The Weavers version
Lead Belly version
“Goodnight, Irene” or “Irene, Goodnight,” is a 20th-century American folk standard, written in 3/4 time, first recorded by American blues musician Huddie ‘Lead Belly’ Ledbetter in 1933.
In 1950, one year after Leadbelly’s death, the American folk band The Weavers recorded a version of “Goodnight, Irene.”
The lyrics tell of the singer’s troubled past with his love, Irene, and express his sadness and frustration. Several verses make explicit references to suicidal fantasies, most famously in the line “sometimes I take a great notion to jump in the river and drown,” which was the inspiration for the 1964 Ken Kesey novel Sometimes a Great Notion.
- The single first reached the Billboard Best Seller chart on June 30, 1950 and lasted 25 weeks on the chart, peaking at #1.
- Although generally faithful, the Weavers chose to omit some of Leadbelly’s more controversial lyrics, leading Time magazine to label it a “dehydrated” and “prettied up” version of the original. Due to the recording’s popularity, however, The Weavers’ lyrics are the ones generally used today.
- Frank Sinatra’s cover, released only a month after The Weavers’, lasted nine weeks on the Billboard magazine Best Seller chart on July 10, peaking at #5. Later that same year, Ernest Tubb and Red Foley had a #1 country music record with the song, and both Dennis Day and Jo Stafford released versions which made the Best Seller chart, peaking at #17 and #9 respectively. Moon Mullican also had a country hit with it in 1950.
- In 2002, Lead Belly’s 1936 Library of Congress recording received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award.
“This Land Is Your Land” is one of the United States’ most famous folk songs. Its lyrics were written by 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 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.
In 2002, it was one of 50 recordings chosen that year by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry.
- 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.
- 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”.)
- 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.
- 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.
- Given the economic climate of the 1940s, this song was most popularly sold in a hand-printed booklet with nine other songs and a selection of illustrations for 25c. This made the song hugely popular among those struggling with financial hardship and the effects of WWII.
- In January 2009, Bruce Springsteen and longtime friend of Woody Guthrie – Pete Seeger performed the song together at the inauguration of US President Barack Obama at Washington DC’s Lincoln Memorial.