Cotton Fields

Album: 20/20 (1970)
Charted: 5

Songfacts®:

  • This much-covered track was written by Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter and recorded by the Blues musician in 1941. It first entered the folk canon when "the queen of American folk music," Odetta's live interpretation was included on her 1954 album The Tin Angel, which she recorded with Lawrence Mohr. Her version was entitled "Old Cotton Fields at Home." Harry Belafonte learned the song from Odetta and began singing it in concert as early as 1955 before including it on his 1958 album, Belafonte Sings The Blues. The song became a hit on the Hot 100 for the first time in 1961 when folk group The Highwaymen took it to #13 on the chart.
  • The best known version is for many the one by The Beach Boys, with Al Jardine on lead vocals. Dissatisfied with Brian Wilson's arrangement of the song, which led the group's 1969 album 20/20, Jardine later led the group to record a more Country-Rock style version, which became an international hit reaching #1 in Australia, South Africa, Sweden and Norway, but surpassingly failed to make the Billboard Hot 100. Jardine told Consequence of Sound why he decided they needed to re-record it: "Well, I thought Brian was going to give me another 'Sloop John B,' he said. We went into the studio, and it just didn't happen. It was quite flat, I thought, and very un-Beach Boy-like. It sounded more like a country thing. Not even that, it just sounded like a demo. So, I picked up the gauntlet and took the appearance band into the studio, and we re-recorded it with my band, which is much more powerful than the studio guys we were using at the time. And I thought it was great. And Dennis Wilson kind of helped me out. He was, you might say, our spark plug guy; he was our energy guy, and he really believed in it."

    "And a couple of new additions," he continued, "one being a steel guitar, kinda gave it a country flavor, which, in hindsight, I wouldn't put on today, but it's there, and that's what it is. It was a famous guy, a famous steel player named Red Rhodes. But anyway, that's how my production ended up being the single. It was just a good live band recording."
  • This was the final Beach Boys' single released on Capitol Records, who had been the group's label since 1963, and their last single released in mono.
  • Other well known recordings of the song include ones by:

    Johnny Cash under the title of "In Them Old Cottonfields Back Home" for his 1962 album The Sound Of Johnny Cash.
    Creedence Clearwater Revival on their 1969 album Willy and the Poor Boys. Their version hit #1 in Mexico in 1970.
    Elvis Presley in his 1970 documentary movie Elvis: That's the Way It Is. His interpretation can be found on the special edition of the film's soundtrack album.

Comments: 3

  • Susan from Atlanta, GeorgiaThe version done by Creedence Clearwater Revival mentioned above is far and away my favorite. I'd heard it earlier in the 1960s and was not terribly impressed by it, but when I heard their version, it became a lifelong favorite.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn December 17th 1970, the Beach Boys appeared in concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England; one of concerts goers Princess Margaret...
    Earlier on 1970 on June 14th the Beach Boys' covered version of "Cotton Fields" had peaked at #5 {for 2 non-consecutive weeks} on the United Kingdom Singles chart...
    R.I.P. Dennis Wilson {1944-1983} and Carl Wilson {1946-1998}.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn June 20th 1793, Eli Whitney applied for a patent for his cotton gin and was granted the patent on March 14th, 1794...
    The Beach Boys' version "Cotton Fields" peaked at #1 in Australia , Norway, and Sweden...
    During the rock era it charted two more times on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; the Highwaymen (peaked at #13 (for 2 non-consecutive weeks) on February 4th, 1962) and Ace Cannon (#67 in 1963)...
    Creedence Clearwater Revival's version reached #1 in Mexico in 1970, it was a track from their 'Willy and the Poor Boys' album.
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