Big Rock Candy Mountain

From Academic Kids

"Big Rock Candy Mountain" is a song about a hobo's idea of paradise. It was first recorded in 1928 by Harry McClintock, also known as Haywire Mac. It is probably best remembered for its recording by Burl Ives in the 1940s, but it has been recorded by many artists throughout the world. The most popular version, recorded in 1960 by Dorsey Burnette, reached the Billboard top ten.

The song is generally recognized as a turn of the century hobo ballad based on An Invitation to Lubberland, but authorship is also generally attributed to Harry McClintock since earlier written evidence of the song is not known. As a result, the song's copyright status is also in dispute. There are secondhand reports that McClintock attempted to enforce a copyright on the song but lost his lawsuit; in that case the song is in the public domain. Without further verification it must be assumed that the song is copyright by Harry McClintock.

Before recording the song, McClintock cleaned it up considerably from the version he sang as a street busker in 1897. Originally the song described a child being recruited into hobo life by tales of the "big rock candy mountain". Such recruitment actually occurred, with hobos enchanting children with tales of adventure called ghost stories by other hobos. In proof of his authorship of the song, McClintock published the original words, the last verse 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; in fact all mention of the "hoosier boy" was removed. The "cigarette trees" became peppermint trees, and the "streams of alcohol" trickling down the rocks became streams of lemonade. The lake of gin is not mentioned, and the lake of whiskey became a lake of soda pop.

In 1929, the song lent its name to a cluster of brightly-colored hills a short distance north of Marysvale, Utah, and a spring nearby was named "Lemonade Springs". The Big Rock Candy Mountain Resort is at the base of the hills.

In 1943, Wallace Stegner published his autobiographical novel The Big Rock Candy Mountain.

In 2000, inclusion in the popular soundtrack for the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? brought the song to a modern audience. The version of the song in the soundtrack included the original references to "cigarette trees," "streams of alcohol," and the lake of whiskey as well.

In 2005, the song was revamped and used in a national ad campaign for Burger King. The spot, done by Crispin Porter + Bogusky, replaces the original lyrics with descriptions of a chicken sandwich. The Burger King version of the song is performed by Hootie & the Blowfish frontman Darius Rucker and stars a number of other C-list celebrities.

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.

"Big Rock Candy Mountain" has been covered by British anarcho-punk band The Restarts, and a full transcript of the text they use (an early, uncensored version of Harry McClintock's lyrics) as well as the song itself, is available at their website, listed below.

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