Jon recalls “This is always a favourite on FSC with its child friendly melody but with some quite adult sentiments! I’ve always thought Tom Waits would do a good version of it, and I’ve just discovered that he has (of sorts) as you’ll see on YouTube.”
A song Harry McClintock claimed to have written in 1895 (or 1898) based on his own misspent youth. Whilst that may be true, the song certainly has an older root as you’ll see if you Wiki here, with a broadside called An Invitation To Lubberland printed in 1685, some 200 years earlier, having much the same ideas of some mythical paradise flowing through it. You may also want to Wiki Harry here. But then this link is even more illuminating, showing that the song had a major clean up even before Burl Ives turned it into a children’s song. The original was very hard hitting with elements of male prostitution and predatory paedophiles and you’ll note in particular the details of a final verse that appeared in a court case, which tips the whole lot right over the edge. There’s also the Apple Knockers Lament, which Mudcat carries here as another possible feeder for the song. It makes you wonder quite why anyone think, “I know we’ll work this up and turn it into a kid’s sing-a-long favourite”!?! Sorry folks… I can almost hear the shattering of illusions and howls from here, but Crikey..! I suspect Tom Waits rather sinister take above is closer to the heart of this song than Burl Ives. As a final twist the Wiki entry for the song covers some of the same ground as above, but also the naming of the Big Rock Candy Mountains in America.