Woody Guthrie

This Land Is Your Land

Song Review by

So what can one say about what has been called the greatest American folk song ever written? Perhaps you could bring up the fact that the success of "This Land Is Your Land," Woody Guthrie's most famous composition, was drenched in an irony that made even the then-dying Guthrie wretch. Where as the song is frequently cited as patriotic gold and a possible new national anthem, many would be surprised to learn that "This Land Is Your Land" was written as a protest song and bitter parody of "God Bless America" (the original title and chorus was "God Blessed America for Me"). At a time when Irving Berlin's patriotic proclamation attempted to reassure an American public deeply affected by the Great Depression, Guthrie reportedly resented the idea of relying on the blessing of a higher power that had seemingly allowed the American people to be exploited and victimized by landowners and factory bosses. The song's final three verses, conveniently removed from the average music-class songbook, echo this theme. (The most famous of these forgotten verses proclaims: "there was a big high wall there/that tried to stop me/the sign was painted/said private property/but on the other side/it didn't say nothing/that side was made for you and me.") Though there are no actual recordings by Guthrie of the complete song (though a recording does exist with the "private property" verse), it is important for any musical scholar to note their existence -- it just might shed light on Guthrie's true intentions. This is a dead-serious, sorrow-filled protest song, a true crying out from a people that were suddenly beginning to question the validity of the American Dream. And while Guthrie's lyrics make no attempt to water down the unbearable hardship, he nonetheless concludes with a quite uncharacteristic twist of optimism ("nobody living can ever stop me/as I go walking/that freedom highway"). Thus, even as the song's character experiences wretched hardships and bitter poverty, he rises up and refuses to be defeated (quite a thematic difference from the glorified tolerance found in "God Bless America."). And though this "complete" version of the song may never be entered in any squeaky-clean Americana music books, it remains a true and bold reflection, a battle cry and tribute to the brave and dedicated Americans who retained their spirits during one of the most outrageously difficult times in U.S. history. Make no mistake -- "This Land Is Your Land" is the best song Woody Guthrie ever wrote. And that's saying something.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
No Image 1965 Verve Folkways 2:10
The Greatest Songs of Woody Guthrie 1972 Vanguard 2:41
No Image 1977 Warner Bros.
Folkways: The Original Vision 1988 Smithsonian Folkways Recordings 2:19
Folk Hits Around the Campfire 1995
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 2:17
God Bless the U.S.A. [Eclipse] 1996
Various Artists
BCI-Eclipse Distribution / Eclipse Music Group
Smithsonian Folkways American Roots Collection 1996
var art
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings 2:19
Songs for Political Action: Folk Music, Topical Songs and the American Lef 1996
Various Artists
Bear Family Records 2:26
Time-Life's Treasury of Folk Music, V. 2 1996
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 2:32
This Land Is Your Land: The Asch Recordings, Vol. 1 1997 Smithsonian Folkways Recordings 2:43
Songs You Know by Heart: Folk 1998
Various Artists
Unison 2:19
Pastures of Plenty 1999 Prism Platinum 2:26
The Asch Recordings, Vol. 1-4 1999 Smithsonian Folkways Recordings 2:43
The Ultimate Grammy Box: From the Recording Academy's Collection 1999
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 2:18
American Roots: A History of American Folk Music [Disc 4] 1999
Various Artists
Disky 2:18
American Roots: A History of American Folk Music 2000
Various Artists
Disky 2:18
Ramblin' Round 2000 Recall (UK) 2:18
Hard Luck Blues 2001 Catfish 2:51
American Roots Music [Box Set] 2001
Various Artists
Palm 2:45
American Roots Music [Highlights] 2001
Various Artists
Palm 2:45
Celebrate America [Gateway] 2001
Various Artists
Gateway Records 2:39
Songs from the Heart [Music Club International] 2002
Various Artists
MCI / Music Club International Records 2:19
Americana Roots: The Essential Album 2002
Various Artists
Manteca 2:18
Freedom: Songs from the Hearts of America 2002
Various Artists
Columbia 2:32
A Patriot's Songbook 2003
Various Artists
Hollywood 2:31
Folk Hits of the '60s 2003
Various Artists
Shout! Factory 2:13
In the Wind: The Folk Music Collection 2003
Various Artists
Varèse Vintage / Varèse Sarabande 2:19
Beginner's Guide to Folk Music 2003
Various Artists
Nascente
A Proper Introduction to Woody Guthrie: This Land Is Your Land 2004 Proper Records / Proper Sales & Dist. 2:19
American Folk Legend 2005 Golden Stars 2:18
Some Folk 2006 Proper Box 2:18
The First Rays of Protest in the 20th Century 2006 Primo Records 2:21
This Land Is Your Land: The Original Dust Bowl Ballads and Other Folksongs 2006 Discmedi / Discmedi Blau 2:18
Folk Music: From Roots to Rock 2006
Various Artists
Golden Stars 2:18
BD Folk: Woody Guthrie 2007 BD Music / Nocturne Records
This Is Your Land: The Story of American Folk Music 2008
Various Artists
Music Club International Records 2:19
Original Folk: The Best of Woody Guthrie 2008 Demon Records / Music Club Deluxe / Music Club Records 2:18
My Dusty Road 2009 Rounder Select / Rounder 2:47
Bob Dylan Cover to Cover: The Originals 2010
Various Artists
Mischief / Music Melon 2:19
The Only Folk Collection You'll Ever Need 2014
Various Artists
Shout! Factory 2:45
50 Songs of Protest AP