Album: Jonathan Edwards (1971)
Charted: 4


  • Many listeners have found meaning in this song, with some believing that it was a repudiation of Christianity. So what did Edwards have in mind when he wrote it? He told us in 2013: "I used to get letters back in the day, letters from English classes and different science classes telling me about the deeper interpretations that they had come up with - the meaning of life, you name it. That was always entertaining. But what it has left me with is the wisdom to not answer the question, because everyone's interpretation is way more creative and interesting than my original impetus for the song. So you go with it."
  • This is the kind of song that only a struggling folk singer could write. Edwards was living in a kind of songwriter co-op in Boston when he came up with it. In this setup, each occupant had his own room surrounding a kitchen where they would write, perform, and critique each other's work. When he played this song at the table, Edwards didn't have a chorus written, so he made one up on the spot.

    In our They're Playing My Song feature, Edwards explained: "I just went, 'How much does it cost? I'll buy it.' I was talking about freedom and talking about authority, my constant questioning of authority. 'How much does it cost? I'll buy it? Time is all we've lost. I'll try it. He can't even run his own life, I'll be damned if he'll run mine.' That just came out as I was playing the song for these people."

    One of the other writers in the room was Joe Dolce, who would reach #53 in 1981 with the novelty song "Shaddap You Face." Dolce told him the chorus made no sense, and that he should go back to his room and try again. Fortunately, Edwards ignored this advice.
  • Edwards recorded this out of necessity when one of the tracks he put down near the end of his 1970 sessions for the album, "Please Find Me," was accidentally erased. Instead of redoing that song, he did "Sunshine." Pleased with the results, he and the engineer overdubbed bass and added the drums the next day.
  • Edwards was signed to Atco Records, which was a division of Atlantic. They released "Sunshine" as his first single early in 1971, but it flopped. The song got some traction, however, when disc jockeys in New England started playing it off the album. Six months after the Atco single was released, it was re-issued on the independent Capricorn label with a demo version on the B-side. This time, the song was a hit, shooting to #4 in the US.

    Edwards, however, was not motivated by hit records. "I just was writing for the pure sake of having something to say and finding a venue to say it in through the guitar," he told us. This didn't go over well with Atco, which tried unsuccessfully to squeeze more hits out of him. The closest they got was "Train Of Glory," which stalled at #101 three months after "Sunshine" peaked ("Stop And Start It All Again" made it to #112). Edwards, who left his business affairs to his manager and signed whatever documents were placed in front of him, was locked into a ludicrous 14 album deal with Atco. His second album, Honky Tonk Stardust Cowboy, was released in 1972. Edwards thought it was a great album, but Atco was bewildered. The next year, he released Have a Good Time for Me, then bought an organic farm in Nova Scotia where he moved with his family. His next recording was a duet on the song "Wheels" with Emmylou Harris, released on her 1975 album Elite Hotel. Her boyfriend (and later husband), the producer Brian Aherne, helped Edwards get a deal with Warner Bros. and produced his next two albums: Rockin' Chair (1976) and Sailboat (1977).
  • When he performs live, Edwards usually ends the first of his two sets with this song. "I often say, and it's true, that if I had never done another song in my life, I'll be happy to have come and gone with that," he told us. "It was an anthem to many people and it helped a lot of people through Vietnam. It helped a lot of people through the drug culture of the last part of the '60s and the early '70s. It helped a lot of people cope with a lot of things that were going on during those tumultuous years. And I feel very proud to have done that and very happy with my contribution to our culture."
  • Edwards performed this song at the Mayday protests on May 2, 1971. With the slogan, "If the government will not stop the war, we will stop the government," the demonstration was organized by a group called the Mayday Tribe, with the goal of shutting down the government by blocking off key areas in Washington, DC. When the protests started on May 1, the government had thousands of troops ready and made mass arrests, which carried into the next day when Edwards played at the Washington Monument. "The sun was coming up and the National Guard was arresting people for protesting, for being on the grounds of the Washington Monument," he recalled. "It was my turn to play and I just started playing that song. We got to the end and my bass player and I looked at each other and we went, 'Let's just start it over again.' So we just kept playing that song. Because there's no better song for the soundtrack of that movie. It had just come out. Some people had heard it, some hadn't, but everyone heard it that morning, including the National Guard."

Comments: 20

  • Cindy B from FloridaThis song (and God's grace) enabled me (along with my mother and siblings) to endure, gather courage, and eventually break free of 14 years of an abusive stepfather! Thank you for the added strength!
  • Susan from Atlanta, GeorgiaMy father was a great proselytizer in the tradition of "Do as I say, not as I do"; I was 14 when this song came out, and even at that age I realized that this song was him all over. I always call it "The Dad Anthem".
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn January 9th 1972, "Sunshine" by the Jonathan Edwards peaked at #4 (for 2 weeks) on the Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; it had entered the chart on November 7th, 1971 and spent 16 weeks on the Top 100...
    A true 'one hit' wonder; it was his only charted record...
    Mr. Edwards will celebrate his 68th birthday this July 28th.
    *** 'He says in love and war all is fair, but he's got cards he ain't showing' ***
  • Linda from Inland Empire, CaLove this song, but I'm disappointed "Shanty" isn't on here. When I lived in Michigan, Grand Rapids station WLAV routinely played "Shanty" on Friday afternoons as "The Friday Song." When visiting family a few years ago, I was delighted to be in a local coffee shop on a Friday afternoon when, sure enough, the radio tuned to WLAV played "The Friday Song." It sure made me smile!
  • Esskayess from Dallas, TxEdwards said the song was done ' just at the time of the Vietnam War and Nixon.' How fast his ilk conveniently forgot which president actually put us there.
  • David from Hudson, OhI just recently saw Jonathan in concert and before he played this song, he gave a brief description of how the whole idea was created. He mentioned he was attending an anti-war demonstration in May of 1970 at the Washington Monument in DC and was standing in line ready to play. The show was running so late, that he had to wait until early the next morning to perform. While he was standing behind the stage, the sun was slowly rising up behind the monument and because it was such a glorious and beautiful moment, it gave him the inspiration to write this wonderful song.
  • Fred from Laurel, MdOh, and I've just rediscovered what was maybe my favorite JonEd song: "Emma." Check it out.
  • Fred from Laurel, MdIf this helps, I once heard a recording of this song that must have been from a concert, in which he sang the line as, "Nixon can't even run his own life..." Or it might have been when I saw him perform as part of the WFMA (World Folk Music Assoc.) annual benefit concert at the Birchmere in Alexandria, VA, some year in the 90's. *** He's got several other good songs -- "Shanty" got a lot of airplay on alternative rock stations in the 70's; "Cold Snow" and "Sometimes" are also good.
  • Terri from Long Beach, WaI always identified with this song. I was in my teens and strongly resisting, and resentful, of anything that hinted that anyone, other than myself, was in charge of my life. I had never heard about the military implications until last night, when my husband said that was what he thought the song was about. It's nice to know -I- was right. LOL
  • Cornflakes from Bfe, TnI LOATHE that they used this masterpiece to sell Jeeps. *sigh* And besides, I always thought this was written about Vietnam. An anti-war protest, anti-draft song full of metaphors about how the government couldn't handle their affairs, and how they used young guys and sent them overseas. "Some man's gone, he's tried to run my life/Don't know what he's asking," "He tells me I'd better get in line," "But he can't even run his own life/I'll be damned if he'll run mine," "He says in love and war all is fair/But he's got cards he ain't showing"...all those lyrics scream anti-establishment to me.
  • Kevin from Reading , PaJonathan Edwards is a dead-ringer for Stephen Stills, at least on this song -- the only one of his I ever heard.
  • Sean from Chicago, IlI was on iTunes and discovered that there's a "clean" version of this song, as well as a "clean" version of "Shanty." How -- and what -- can you clean up in the lyrics of "Shanty"?
  • Kerri from Manchester, NhThis song has always been my ode to my father.
  • John from Fort Worth, TxI've always loved this song. I was very impressed that "I'll be damned" was used as a lyric in a popular song when it first came out. I was 10 in that year. My wonderful mom, who was only 18 years older than I, sang along with this song with great enthusiasm when it was new. I heard it tonight while driving home from work and knew exactly where to come for more information, thanks to and its contributors. John Martin, 46, Fort Worth, TX
  • Mary from Yuma, AzI had always thought this song was about a son that just had a fight with his father, reading everyone else's opinion, and the things going on today, it sounds more like "Dubya".

    Mary Lacey, Yuma, AZ
  • Fyodor from Denver, CoI believe Edwards recorded this solo and the drums were added later. I heard him interviewed once and he mostly wanted to talk about the children's songs he was into playing at the time. But of course the interviewer had to bring this song up and asked him what it was about, and his tone of voice changed from sweet to bitter as he talked about the authoritarianism of his father.
  • William from Richardson, TxThe Pentagon Papers were published in June 1971 and Watergate happened in September that same year. I don't know what the context was when the song was written, but I can tell you that everytime I heard the song I thought of Nixon, and the turbulance our country was going through. (William - Richardson, Texas)
  • John from Levittown, NyThis song was covered by fellow Minnesotan Paul Westerberg on the Friends soundtrack.
  • Matthew from Shrewsbury, EnglandHe's this singer/songwriter from Minnesota, apparently.
  • Andy from Halifax, EnglandWho is this guy? i presume not the world record holding triple-jumper? (ive met him:D)
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