This Land Is Your Land

Album: The Very Best of Woody Guthrie (1944)
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  • Originally titled "God Blessed America," Guthrie wrote this as a parody of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America." When Guthrie started writing 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 called "When the World's on Fire." 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.
  • Thanks to a legal snafu, this song is (somewhat fittingly) in the public domain. Most of Guthrie's songs have had their copyrights renewed, keeping them locked down for 95 years after the date they were first published. "This Land Is Your Land," however, wasn't registered until 1956, and the owner of that copyright, Ludlow Music, renewed that copyright in 1984 (law at the time stated that a copyright had to be renewed after 28 years). Guthrie published the song in 1945 when he created a pamphlet with the words and music and sold it as sheet music. This means that the copyright was up for renewal in 1973, not 1984, so the Ludlow copyright was not valid.

    This was only discovered in 2004 when the website JibJab created an animation using the song in a comedy bit with caricatures of the presidential candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry. When Ludlow tried to enforce their copyright, JibJab fought it, claiming they were allowed to use the song, since it was satire. When the case was made public, the Electronic Frontier Foundation discovered Guthrie's 1945 pamphlet and figured out that Ludlow didn't own the rights. Thus it was discovered that this song is free for you and me (as long as you record an original version).
  • 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. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    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.
  • My Morning Jacket recorded this song in 2014 for use in a commercial for The North Face apparel. The ad shows various outdoor adventurers (including distance runner Dean Karnazes and mountain climber Hilaree O'Neill) in different photogenic landscapes. The full version of the song was released as a single on iTunes, with proceeds going to the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, which is dedicated to preserving and restoring public land.
  • A version performed by the Nashville singer Marc Scibilia, best known for his 2010 song "How Bad We Need Each Other," plays throughout a 90-second commercial for the Jeep Renegade that debuted during the 2015 Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks. The spot, titled "Beautiful Lands," is filled with striking scenery from around the world with the tagline: "The World Is a Gift. Play Responsibly."

    The spot was the most Shazam-ed moment of the game and gave Scibilia a nice boost. Unfortunately, his label, IRS Records, shut down later that year.
  • In the 2016 season, the Baltimore Orioles started a tradition of playing this song during the seventh inning stretch of every Friday night home game as part of their "Community Heroes" program where they honor local citizens who have done good deeds. This time is typically reserved for an overtly patriotic song, but the team wanted to represent a different viewpoint. "There is a strain of progressivism in American life, and if we can reflect it, I think that's a good thing," said John Angelos, the team's chief operating officer.

    This came at a time when tensions were running high in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray, who was killed while in police custody. Later in 2016, pro football players began protesting police treatment of minorities by demonstrating during the national anthem.

    The Orioles followed tradition by playing "America The Beautiful" on Saturdays and "God Bless America" on Sundays.
  • Lady Gaga opened her 2017 Super Bowl halftime show by singing a verse of "God Bless America" followed by a verse from "This Land Is Your Land," creating an intriguing mashup of patriotism and protest that got even more interesting when she recited part of the Pledge of Allegiance. Then she jumped from the top of the stadium and delivered a hit-filled spectacle.
  • At the 2021 US presidential inauguration, Jennifer Lopez sang "This Land Is Your Land" followed by "America The Beautiful" before Joe Biden took the oath of office.

Comments: 19

  • Sue from Usa MidwestI love the information provided and the perspectives covered of how the song was received.
    SIRI provided me this page when I asked about a movie in which the only details I can remember are: it starred a Quaid (Dennis or Randy) portraying woody, this song is in the movie and it has the word Bound in the title Anyway love and appreciate the work you have put into this. Small enhancement suggestion would be add any film connections Thanks Sue
  • Rick from America Woodie Guthrie was a communist.
  • Michael from Vienna (austria)Let me first tell you that English is not my mother tongue, so please don't critisize me if my command of that language is not perfect. However I have always thought that the lyrics of this song are stupid and are written by somebody with absolutely no gift for poetry. I have never heard of "The New York Island" and I have the feeling that Guthrie just put in, because he needed something on the East Coast to rhyme with "my land". And as far I know "footsteps" does not rhyme with "deserts". Of course I know that good poetry - which this is song isn't! - does not need to rhyme, but it looks as if Guthrie wants to rhyme, but isn't able to.
  • Harvey Wachtel from Kew Gardens, NyI think that although the lyrics suggest this song is about land, it's actually a socialist anthem against greed in general. There's no way the Native Americans, victims of territory-greedy settlers, are going to get their ancestral land back, but they are nevertheless part of the "we" that Guthrie says the land now belongs to.

    Well, at least Bernie has rescued the word "socialism" from the Bolsheviks. We may get there someday.
  • Harvey Wachtel from Kew Gardens, Ny@echo: Please understand I'm not trying to troll or contradict your post; As someone interested in but not too knowledgeable about music theory, I'm genuinely curious about your reaction to the common melodic variation on the second syllable of "waters". Why do you dislike it? Is it only because it's a variation, do you feel that it detracts from the spirit of the melody, or what? Thanks.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn March 24th 1963, Peter, Paul & Mary's second studio album, 'Moving', peaked at #2* {for 1 week} on Billboard's Top LP Albums chart; the week it was at #2, the #1 album for that week was 'Songs I Sing On The Jackie Gleason Show' by Frank Fontaine...
    Track six of side one on the album was the trio's covered version of "This Land Is Your Land"...
    * After the album spent its one week at #2, it stayed at #3 for the next four weeks.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn February 23rd 1940, Woody Guthrie, while in his room at the Hanover House Hotel in New York City, wrote the lyrics to "This Land Is Your Land"...
    In 1962 two covered versions of the song entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; and both debut on the same day, The New Christy Minstrels at #93 and Ketty Lester at #97, and both also remained on the chart for just one week...
    The song is a favorite of Bruce Springsteen; between 1980 and 2013 he had performed the song in 107 different concerts.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn 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.
  • Sarx from Tucson, AzIn 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.
  • Ekristheh from Halath, United StatesI'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."
  • Kody from Martinsville, InTom 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
  • Joel from Tulsa, OkBruce Springsteen has covered this and I think Bob Dylan, who was greatly influenced by Guthrie, also did a cover.
  • Musicmama from New York, NyThis 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.
  • Echo from Normalville, Mai hate how people go down to the fifth on "waters"
  • Jon from Oakridge, OrI LOVE this song also. Just another Guthrie classic. Sadly, quickly being forgotten, like many other great musicians.
  • Bob from N. Riverside, IlThis 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
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScI 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 from Rock Hill, ScThere'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.
  • Loretta from Liverpool, Englandwoody 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.
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