Prine wrote this track after his father sent him a newspaper clipping about a quaint town in Kentucky called Paradise, where the singer had spent summers with his grandparents as a teen, that was bought by a coal mining company.
"Then the bulldozers came in and wiped it all off the map," Prine recalled to Performing Songwriter. "When I recorded the song, I brought a tape of the record home to my dad; I had to borrow a reel-to-reel machine to play it for him. When the song came on, he went into the next room and sat in the dark while it was on. I asked him why, and he said he wanted to pretend it was on the jukebox."
Prine re-recorded this for his 1986 album, German Afternoons.
John Denver covered this for his 1972 album, Rocky Mountain High. It's also been covered by Jackie DeShannon, The Everly Brothers, Lynn Anderson, Roy Acuff, Johnny Cash, and John Fogerty.
Johnny Cash recorded his version for his 1981 TV movie The Pride of Jesse Hallam.
Prine's version played over the end credits of the 1997 action flick Fire Down Below, starring Steven Seagal.
And daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
John Prine died from COVID-19 on April 7, 2020. In accordance with his wishes as expressed in this song, his family spread half of his ashes in Kentucky's Green River. They buried the other half next to his parents in Chicago.