|Look what they've done to my song, Ma ...|
Last week I was catching up on Portlandia, when a haunting song played at the end of a skit caught my ear.
As fate would have it, I easily found that very skit on YouTube. Watch the whole thing. It's worth it.
The song is called "Going Home," and it's sung by Rosalie Folger-Vent, who I'd never heard of before.
But I'd heard that melody. And even though it's well known in high cultural circles, the first place I'd ever heard it was on country radio in 1981. It was performed by one of my favorite country artists of that era, Don Williams. But the song he sang was called "Miracles."
The lyrics aren't deep, but they're sweet. I don't have the original record, but all the online sources credit the song to Roger Cook. And he's a story in himself.
He's a British songwriter who wrote or co-wrote other Don Williams hots including "I Believe in You" and "Love is on a Roll," (co-written by none other than John Prine.)
Cook had a hand in writing radio hits include The Fortunes' "You've Got Your Troubles," "Long cool Woman in a Black Dress" by The Hollies and "Talking in Your Sleep" by Crystal Gayle. But his best known song probably is "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)," which became famous as an ad jingle for Coca Cola. (And you thought Don Draper wrote that, admit it!)
Though Roger Cook may have written the lyrics to "Miracles," he certainly didn't write the melody.
Credit for that goes to a Czechoslovakian composer, Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904). It comes from Dvořák's "Largo" theme from his Symphony No. 9 (From the New World), Op. 95. According to American Music Preservation.com, "His symphony was composed while he was in America and was first performed by the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall on December 16, 1893."
According to that website, "It has been said that Dvořák's themes in his symphony were inspired by American folk melodies, especially Afro-American or American Indian. But his themes are just as similar to Bohemian folk music."
One of Dvořák's students, William Arms Fisher (1861-1948), created a song out of the Largo theme and added his own lyrics. He called it "Going Home."
Said Fisher in 1922: The Largo, with its haunting English horn solo, is the outpouring of Dvorak's own home-longing, with something of the loneliness of far-off prairie horizons, the faint memory of the red-man's bygone days, and a sense of the tragedy of the black-man as it sings in his "spirituals." Deeper still it is a moving expression of that nostalgia of the soul all human beings feel. That the lyric opening theme of the Largo should spontaneously suggest the words 'Goin' home, goin' home' is natural enough, and that the lines that follow the melody should take the form of a negro spiritual accords with the genesis of the symphony.
"Going Home" has been performed by boys' choirs, bagpipers and Old Man River himself, the great Paul Robeson. Here is a version of Robeson singing it in 1958.
And here is the Dvořák piece from which it came. This is the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan.
All quite lovely. But I'm still a fan of Don Williams' "Miracles."
|It's hard to get the best of a man named Don|
For more deep dives into songs, check out The Stephen W. Terrell Web Log Songbook