Song Spotlight: “Big Rock Candy Mountain”

Song Spotlight: "Big Rock Candy Mountain" |
  • Mood: Cheerful, Wistful
  • Themes: Wishes, Dreams, Candy
  • Tempo: Medium
  • Genre/Style: Folk

“Big Rock Candy Mountain” was written in 1928 by Harry McClintock, whose hobo name was Haywire Mac. It was said he likely drew inspiration for the song from other songs of similar subject matter: a dream world made of treats and food.

He began performing the song as a busker (a street musician) with a (ahem) non-family friendly version of the song. He cleaned the song up considerably for the official recorded version.

Here are some of the first recorded lyrics:

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

The song did not actually become a hit until 1939, ten years after the recording was released, and then again in 1949, when it was re-released as a child-friendly song where the cigarette trees were changed into peppermint, streams of alcohol became lemonade, and the whiskey lake was made into soda pop.

Try This:

The song’s wistful theme and subject of sweets and food provides an easy transition into reminiscence and discussion of many subjects. These songs can also be great for songwriting. Listen to the song then use the suggestions below to enhance the experience.

Theme – Wishes/Dreams, or Candy: This song would fit well into a themed discussion on ideal worlds, or to promote discussion of wishes or dreams, past or present. This song can also spark discussion of favorite candy and reminiscence about Halloween memories. Other complementary songs may include “Keep on the Sunny Side,” “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” and “Lollipop.”

Songwriting: Print or display fill in the blank style lyrics. Fill in the spaces with suggestions of group members, starting with those who volunteer, or encourage participants to choose ideas as a group. Work as a group to re-write the song, then sing your new version together. Gather feedback from the group and make changes as you write.

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains,
all the ___________ have ___________
And the __________all have ______________
And the ____________ __________ _____________
The farmers’ fields are full of _____________________
And the barns are full of ___________
Oh I’m bound to go where there ain’t no ________________
Where the _____________ don’t fall
The wind don’t blow
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

Build a personalized songbook: Print out the final draft of the new verse(s) and add to your group songbook as the group writes more songs together.

Play percussion instruments: Shake or tap along with this wishful tune.

What would be in your ideal world? What other songs about sweets do you enjoy? Please leave your comments below!

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