2021 Song Draft- Round 1 Pick 12: Hanspostcard selects- ‘This Land Is Your Land’- Woody Guthrie.
Like many the first time I can remember hearing ‘This Land Is Your Land’ was in elementary school. We had a music teacher at the school who would make an appearance in our room once a week every Friday morning. One of those mornings he came in with an old portable record player and played ‘This Land Is Your Land’ and taught us to sing it. It was one of those songs that seemed instantly recognizable. The song has been playing in my head all week- and I’ve found myself walking around singing it to myself. I have long thought that the song should be the National Anthem.
Woody Guthrie wrote ‘This Land Is Your Land’ as a response to the Irving Berlin song ‘Good Bless America’ which was a big hit in the late 1930’s. He based the melody of the Carter Family’s ‘When The World’s On Fire’ and wrote a song called ‘God Blessed America’- which he would change to ‘This Land Is Your Land.’ The song was written in 1940- but after writing the song- Woody completely forgot about it and didn’t do anything with it until 1944. He revised the song in 1944- dropping the two verses that were critical of America- one about private property and the other about hunger. The song was recorded in 1944 and published in 1945. It was never a ‘hit’- but a decision in the early 1950’s-when American folklorist Alan Lomax approached music publisher Howie Richmond with a the plan to save the nation’s musical heritage- put the song out there in school music textbooks- and forever into the country’s conscience. Guthrie’s publishers charged just $1 for the licensing and the song then went viral. Of course the two ‘lost verses were not in that book probably due to the anti-communism feeling at the time in America. I myself like the song best with the missing verses included.
Over the decades the song has been heavily covered- one of my favorite versions is Bruce Springsteen’s live version on his mid 80’s box set Live 1975-85. Bruce along with Pete Seeger performed it at President Obama’s inaugural. Lady Gaga sang a snippet of it before a recent Super Bowl.
For a great great read on Woody Guthrie- I’d suggest one of the finest music biographies I’ve ever read- Woody Guthrie: A Life- by Joe Klein.
Below is a version of the song- Woody with his son Arlo’s voice added in- singing the verses that Woody taught Arlo because he was afraid they would be forgotten if he didn’t.