Saturday, February 17, 2007

Big Rock Candy Mountain was bowdlerized


The song 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 1949, 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.

According to the song, anything that a homeless man would fear is rendered harmless. The dogs have rubber teeth, the police have wooden legs, and the jail bars are made of tin.

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. Sterilized versions have been popular, especially with children's musicians; in these, the "cigarette trees" become peppermint trees, and the "streams of alcohol" trickling down the rocks become streams of lemonade. The lake of gin is not mentioned, and the lake of whiskey becomes a lake of soda pop.


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