Saturday, June 22, 2024




Driving to Canberra, Kate and I were playing the soundtrack from O Brother, Where Art Thou?. This is a great film – wonderful music, interesting storyline (based on Homer’s The Odyssey) and great acting. Also a really fun hillbilly dance by George Clooney. The only person in the known universe who doesn’t like it is my friend Steve.

Anyway, that is a digression. Listening to the song Big Rock Candy Mountains, about a hobo’s view of paradise and heaven, made me wonder about the background to the song.

Here is some interesting information . . .

Video link:

Harry McClintock (the version in O Brother Where Art Thou?)

Pete Seeger

Spoon Lady and the Tater Boys



Big Rock Candy Mountains

Song by Harry McClintock

One evening as the sun went down
And the jungle fire was burning
Down the track came a hobo hikin'
And he said, "Boys, I'm not turning
I'm headed for a land that's far away
Beside the crystal fountains
So come with me, we'll go and see
The Big Rock Candy Mountains

"In The Big Rock Candy Mountains
There's a land that's fair and bright
Where the handouts grow on bushes
And you sleep out every night
Where the boxcars all are empty
And the sun shines every day
On the birds and the bees and the cigarette trees
The lemonade springs where the bluebird sings
In The Big Rock Candy Mountains

"In The Big Rock Candy Mountains
All the cops have wooden legs
And the bulldogs all have rubber teeth
And the hens lay soft-boiled eggs
The farmers' trees are full of fruit
And the barns are full of hay
Oh I'm bound to go where there ain't no snow
Where the rain don't fall, the wind don't blow
In The Big Rock Candy Mountains

"In The Big Rock Candy Mountains
You never change your socks
And the little streams of alcohol
Come a-trickling down the rocks
The brakemen have to tip their hats
And the railroad bulls are blind
There's a lake of stew and of whiskey, too
You can paddle all around 'em in a big canoe
In The Big Rock Candy Mountains

"In The Big Rock Candy Mountains
The jails are made of tin
And you can walk right out again
As soon as you are in
There ain't no short-handle shovels
No axes, saws or picks
I'm a-goin' to stay where you sleep all day
Where they hung the Turk that invented work
In The Big Rock Candy Mountains

"I'll see you all this comin' fall
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains"

If the above song, a hobo’s idea of paradise, were to be updated to the present day, it would include:
- mobile phones with batteries that don’t need charging
- mobile phones with screens that don’t smash when dropped
- motorists who make a right hand turn indication well before, not after they are stopped
- delivery people who don't merely toss the delivered item over the fence
- council garbage collectors who empty the bins each time, instead of missing the red bin every single time

About the song:

"The Big Rock Candy Mountains" was first recorded and copyrighted by Harry McClintock in 1928, McClintock having said that he wrote the song in 1895, based on tales from his youth hoboing through the United States while working for the railroad as a brakeman.

McClintock’s hobo name was Haywire Mac. Haywire Mac's career began when he ran away from home to join the circus. Later, he worked in Africa and the Philippines, and was in China at the time of the Boxer Rebellion.

The song was likely partially based on other ballads, including "An Invitation to Lubberland", "The Appleknocker's Lament", "Hobo's Paradise", "Hobo Heaven", "Sweet Potato Mountains", and "Little Streams of Whiskey" which likely served as inspiration as they mention concepts similar to those in "Big Rock Candy Mountains".

Before recording the song, McClintock cleaned it up considerably from the version he sang as a street busker in the 1890s. Originally the song described a child being recruited into hobo life by tales of the "big rock candy mountain". In later years, when McClintock appeared in court as part of a copyright dispute, he cited the original words of the song, the last stanza 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 * * * * * * * *
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

The lyrics of the missing line have not been made public; in the released version the entire verse was omitted. See below.

As with many traditional and similar songs, there are different lyrics or versions of the same lyrics; McClintock himself edited or censored the song, certainly his original recording did not contain the lines:
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

The song was not popularised until 1939, when it peaked at #1 on Billboard magazine's country music charts. But it achieved more widespread popularity in 1949 when a sanitised version intended for children was re-recorded by Burl Ives.

The most famous version has this refrain:
Oh, the buzzin' of the bees in the cigarette trees
The soda water fountain
Where the lemonade springs and the bluebird sings
In that Big Rock Candy Mountain.

Sanitised 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 whiskey becomes a lake of soda pop.

A cluster of brightly coloured hills just north of Marysvale, Utah, near the Fishlake National Forest, is named the "Big Rock Candy Mountain". In 1928, after the song had been released, some Utah residents jokingly placed a sign at the base of the hills labeling it the "Big Rock Candy Mountain", along with a sign next to a nearby spring proclaiming it "Lemonade Springs". The Big Rock Candy Mountain Resort currently sits at the base of the hills offering lodging and an assortment of high adventure activities through Big Rock Adventure.

Other rock formations in the United States have also borrowed the name of the song; 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. Additionally, one of the peaks in the Capitol State Forest in Washington State is named "Big Rock Candy Mountain".

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