Western or West Virginia? John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads" Sparks a Lively Debate
We love a good country road no matter where it is.
Before you read this story, be warned: John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” will most likely be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Now that you’ve been cautioned—or if you have realized it’s already too late—let us proceed.
In his 1971 song, “Take Me Home, Country Roads”, Denver croons an ode to those winding roads that lead you back home. While the sing-along chorus namechecks West Virginia, it has come to our most recent attention that the folks over at Blue Ridge Outdoors aren’t convinced that the song is actually about roads in West Virginia, though. Experts as they are on the Blue Ridge Mountains, they think Denver may actually be singing about not West Virginia, but western Virginia.
Here’s their logic: While Denver mentions West Virginia by name when he sings the lines, “Almost heaven, West Virginia/ Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River”, the scenery he cites is primarily in Virginia.
“The Blue Ridge Mountains are traditionally defined as the easternmost flank of the Appalachian Mountain chain, running roughly north-south from Pennsylvania to Georgia. They pass through only a sliver of West Virginia,” they explain.
As further proof that Denver was singing about Old Dominion, they note that “The Shenandoah River’s headwaters are near Front Royal, Virginia”, it then runs “through Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley” before emptying into the Potomac River near Washington, D.C. They do admit that over its 150-mile long run to the sea, “the Shenandoah does cross the eastern panhandle of West Virginia for approximately 20 miles”, and Denver might have just fallen in love with that particular bit of the river. They think it’s a bit more likely that Denver was singing about west Virginia (note the lower case “w”), opting to use “west” instead of “western” because it flowed more nicely in his song.
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Of course, there’s a good chance that Denver simply didn’t know that the scenery he was singing about was more in western Virginia than West Virginia, because, according to SongFacts.com, he had never been to either state when he recorded the song. The lyrics for “Country Roads” were written by Bill Danoff and Taffy Nifert, who were reportedly inspired by their drive along Interstate 81, which runs primarily through western Virginia. According to an interview with WVU Sports, when he was coming up with the song, Danoff had never really been to West Virginia either. In fact, Danoff reportedly originally wanted to write the song about his home state Massachusetts, but couldn’t get the cadence to work. When he, Nifert, and Denver sat down to work on the song, West Virginia, or perhaps west Virginia, simply worked best and a hit was made.
For its part, West Virginia isn’t particularly bothered by the potential discrepancies in scenic landmarks. They made the song one of its four official state anthems in 2014 and West Virginia University’s marching band plays the song when their teams win.
With all that in mind, which country road do you think John Denver is singing about?