The Beach Boys singles chronology|
Dissatisfied with Brian Wilson's arrangement of the song, Jardine later led the group to record a more country rock style version; this version recorded on August 15, 1969, featured Orville "Red" Rhodes on pedal steel guitar. Entitled "Cottonfields", the track afforded the Beach Boys their most widespread international success while also consolidating 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 barely making a dent in the US (number 95 Record World, number 103 Billboard) though promoted with an appearance on the network TV pop show Something Else, the song succeeded across the Atlantic, reaching number two in the UK's Melody Maker chart and listed as the tenth-biggest seller of the year by the New Musical Express. Worldwide – outside North America – it nearly replicated the success of the group's "Do It Again" two years before. It was number 1 in Australia, South Africa, Sweden and Norway, number 2 in Denmark, number 3 in Ireland, similarly top 5 in the United Kingdom, Japan, Spain and Rhodesia; number 12 in the Netherlands, number 13 in New Zealand and number 29 in Germany. Because of this popularity, it was placed on the international (ex-US) release of the group's Sunflower album.
- Al Jardine – lead vocals
- Brian Wilson – keyboards, producer, arrangement
- Ed Carter – lead guitar
- Al Vescovo – banjo
- Lyle Ritz – bass
- Hal Blaine – drums
- Bill Peterson, Virgil Evans, Roy Caton – horns
The Beach Boys
- Al Jardine – lead vocals, guitar, producer, arrangement
- Brian Wilson - vocals
- Carl Wilson – guitar
- Dennis Wilson – drums
- Bruce Johnston – keyboards
- Ed Carter – bass
- Daryl Dragon – keyboards
- Orville "Red" Rhodes – pedal steel guitar
- Frank Capp – percussion
- Bill Peterson, Fred Koyen, David Edwards, Ernie Small – horns
- The Beach Boys – producer
- The single version of the song has mild distortion due to compression, especially during the drum fills, and sporadic skipping can be heard from 1:03 to 1:31 in the song. This is much more noticeable in the stereo mix of the song. In the mono mix of the song featured in the Good Vibrations box set, the skipping is less audible and the song itself is in a slightly higher pitch than in this stereo version.
- Bill Monroe 1962, Decca Records DL4266
- The Highwaymen (folk band) in 1962
- Johnny Cash on his 1962 album The Sound of Johnny Cash
- The Angels in 1963 that went to #119 in the US
- Johnny Mann Singers on the 1963 album Golden Folk Song Hits – Liberty LST-7253
- Esther Ofarim sang "Cotton Fields" live on television in 1963 & 1969, with her then husband Abi Ofarim. They also recorded a German version, "Wenn ich bei Dir sein kann" in 1964
- Eddy Arnold (with the Needmore Creek Singers) on the 1964 album "Folk Song Book"
- Rose Marie on episode 102 of The Dick van Dyke Show "The Alan Brady Show Goes to Jail" (1964)
- The Carter Sisters on their album The Best of The Carter Family (1966)
- Webb Pierce on the 1966 Decca album Webb's Choice
- Harry Dean Stanton, in one scene of the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke, plays a sped-up version
- Udo Jürgens a 1968 single
- Charley Pride on his album Charley Pride in Person released January 1969.
- Creedence Clearwater Revival on their (1969) album Willy and the Poor Boys. This version hit #1 in Mexico in 1970.
- Elvis Presley in the 1970 movie Elvis: That's the Way It Is
- Joe Dassin on 1989 Sony Music compilation Vol.2.
- Donna Douglas on her 1989 album Back on the Mountain
- The Pogues on their 1989 album Peace and Love (while this version references the original in its lyrics, the song itself is not a cover per se)
- Teresa Brewer on The Muppet Show
- Tesla released a cover version as the B-side to the single Call It What You Want, released in 1991
- Kitten recorded a version of the song on their 2007 album Yodeling Cowgirl
- Flatfoot 56 (a Celtic Oi! band) covered it on their album Toil, released in 2012
- Elton John on the Cotton Fields: 16 Legendary Covers From 1969/70 album, released in 2004 
The original Lead Belly lyrics 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". Both are geographically impossible, as Texarkana is about 30 miles north of the Arkansas–Louisiana border. This song line suggests the writer had the widely held but mistaken belief that Texarkana is partially in Louisiana.
The song and its various cover versions became a synonym of bluegrass music, as well far from actual cotton yielding regions. E.g. the German skiffle band Die Rhöner Säuwäntzt describe their style as Musik von den Baumwollfeldern der Rhön, translating into "music played in the Rhön Mountains (imaginary) cotton fields". 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. Regional Mexican musician Ramon Ayala also covered the Spanish version of "Cottonfields" in 1989, and it became a well-known hit for years.
- Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 19 – Blowin' in the Wind: Pop discovers folk music. [Part 2]" (audio). Pop Chronicles. University of North Texas Libraries.
- McAleer, Dave (2004). Singles Top 20 Charts From 1954 To The Present Day. Backbeat Books.
- 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