It’s about a 260 miles one way to San Jose to see my brother and on a good day it takes about five hours with stops for coffee and restrooms. My car gets good milage and has one of those fancy instant MPG gages built into the dashboard display. It also shows you about how many miles you can go on the gas in your tank. Normally I fill up the car the night before so I can make an early start. It’s not very accurate but it’s there to look at. Most times after a fill up it reads 460 miles.
Last month after I filled up the tank the miles to go meter read, 500 miles. Which of course put the song, “500 miles Away From Home” in my head.
“Five hundred miles, five hundred miles …”. Here’s a link to Peter, Paul and Mary singing it:
The song has been kind of stuck in my mind ever since. Like many songs, I couldn’t remember all the lyrics so naturally I found it on YouTube and played it a few times. While I grew up in the 60’s when the song was written and I’m sure I heard it then, my biggest memory of it is from the 90’s when I bought a few Kingston Trio CDs. Actually I prefer the Peter, Paul and Mary version.
The song is a lament about a person who is dead broke and feels they can’t go home. It is also a traveling song with a haunting melody and the kind of melancholy that you can get on a long solo car journey. The lyrics just push the singer farther and farther from home as in the lines, “Lord I’m one, Lord I’m two, Lord I’m three, Lord I’m four / Lord I’m five hundred miles from my home”
Many artists have recorded it. Joan Baez, the Kingston Trio, and Peter, Paul and Mary are some of the more well know artists. The song was written by the folk singer Hedy West around 1962 and is her most famous song.
It’s the kind of song that gets stuck in your head.
I found it curious that my car gauge said 500 miles left and that the round trip to San Jose is just over 500 miles (more like 540 miles if you include the miles I drive in the city when I get there). Coincidence, maybe, but after the trip I thought I’d do a little more research on it.
Naturally this led me to another 60’s song, “Early Morning Rain.” Written by Gordon Lightfoot in ’66 it’s another kind of lament song and was recorded by a number of artists. Here’s one of my favorite versions again by Peter, Paul and Mary:
I’m going to blame Spotify for reminding me of this song. I was working in my shop and put Spotify on to listen to some music while I worked. In the search I put in 500 miles and I got the Peter, Paul and Mary version and then right after Spotify started playing “In the early morning rain … “ I have to say that Spotify gets some interesting ideas when I comes to what to play because right after “Early Morning Rain,” Spotify started playing Marty Robins songs starting with “El Paso.” Not sure how it got from folk to western, but it did.
I did listen to the Gordon Lightfoot version – it’s okay, but it’s much better with the harmonies of Peter, Paul and Mary. It’s one of those songs that has a nice melody, is easy to listen to, and one can like – until you actually listen to the lyrics.
Basically the song is about a guy who got so drunk the night before that he’s lying on the grass near an airport and only has a dollar left after being with an unknown number of women. He can’t afford a plane ticket so he talks about jumping on a freight train. This song does have a really great line that I wish I would have written when describing where the singer is by saying, “And, I’m stuck here in the grass where the pavement never grows.” I guess I’ve never been that drunk.
Naturally these two songs got me thinking about Roger Miller’s classic, “King Of The Road,” that strange song about a hobo riding the rails. I remember the song from junior high school and I still get annoyed by it. Here’s a link so we both can be annoyed:
Yeah, it was a big hit and tons of people liked it and lots of artists recorded it.
But I had to play it on the violin as part of the Junior High School Band’s Christmas concert. Yes, it was played at a Christmas concert and yes, I played violin in the school band, not orchestra, the band, right next to the trumpets and sax player (we only had one sax player).
Turns out our music teacher just loved the tune and we did it as an instrumental to avoid explaining why 12 year olds were singing songs about hobos. Also we were a small music class and didn’t have enough musicians to form an orchestra. There was this strange distribution of instruments as well in our class something like, 4 violins, 3 trumpets, two drummers, a cello, sax, two flutes, couple of trombone players and for reasons I never understood, a viola … it was an odd mix with about thirty of us all together.
Our music teacher learned music during the big band era and was forever trying to get us to play that. Well, he did his best and told us the best we could for the Christmas show was to form us up as a band as we had more brass than strings, and do some our parents would like. “King of the Road,” was picked because he liked it and he said our parents would have heard it. If you note in Roger Miller version, there is no brass, violins or other wind instruments, but our fearless teacher found an instrumental arrangement of the song that included brass and winds. We violin players got the flute parts to play, the cello player got the chance to switch to a bass violin and I don’t remember what the viola player did.
Well, that’s not completely true, I do know that the girl who played the viola transferred to another school that had a real orchestra. Likely she went on to play for the New York Philharmonic or something.
Me, I quit the violin the next year and focused on shop classes until high school.
Which was for the best – turns out I’m better on the table saw than sawing on a violin.