Monday, July 04, 2005

No Hits 7.4.05

This Land Is Your Land (mp3) - Woody Guthrie

This Land Is Your Land was written by folk singer and social activist Woody Guthrie as a counterpoint to Irving Berlin's popular but bombastic God Bless America. He purportedly composed the song while hitchhiking to New York during the cold winter of 1940, though it wasn't actually recorded until 1944. While the lyrics, which celebrate the natural beauty of America and decry the poverty of many of its citizens, are Guthrie’s alone, he didn't actually compose the music. The tune was taken from the Carter Family's When The World’s On Fire—a common enough practice among folk musicians (for all we know, the Carter Family lifted it from an earlier English ballad).

Woody Guthrie This might not have become an issue if it hadn’t been for last year's brouhaha over JibJab’s Web-circulated parody featuring John Kerry and Geoge W. Bush. The Richmond Organization, which owns copyrights to Guthrie's music, threatened suit. Alas, it had little to stand on. Not only did Guthrie not write the music, but the group had allowed the copyright of This Land to lapse in 1973. Ironically, Guthrie's original
appropriation of the tune was done at least partly in the spirit of parody of Berlin's patriotic hymn. What's more, the musician was well known for disregarding his own intellectual property rights--freely sharing songs and lyrics with other performers. The dispute was wisely settled out of court. Fun irony: George H.W. Bush used This Land during his presidential campaigns, not perhaps skilled in the sort of simple textual analysis that would reveal a quasi-socialist tract.

This song comes from the Smithsonian Folkways American Roots Collection, a nice compilation of original recordings of classic American folk, blues, bluegrass and jazz pieces. If you have even a passing interest in this kind of music, I highly recommended it. Also from the collection:

The Coo-Coo Bird (mp3) - Doc Watson and Clarence Ashley

Happy 4th!


Blogger George Vreeland Hill said...

Very interesting!
Thanks for the history lesson.
George Vreeland Hill

11:42 PM  

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