Big Rock Candy Mountain

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For the novel by Wallace Stegner, see The Big Rock Candy Mountain (novel).

"Big Rock Candy Mountain", first recorded by Harry McClintock in 1928, is a folk music song about a hobo's idea of paradise, a modern version of the medieval concept of Cockaigne. It is a place where "hens lay soft boiled eggs" and there are "cigarette trees." McClintock claimed to have written the song in 1895, based on tales from his youth hoboing through the United States, but some believe that at least aspects of the song have existed for far longer.


The song was first recorded by McClintock, also known by his "hobo" name of Haywire Mac. McClintock claimed credit for writing the song, though it was likely partially based on other ballads, including "An Invitation to Lubberland" and "The Appleknocker's Lament". Other popular itinerant songs of the day such as "Hobo's Paradise", "Hobo Heaven", "Sweet Potato Mountains" and "Little Streams of Whiskey" likely served as inspiration, as they mention concepts similar to those in "Big Rock Candy Mountain".[1]

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 buggered sore like a hobo's whore
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains."

In the released version this verse did not appear.

The song was not popularized until 1939, when it peaked at #1 on Billboard magazine's country music charts. But it achieved more widespread popularity in 1949 when a sanitized version intended for children was re-recorded by Burl Ives. It has been recorded by many artists throughout the world, but a version recorded in 1960 by Dorsey Burnette to date was the biggest success for the song in the post-1954 "rock era", having reached No. 102 on Billboard's chart.

Sanitized 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 gin is not mentioned, and the lake of whiskey becomes a lake of soda pop. The 2008 extended adaptation for children by Gil McLachlan tells the story as a child's dream, the last stanza being:

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains you're going on a holiday
Your birthday comes around once a week and it’s Christmas every day
You never have to clean your room or put your toys away
There's a little white horse you can ride of course
You can jump so high you can touch the sky
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

A folk version of the song is included in the Gordon "Inferno" Collection in the Library of Congress, under the title "The Appleknocker's Lament".[2]

Actual location[edit]

Just north of Marysvale, Utah, near the Fishlake National Forest, stands a cluster of brightly colored hills named the "Big Rock Candy Mountain". However, the song was written before the mountain got its name; 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[3] currently sits at the base of the hills and is a major hub in the Paiute ATV trail.[4][5]

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.[6][7] Additionally, one of the peaks in the Capitol State Forest in Washington State is named "Big Rock Candy Mountain".


Other uses[edit]

In 1987, famed photographer Robert Frank directed a screenplay by Rudy Wurlitzer entitled Candy Mountain that references the song.


  1. ^ Rammel, Hal (1990). Nowhere in America: the Big Rock Candy Mountain and Other Comic Utopias. University of Illinois Press. Retrieved September 23, 2010. 
  2. ^ "The Big Rock Candy Mountain (3)". Retrieved 2013-07-01. 
  3. ^ "Big Rock Candy Mountain Resort". Big Rock Candy Mountain. Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  4. ^ "ATV Paiute Trail". Retrieved 2013-07-01. 
  5. ^ Christine Wilkerson. "Big Rock Candy Mountain - Utah Geological Survey". Retrieved 2013-07-01. 
  6. ^ "Rock Climbing Routes in Big Rock Candy Mountain, South Platte Area". Retrieved 2013-07-01. 
  7. ^ [1][dead link]
  8. ^ Bankman, Daniel. "Big Rock Candy Mountain". Retrieved 17 March 2012. 

Further reading[edit]