Sweet Baby James

Album: Sweet Baby James (1970)
  • There is a young cowboy, he lives on the range
    His horse and his cattle are his only companions
    He works in the saddle and sleeps in the canyons
    Waiting for summer, his pastures to change
    And as the moon rises he sits by his fire
    Thinking about women and glasses of beer
    And closing his eyes as the dogies retire
    He sings out a song which is soft but it's clear
    As if maybe someone could hear

    Goodnight you moonlight ladies
    Rockabye sweet baby James
    Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose
    Won't you let me go down in my dreams
    And rockabye sweet baby James

    Now the first of December was covered with snow
    So was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston
    The Berkshires seemed dream-like on account of that frosting
    With ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go

    There's a song that they sing when they take to the highway
    A song that they sing when they take to the sea
    A song that they sing of their home in the sky
    Maybe you can believe it if it helps you to sleep
    But singing works just fine for me

    So goodnight you moonlight ladies
    Rockabye sweet baby James
    Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose
    Won't you let me go down in my dreams
    And rockabye sweet baby James Writer/s: JAMES TAYLOR, JAMES V TAYLOR
    Publisher: Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, BMG Rights Management
    Lyrics licensed and provided by LyricFind

Comments: 23

  • D from JaxEverything I’ve seen on this site about this song is incorrect. I know he tells the lullaby story, but that is not what the song is about! It’s about his heroin addiction. Horse = Dope. Cattle = works. That was the street slang back then. Also, his only companion. ‘Deep green and blues are the colors I choose.’ Heroin is associated with the color blue. For example - ‘Blue Magic’ or ‘Tru Blue.’ He’s not driving to NC. He is going to Boston to re-up. That’s why ‘Ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go.’ Even though Boston isn’t 10,000 miles from Stockbridge, to him it feels like it, because he is in withdrawal and needs a fix. He just wants to get there. I love JT! Just keep in mind a lot of the stories he tells about his songs are not necessarily true. Not a lullaby! I wish, but no! If you look further into the lyrics of this song, it’ll make perfect sense!
  • Jbg from New York AreaSweet Baby James was actually the "B" side of Fire and Rain when the latter was released as a single. I had my parents buy me the "45" in September 1970. My father decided on getting the album.
  • Brian from AmsterdamAbout the "Moonlight ladies" how strange to read of hookers and spirits. I always thought this was the cleverest line in the song: it's the cows. Moooooooooooonlight ladies. Who else does he have to say good night to if his horse and his saddle are his only companions?
  • Robert Lewy from New York I'm a serious music lover since birth of all kinds. About 20 ago after driving my kids across then dam at Lake Meade and arriving at a mountain cabin this song came up on the radio and I cried like a baby at the "home in the sky" phrase. I did think it was the dogies. Had heard the song many times before of course. I'm a doctor, an agnostic. 10 years ago I got an incurable cancer and I'm reaching the final years but now think about joining my mother in the sky. Deep tears. Just getting tired of the struggle and I know she will understand my need for music. Very spooky.
  • Courtney from Honolulu, HiMy husband and I have lost 4 pregnancies in the past few years. I carried our last baby longer than the first 3 before he finally did pass. Each night I was pregnant I would sing this song to him before my husband and I went to sleep. I got a tattoo for him on my right arm that reads "Goodnight you moonlight ladies" and if I am ever blessed enough to carry a child to term, I plan on naming him James after this song. Thank you James Taylor for writing such a beautiful song that has given me much comfort through my best times and my worst!
  • Scott from Knoxville, TnI thought he used this song as a way to promote his agnostic feelings. "There's a song that they sing when they take to the highway, a song that they sing when they take to the sea, a song that they sing of their home in the sky. Baby you can believe it if it helps you to sleep. Just that singing seems to work fine with me." Am I wrong?
  • Deethewriter from Saint Petersburg, Russia FederationPeter Asher[part of the popular '60s Merseybeat duo Peter & Gordon. He went on to work A & R for Apple, with the Beatles where he discovered James Taylor and heavy-handed on Taylor's first album]: "I think probably within a matter of 6 months or a year I was looking back on it and thinking I kinda attacked it a bit too vigorously. In my desperation to make people pay attention. And to make every song different. And that's why I back-tracked a lot on Sweet Baby James and did it much simpler. Some people still love the album. Sometimes you look back and you see things you could have done better one way or the other, done more or done less."
  • Elizabeth from Anytown, Ilmy dad use to sing this to me all the time... memories
  • Frances from Morrisonville, IlI sang this to my children, along with Besey from Pike and others. I now sing it to grandchildren. I sing it but not well. They don't seem to notice.
  • Coffeegod from Brandon, MsIs there a person alive who heard this in their teens who hasn't sung it to a baby as a lullaby? I adore this song.
  • Jonesy from Los Angeles, CaOne of my favorite songs from JT. ^__^
  • Bob from La, CaHe's connecting with his nephew as if they are one. "with 10 miles behind me and 10,000 more to go" - That's the baby's and his life together. The baby has had only 10 miles of his life and there's 10,000 more to go.
  • Rick from Belfast, MeRight on Christene...my fav JT song also.....great song to sing along with....
  • Kathy from New Orleans, LaThis song reminds me of the first man who broke my heart. His name was Charlie and he loaned the album to me. I thought the picture of James on the cover looked a lot like him. I bought him a flannel shirt for Christmas, a plaid in "deep greens and blues". I never got to give it to him though, because he left on a jetplane to Denver, Colorado and I never saw him again. SIGH.
  • Ken from Louisville, KyJT was asked by Jay Leno to perform this on Leno's final Tonight Show in May 2009. Leno said he heard this on his car radio in the early 1970's while moving from his home in Boston to try to make it as a comedian in Los Angeles. He said the line "ten miles behind me, and ten thousand more to go" really hit home. When James sang that line on the show, he looked at Jay and smiled.
  • Jessa from Virginia Beach, MeJames had just gotten back from overseas and was on his drive down to North Carolina to see his new baby nephew (thus the mention of miles.) He wanted a lullaby to sing to his nephew and had no idea what to sing but he knew he wanted to include cowboys. He told us all this at his concert last night before he played the song.
  • Annabelle from Eugene, OrBill in Laurel, MD, I happen to be the one who posted the lyrics and the songfacts for this song, so I know of no reason whatsoever why there should be any errors. And best of all, I'm an expert when it comes to anything James Taylor! However, I don't know how you could deny that the moonlight ladies are the spirits of the moon. How could you say they were the cattle?
  • Bill from Laurel, MdGlad someone got what seems the correct word before "the Berkshires". The first ten sites gave it as "Lord", one gave it as "Though", but only "Oh" seems to fit the sound and duration. Unless there is a manuscript by the author, I'll go with "Oh."

    This song came out the year I graduated college (a spring of much turmoil) and not far from the Berkshires. I think I can remember hearing it on the radio whilst driving the Massachusetts Turnpike - at the beginning of my Long Journey from the wilderness to the vast worlds ahead of me. I found the line: "ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go" poignant at the time and much multiplied as I just added up the miles I've traveled since. If I count the five thousand hours I worked operating a telescope in geosynchronous orbit (26,000 miles high and taking one day each orbit), I "flew" 36,000,000 miles. Then if I add the 17 years of scheduling the Hubble (with about a one-fifth share of the orbits since launch 1990), I count about 500,000,000 miles - a half-billion. And perhaps many "more to go."

    I'd always thought the "Moonlight ladies" were the cattle he was "retiring" - herds traditionally would get talked and sung to as a calming agent. As they were bathed in those spirits of the moonlight. "Home in the sky" resonated as if he were singing about my meal tickets up there. Dream time is important when the shift work hours were all around the clock and one could hardly have fewer "companions" than a horse (spacecraft) and cattle (the starlight gathered) with the solitary demands on a space cowboy. I'd wondered if I've ever find a clean copy of that song again rather than a fuzzy snippet on a tape cassette from the radio thirty years ago. The only word I could not get from my fresh version was that short one just before "the Berkshires." Which led me to here. Wonder if JT ever could imagine how many miles his song would journey.
  • Christene from Surf City, NcMy favorite JT song...Everybody should have a Sweet Baby James to sing this to!
  • Joel from Anchorage, AkBesides Fire and Rain, this my favorite James Taylor song. Gone to Carolina is another great song.
  • Bruce from Gainesville, GaI sang this song often to my three children when they were young. JT is at his best with lullabies..."You Can Close Your Eyes" is another song that will soothe one to sleep!
  • Annabelle from Eugene, OrI was once put in the position of having to sing myself to sleep each night, not because of my mother, but because of my Grandmother. My Grandmother, Dorcas, was such a bad singer, that I just couldn't stand to hear her sing! She wasn't an opera singer, but she always sang off key, because she was actually tone deaf! I sensed the torturous nastiness of her so-called "Singing" from the first hour I was born, and that's when I knew that Grandma couldn't carry a tune! That's why I'm thankful that James Taylor wrote this song, he's a guy that sings from the heart! Way to go Sweet Baby James!
  • Don from Phoenix, AzA couple of years after the arrival of our first-born, whom we named James, my wife gave me a guitar. I happened upon the chords to this good old tune by JT, and of course had to learn it. 16 years later, I can still bring a tear to my wife's eye by strumming this one. Thanks, James!
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Dino Cazares of Fear FactorySongwriter Interviews

The guitarist/songwriter explains how he came up with his signature sound, and deconstructs some classic Fear Factory songs.

Don Brewer of Grand FunkSongwriter Interviews

The drummer and one of the primary songwriters in Grand Funk talks rock stardom and Todd Rundgren.

Zakk WyldeSongwriter Interviews

When he was playing Ozzfest with Black Label Society, a kid told Zakk he was the best Ozzy guitarist - Zakk had to correct him.

Experience Nirvana with Sub Pop Founder Bruce PavittSong Writing

The man who ran Nirvana's first label gets beyond the sensationalism (drugs, Courtney) to discuss their musical and cultural triumphs in the years before Nevermind.

Charlie Benante of AnthraxSongwriter Interviews

The drummer for Anthrax is also a key songwriter. He explains how the group puts their songs together and tells the stories behind some of their classics.

Eric ClaptonFact or Fiction

Did Eric Clapton really write "Cocaine" while on cocaine? This question and more in the Clapton edition of Fact or Fiction.