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|"This Land Is Your Land"|
|Song by Woody Guthrie|
|"This Land Is Your Land"|
|Song by Woody Guthrie|
"This Land Is Your Land" is one of the United States' most famous folk songs. Its lyrics were written by American folk singer Woody Guthrie in 1940 based on an existing melody, in critical response to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America", which Guthrie considered unrealistic and complacent. Tired of hearing Kate Smith sing it on the radio, he wrote a response originally called "God Blessed America". Guthrie varied the lyrics over time, sometimes including more overtly political verses in line with his sympathetic views of communism than appear in recordings or publications.
Guthrie wrote the song in 1940 and recorded it in 1944. The song was not published until 1945, when it was included in a mimeographed booklet of ten songs with typed lyrics and hand drawings. The booklet was sold for twenty-five cents, and was copyrighted in 1951.
The first known professionally printed publication was in 1956 by Ludlow Music (now a unit of The Richmond Organization), which administered the publishing rights to Guthrie's song. Ludlow later issued versions with piano and guitar accompaniments.
Guthrie's melody was very similar to the melody of "Oh, My Loving Brother", a Baptist gospel hymn that had been recorded by the Carter Family as "When the World's On Fire" and had inspired their "Little Darlin', Pal of Mine." He used the same melody for the chorus and the verses.
Guthrie's song, however, had a different melodic structure from the hymn or the similar Carter family melodies, and he used only the first half of those melodies in his song. The melodic structure of the presumed model(s) can be described as "ABCD"—a new melodic phrase for each of its four lines. Guthrie's structure, however, is "ACAB." In other words, Guthrie repeats the beginning of the melody (the "A" section) for his third line, and for his fourth line ("This land was made for you and me" in the chorus), he uses a melody that is not found in the hymn or in either Carter family melody.
Following are the original lyrics as composed on February 23, 1940, in Guthrie's room at the Hanover House hotel at 43rd St. and 6th Ave. (101 West 43rd St.) in New York, showing his strikeouts. The line "This land was made for you and me" does not literally appear in the manuscript at the end of each verse, but is implied by Guthrie's writing of those words at the top of the page and by his subsequent singing of the line with those words.
The original title was "God Blessed America", but it was struck out and replaced by "This Land
Was Made For You & Me". It appears therefore that the original 1940 title was "This Land".
According to Joe Klein, after Guthrie composed it "he completely forgot about the song, and didn't do anything with it for another five years." (Since there is a March, 1944, recording of the song, Klein should have said "four years".)
Note that this version drops the two political verses from the original: Verse four, about private property, and verse six, about hunger.
A March 1944 recording in the possession of the Smithsonian, the earliest known recording of the song, has the "private property" verse included. This version was recorded the same day as 75 other songs. This was confirmed by several archivists for Smithsonian who were interviewed as part of the History Channel program Save Our History – Save our Sounds. The 1944 recording with this fourth verse can be found on Woody Guthrie: This Land is Your Land: The Asch Recordings Volume 1, where it is track 14.
Woody Guthrie has a variant:
It also has a verse:
A 1945 pamphlet which omitted the last two verses has caused some question as to whether the original song did in fact contain the full text. The original manuscript confirms both of these verses.
As with other folk songs, the lyrics were sung with different words at various times although the motives for this particular change of lyrics may involve the possible political interpretations of the verses. Recordings of Guthrie have him singing the verses with different words.
The song was brought back to life in the 1960s, when several artists of the new folk movement, including Bob Dylan, The Kingston Trio, Trini Lopez, Jay and the Americans, and The New Christy Minstrels all recorded versions, inspired by its political message. Peter, Paul and Mary recorded the song in 1962 for their Moving album. The Seekers recorded the song for their 1965 album, A World of Our Own. It was performed many times by the cyclist choir, accompanied by guitarists and a wash-tub bassist, during the Wandering Wheels historic 1966 U.S. coast-to-coast bicycle trip. At the founding convention of the Canadian social democratic New Democratic Party, a version of the song was sung by the attending delegates. Bruce Springsteen released a live version of it on Live/1975–85, in which he called it "about one of the most beautiful songs ever written."
The song was sung by Springsteen and Pete Seeger, accompanied by Seeger's grandson, Tao Rodríguez-Seeger, at We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial on January 18, 2009. The song was restored to the original lyrics (including the 'There was a big high wall there' and 'Nobody living can ever stop me' verses) for this performance (as per Pete Seeger's request) with the exception of a change in the end of the 'Relief Office' verse to "As they stood hungry, I stood there whistling, This land was made for you and me." The original lyrics are "As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking, Is this land made for you and me?"
In 2010, Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey, the surviving members of Peter, Paul and Mary, requested that the National Organization for Marriage stop using their recording of "This Land is Your Land" at their rallies, stating in a letter that the organization's philosophy was "directly contrary to the advocacy position" held by the group.
Arlo Guthrie tells a story in concerts on occasion, of his mother returning from a dance tour of China, and reporting around the Guthrie family dinner table that at one point in the tour she was serenaded by Chinese children singing the song. Arlo says Woody was incredulous: "The Chinese? Singing "This land is your land, this land is my land? From California to the New York island?"
As is the case with many well-known songs, it has been the subject of an enormous number of variations and parodies. They include:
Many variants of the song have been recorded in which lyrics adjusted to fit other countries or regions. They include:
The song has been sung by characters in many films, including Bob Roberts (1992), Stepmom (1998), Full House, The Luck of the Irish a Disney Channel movie, Up in the Air and Renée Zellweger in the 2010 film My Own Love Song.
It has been parodied many times, including:
In 2004, the website JibJab featured a parody of the song, featuring John Kerry and George W. Bush singing altered lyrics, resulting in the Richmond Organization threatening legal action. At this point, it was noticed that the copyright to the original 1945 publication had expired in 1973 and was not renewed as then required by copyright law. The Richmond Organization, a music publisher that owns the copyright to Guthrie's tune through its Ludlow Music unit, settled with Jibjab shortly thereafter. Richmond still, however, claims copyright on other versions of the song, such as those appearing in the 1956 and later publications. Legally, such claims only apply to original elements of the song that were not in the public domain version.
Sample of Woody Guthrie's song, "This Land is Your Land"
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