Browse by Title
A B C D E F G
H I J K L M N
O P Q R S T U
V W X Y Z #  




This Land Is Your Land

by

Woody Guthrie



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

Originally titled "God Blessed America," Guthrie wrote this as a parody of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America." When Guthrie started wrote the song in 1940, the last line in the chorus was "God blessed America for me," which Guthrie eventually changed into "This land was made for you and me." It evolved into a protest anthem as generations of Folk singers performed the song, but it is often misinterpreted as a patriotic song. The lyrics express Guthrie's belief that the working class should have the same rights as the rich.
Anna Canoni is Guthrie's granddaughter and a director at the Woody Guthrie Foundation. She considers this one of Guthrie's most powerful songs. Anna told us: "It's the most famous, but there's a reason why it's the most famous. I think that often people will just look at the words on the surface and not really look into what he's talking about. But when Woody wrote, he wrote in double entendres, and sometimes triple. And there's enough to keep you thinking. I think his music was really to keep you thinking and start up a conversation. It wasn't just something nice to listen to, it's something that needs to be said to begin a discussion. And I would define that as great songwriting. So 'This Land Is Your Land' would fit into that."
Guthrie got the melody for this song from a Carter Family tune. Canoni explains: "He wrote music and he could play a ton of different instruments, but his strength was certainly his lyric writing. He would often borrow tunes. As Woody put it, 'Well, if they already know the tune, they're halfway to knowing the song.'

The Carter Family was certainly a big influence on him. He always loved the idea of having a family band. His mother was his other main music influence, she used to sing these old Scotch-Irish ballads. And you could even see on the lyrics that he even wrote - he wrote "To the tune of..." and he would reference either another song he'd written or one by someone else." (Thanks to Anna Canoni for speaking with us about this song. Read more in her full interview. Learn much more at the official Woody Guthrie website.)
Guthrie started writing this song in 1940 when he hitchhiked his way from Los Angeles to New York City. Along the way, "God Bless America" was playing in jukeboxes across the country, which is where he got the idea to parody the song.
Guthrie didn't record the song until 1944, and he changed the lyrics over the years, performing it many different ways. It was not released until 1949 when a small company called Folkways Recording Company issued the disc. This version became the one picked up by other Folk singers and often sung in schools and summer camps, and is by far the best known rendition of the song. Earlier performances by Guthrie contained more verses, including lyrics about seeing a "No Trespassing" sign, but realizing that there was nothing written on the other side of the sign, and that side was the one made for you and me.
Pete Seeger was good friends with Guthrie and often performed with him. Seeger played this song many times, often with Guthrie's omitted verses. Seeger says that when he first heard the song, he considered it one of Woody's lesser efforts, but he came to realize that the simplicity of the song gave it such a wide appeal, and that this simplicity is what makes the song brilliant. When Seeger performed the song, he would sometimes call out the lyrics line by line just before singing them so the audience would know what to sing along.
Bruce Springsteen covered this on his boxed set Live 1975-1985. After having "Born In The U.S.A." misinterpreted by politicians as a patriotic anthem, this song had special relevance to him. Other artists who recorded the song include Tennessee Ernie Ford, Lee Greenwood, The Kingston Trio, Trini Lopez, The New Christy Minstrels, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and Woody's son Arlo Guthrie.
Ronald Reagan used lyrics from this song in a speech as part of his 1984 re-election campaign. Considering this the height of hypocrisy, Bruce Springsteen started performing it, trying to get Guthrie's message across.
This gained renewed popularity after the 2001 terrorist attacks on America. Many artists performed it in an effort to bring people together after the tragedy.
At Resurrection City, the Washington, D.C. shantytown set up as part of the Poor People's Campaign in 1968, Pete Seeger and an Afro-American singer named Jimmy Collier were about to sing this. Lakotah spiritual leader Henry Crow Dog came up and poked Collier in the chest saying "Hey, you're both wrong. It belongs to me." Collier respectfully asked "Should we not sing it?" Crow Dog smiled and replied "No, it's okay. Go ahead and sing it. As long as we are all down here together to get something done!"

Seeger was profoundly affected by the incident and spoke of it often, saying he had a hard time performing the song after that. Each time he played it, he would repeat the story about Chief Crow Dog and add a verse about the theft of Indian land, composed by activist Carolyn "Cappy" Israel. (thanks, Ekristheh - Halath)
In 2005, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings (who backed Amy Winehouse on the songs "Rehab" and "You Know I'm No Good") recorded a very soulful version of this song that was used to open the 2009 film Up In The Air, where it accompanied scenes from an airplane's point of view.
Woody Guthrie
Woody Guthrie Artistfacts
More Woody Guthrie songs
More songs that were Hippie anthems
More songs used by politicians
More songs with extra verses edited out

Comments (12):

On December 1st, 1962, Ketty Lester's covered version of the song entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart for a one week stay, at position 97.
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office - I see my people
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me.

As true today as when he wrote them.
- Sarx, Tucson, AZ
I've always been bothered a little by this song because despite knowing he did not mean it this way at all, it makes me ask -- who are "you and me?" What about the Indians? This makes the "patriotic" misinterpretation even more perfidious. While, of course, the original lyrics convey an Indian belief that no one owns land. This was the only Indian lyric I could find, but I am sure there are more. "This land is your land, but it once was my land -- until we sold you Manhattan Island. You pushed our nations to the reservations -- this land was stole by you from me."
- Ekristheh, Halath, United States
Tom Morrelo From rage against the machine also does a cover of this song on his solo stuff
(the nightwatchmen) he commented on how it was popular for children in school where they only use the 1st verse and leave out everything else , making the song appear completely what it isn't. and i agree
- Kody, Martinsville, IN
Bruce Springsteen has covered this and I think Bob Dylan, who was greatly influenced by Guthrie, also did a cover.
- Joel, Tulsa, OK
This song shows us what patriotism really is: the love of one's homeland and the people in it, and the belief that the land belongs to everyone. Too often, "patriotism" is used as a term for nationalism, which is too often subverted toward other agendae (e.g., If you are patriotic, you support invasions of Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.) and is enforced with violence. Woody Guthrie, perhaps more than any other songwriter, composed from both the heart and the gut--which is why this song, and others he wrote and sang, work so well.
- MusicMama, New York, NY
i hate how people go down to the fifth on "waters"
- Echo, Normalville, MA
I LOVE this song also. Just another Guthrie classic. Sadly, quickly being forgotten, like many other great musicians.
- Jon, Oakridge, OR
This song is sooooooooo emotional. whenever i hear it i brek down in tears of pity and overwhelming joy. This song has been stuct in my head for ever
- Bob, N. Riverside, IL
I never really paid attention to the words before, and hadn't known all of them. I now get the message that Woody was trying to tell us. Unfortunately, I don't think plliticians are going to stop misinterpreting songs such as this and "Born in the U.S.A." any time soon.
- Stefanie, Rock Hill, SC
There's a live verwsion of this that Bob Dylan performed. I can't remember where it was recorded at the moment, but it is on the No Direction Home sound track.
- Stefanie, Rock Hill, SC
woody guthrie had a good sense if humor and wrote a very nice parody of his own son:

"This land is my land!
It is not your land!
I got a shot gun
And you ain't got one!
If you don't get off
I'll blow you're head off!"

and it goes on. you get the idea.
- Loretta, Liverpool, England
You have to to post comments.
Classic MetalClassic Metal
Ozzy, Guns N' Roses, Judas Priest and even Michael Bolton show up in this Classic Metal quiz.
Michael Glabicki of Rusted RootMichael Glabicki of Rusted Root
Michael tells the story of "Send Me On My Way," and explains why some of the words in the song don't have a literal meaning.
Dave Alvin - "4th Of July"Dave Alvin - "4th Of July"
When Dave recorded the first version of the song with his group the Blasters, producer Nick Lowe gave him some life-changing advice.
Steel MagnoliaSteel Magnolia
Joshua Scott Jones explains why he's always asking forgiveness from his musical partner, who's also his girlfriend.