Big Rock Candy Mountain


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.



14 Responses to “Big Rock Candy Mountain”

  1. muzza(s.e.England) says:

    Aaaaarrrrggghhh……………illusions shattered!
    Still no room for “Early one morning”…”My Love’s an Arbutus”…”The Ash Grove”…”Strawberry Fair”…”Drink to me only with thine eyes”?

  2. Dan says:

    Ahhhh, many happy FSC camp fire has been spent singing that song!!! Next can we have 3 blind jelly fish!

  3. Diana says:

    A great song and well sung Jon. What wonderful images there are.

    There is a version by Burl Ives, who had a hit with it, on Reynard’s site but there is no direct link to it. Well worth watching though.

  4. Jane Ramsden says:

    Very well sung, Jon. I’m not keen on the song, which I remember from childhood clear as a bell. Not sure that I liked it then! I wonder if I sensed the too-good-to-be-true-or-good-for-you of it even then? Anyway, it did not compete with ‘How Much Is That Doggy In The Window,’ ‘Hang Down Yer Head, Tom Dooley’ and Cliff Richard’s ‘Living Doll,’ to name but three! I must have been a funny child…

    Good old Burl Ives though, making a song with a very sad background into a popular children’s hit. Seems only right. Here’s Burl Ives himself on the original 78rpm gramophone record. Actually, his version is rather wonderful after all:

    Interestingly, the person who posted it wrote this underneath: “I have a confession, as a child, because my mom and dad smoked I changed the words to chocolate trees, instead of cigarette trees.” I remember sweet cigarettes. How times have moved on!

    Ref Burl Ives, Wiki says:

    “Ives was a renowned pipe smoker; the cover of his first album depicted a pipe and a fishing hat with the words “Burl Ives” in between. He also smoked cigars. In the summer of 1994 he was diagnosed with oral cancer after being hospitalized for back surgery. After several operations he decided against having further surgery. In April 1995 he fell into a coma. Ives died of complications of mouth cancer on April 14, 1995 at his home in Anacortes, Washington.”

    Mind you, he was 86! More on Burl Icle Ivanhoe Ives here:

    I thought he was also rather wonderful as Big Daddy Pollitt in ‘Cat In A Hot Tin Roof’ (1958):

  5. Jane Ramsden says:

    Ooops! ‘Cat ON A Hot Tin Roof’ not ‘in’ – lol – the JaJoDi Bug strikes agin! I did like Burl Ives’ ‘Ugly Bug Ball’ though.

  6. Diana says:

    @Jane: What a scintillating array of songs you have chosen. From Johnson & Carr to Cliff. If you were a funny child there must have been a lot of us about. It is only in retrospect that you realise how dreadful those songs all were.

    I concur with your remarks about Burl Ives in “Cat on a hot tin roof” he was excellent but I was never a fan of Paul Newman – thought he was and still is overrated.

  7. linda says:

    Not one of my favourite songs. We went to Bury met last night and both really enjoyed Spiers n Boden looking forward to seeing them again at Buxton, booked to see Fay on Thuursday also at Bury Met .

  8. Diana says:

    Linda: You didn’t see my message from the other evening then – anyway glad you both enjoyed the show. You are gadding about a bit the pair of you aren’t you?

  9. Linda says:

    @Diana, still gadding about. Went to Tewksbury at weekend, met up with some friends from Devon went to see Spiers and Boden at Tewksbury’s Rose theatre and glad to say the guys have got two new fans.

  10. Diana says:

    I felt sure you would enjoy the duo – they are really entertaining!

  11. John Bryson says:

    I hope you don’t mind a bit of indulgence here.

    35 years ago on this corresponding Tuesday I got up early, drove from Loughborough to London and back for a career changing (and successful) interview.

    I arrived home in time for tea and take my Mum to see Burl Ives in concert in Nottingham. I grew up to him singing this song on what is now BBC Radio 2.

    This brings back happy memories, and a question as to where does the time go?

    A great song, and a lovely version here by Jon

  12. Diana says:

    Yes it is a great song and Jon does a great version of it.

  13. OldMuzza (N.W Surrey-UK) says:

    Oh John B……………how can we go on without knowing more about the ‘Road to Damascus’ interview!!!

  14. John Bryson says:

    I moved down to London, same profession but different city, and that was the job interview that day.
    I describe to people my Road to Damascus moment as regards the folk scene. I have had a soft spot for the aforesaid scene for many years, but it was standing down the front at the Cropredy Festival on the Saturday night of the 2009 festival as Ralph McTell and his guitar had 20,000 people listening intently as he sang ‘The Hiring Fair’ as the point I became I true folkie!

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