David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 284: John Denver (Take Me Home, Country Roads)

September 17, 2023

All is right with the world. It started last night a little before 11:00PM, EST.

That is when the greatest stadium anthem ever was played for the single most important reason.

Granted, it's one stadium, and the reason is pretty childish in many ways.

West Virginia University defeated its greatest rival, the University of Pittsburgh, in football, 17-6, in the resumption of "Backyard Brawl." The victory came in front of the Morgantown crazies at Milan Puskar Stadium, the corporate name for what us old-timers call New Mountaineer Field. As with any home victory, as soon as the WVU win is in the books, the team and the crowd join for a singalong to John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Last night, the singing was apparently so loud that friends who live several miles (and hills) away from the stadium could hear the 60,000+ singing.

Maybe you have to be a Mountaineer fan, but it brings chills to the spine. Watch this link of the full "performance." How important is this tradition to Mountaineers? Consider that #8 in the video, Nicco Marchiol, the back-up quarterback forced to play upon injury to our starter, is from Phoenix, Arizona, about as far away from Morgantown as any country road could extend. Recognize that I safely estimate that at least 75% of WVU football players are not from West Virginia. That's part of why it is always a challenge to coach there; you don't have a whole lot from state to start with. But it sure seems like once we get them on a country road there, they find a place to belong.

Little did John Denver (or his co-writers, Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert) know about just how big this song would be for West Virginians. According to Wikipedia, West Virginia only became the country roads' destination when actor Chris Sarandon (yes, Prince Humperdinck from The Princess Bride), and others, influenced West Virginia to begin "creeping into the song." What a nice piece of music (or movie) trivia.

From the get-go, "Take Me Home, Country Roads," was part of the football pregame show, culminating in Denver, Danoff, and Nivert attending the opening of New Mountaineer Field in 1980 for a pregame performance. (I can say I was there, and can vaguely remember it. As a freshman, I may have been intoxicated, so who knows?)

I am not exactly sure when this full post-game onslaught of fan and players began. It might have been that same September 1980 day, but I knew just how amazing this anthem had become when it was played to an adoring crowd after the WVU basketball team won the Big East tournament in 2010 . . . in Madison Square Garden (I wonder if Spike Lee was somewhere wondering WTF had happened to his sports palace). I only wish Denver had still been alive to see and hear that one shining moment.

The song is a natural sing-along classic, but hearing the original, as I link below, one can't bemoan that it lacks so much without 60,000 background singers. Danoff's and Nivert's background vocals harmonize beautifully, but that line "I beloooooooooong," could use 59,998 drunken co-vocalists. (As an aside, Danoff and Nivert were part of that infamous 70's one-hit wonder, "Afternoon Delight," as half of the Starland Vocal Band; so thank goodness, they have this song to be more fondly remembered by.)

So, Red Sox fans and Pitt fans, you can have your "Sweet Caroline" (I do believe the Mountaineer faithful gave a sincere rendition of your song last night), Virginia Tech, enjoy your "Enter Sandman," and Ohio State continue to bewilder us with "Hang On, Sloopy." West Virginia went out and made our song a state anthem and got it included in the National Recording Registry.

I ain't been home to West Virginia in over a decade, and given the events on the academic side of the house at WVU (see recent non-song-series blogs at this site), not wanting to; however, last night and today, I am reminded that "I should have been home yesterday."

A post script: after my initial posting here, my sister reminded me that 12 years ago today, "Take Me Home, Country Roads" was played at my nephew's and his wife's wedding reception, the crowd full of West Virginia graduates. My mother, who battled a love/hate relationship with West Virginia, cried tears of joy upon hearing it. We all end up home.

Denver, John. "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Poems, Prayers, and Promises.  RCA, 1971. Original song link here.

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See complete list here.