An American Odyssey in Song: Vermont – Willie Nelson and “Moonlight in Vermont”

Welcome to this series where I am going to attempt a virtual journey around the 50 States of America in song – Suggestions for the next leg always welcome!

Well, I’ve just spent a week in New Hampshire but it’s time to move on again and the next state we’re heading into is Vermont. The name comes from old French, meaning “Green Mountain”, and that pretty much sums up the whole state. There are indeed mountains, lots of forests and green, green pastures.

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Green pastures of course lead to daily farming and Vermont is where those quirky ice-cream makers called Ben and Jerry set up shop, wowing us with their wittily named flavours (Vermonty Python being one). Their visitor centre is the most visited attraction in the state. Vermont is also where those singing Von Trapps settled when they arrived in America. They built a Lodge in the picturesque Stowe which must have reminded them of their home in Austria. Climb every mountain indeed.

But what song to choose for this state, as again, a bit of tricky one? A few suggestions came in from fellow bloggers – Rol (from My Top Ten) came up with a couple that had the name Vermont in the title but not songs I’m familiar with (Long Vermont Roads by The Magnetic Fields and Just Give Me Moonlight In Vermont by Amy Allison). Another suggestion (from Rich at KamerTunesBlog) was that I use the Henry Mancini theme tune from the ’80s TV Series Newhart which was of course set in Bob’s Vermont B&B. I do remember that show and it seemed to come along just at the time American sitcoms started to get really funny, and ours became less so. If you want to see what it would be like to live in that green, green land, check out this clip. Very nice indeed.

But no, my last couple of song choices for states have been a tad tenuous so this time I’m going for a song that really paints a picture of the state – Moonlight in Vermont. There have been numerous versions of this standard from 1944, recorded by a variety of artists, but the one I have enjoyed listening to most over the last week was the one by Willie Nelson. Like Roger Miller, Willie is from Texas but no matter, when he decided to record an album of standards in 1978 called “Stardust”, he wanted this song to be on it. The song is considered the unofficial state song of Vermont and is frequently played as the first dance song at wedding receptions.

Moonlight in Vermont by Willie Nelson:

Willie Nelson is one of the greats of country music and will turn 84 (god willing) later on this month. He was one of the main figures of “outlaw country”, a subgenre of country music that developed in the late 1960s as a reaction to the restrictions of the “Nashville sound”. Willie has also acted in over 30 films, co-authored several books, has been involved in activism and (not surprisingly) the legalisation of marijuana.

The phenomenally successful ballad Crazy, most closely associated with Patsy Cline, was composed by Willie as were many other country standards from the 1950s. After great success he retired in 1972 but of course that didn’t last long and he is still performing today, still sporting his trademark pigtails and bandana. His version of Always On My Mind, although made famous by Elvis, is still my favourite.

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But this post needs something else, a little heart-warming story, and whilst doing a bit of background reading about the State of Vermont, I make an interesting discovery. The blacksmith and inventor John Deere was born there and was responsible for giving us much of the agricultural and construction equipment still used today, specifically the large steel plough. My grandfather was not the “lineman for the county” but he was the “roads supervisor for the county” back in the 1940s/50s. The climate and landscape of the North of Scotland would have been similar in many ways to that of Vermont, so thank goodness for the large snow plough attachments that came across from America just at the time my grandfather was responsible for keeping the often snowbound, highways and byways of Aberdeenshire open. Back then, before the days of television, the wireless was the main form of home entertainment and I feel sure that my grandfather might well have listened to an early version of the song Moonlight in Vermont before heading out for a night time shift on one of those giant snow ploughs. He would not have probably realised however that the large steel attachment at the front, was all down to a man called John Deere, from Vermont.

So, next time we’re going to be heading down into Massachusetts, and although I have a couple of ideas up my sleeve, I would be very grateful for some more song suggestions connected to that state. We’re still in New England but are now heading back along the coastal states towards New York where the problem will no doubt be, that there are just too many songs to choose from!

Until next time….

Moonlight In Vermont Lyrics
(Song by John Blackburn/Karl Suessdorf)

Pennies in a stream
Falling leaves, a sycamore
Moonlight in Vermont

Icy finger-waves
Ski trails on a mountainside
Snowlight in Vermont

Telegraph cables, they sing down the highway
And travel each bend in the road
People who meet in this romantic setting
Are so hypnotized by the lovely
Ev´ning summer breeze
Warbling of a meadowlark
Moonlight in Vermont

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days - I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 50 years ago the song "Alfie" was recorded for the film of the same name and I'm hoping that by writing this blog, I might finally work out the answer to his question, "What's it all about?"

12 thoughts on “An American Odyssey in Song: Vermont – Willie Nelson and “Moonlight in Vermont””

  1. Well, you surprised me with your choice of artist, but that’s no bad thing. Willie Nelson is a legend. Nice image of your grandfather listening to the wireless before setting out to clear the roads with his John Deere-enabled plough. Good connection.

    As to Massachusetts… surely there is only one choice? The lights shine very bright there, I understand.

    For more off-the-wall suggestions, I could add Feelin’ Massachusetts by the Juliana Hatfield Three or Massachusetts Avenue by Amanda Palmer. (Massachusetts is a horrible word to spell. Much harder than Mississippi.)

    Following on from Rich’s Newhart suggestion, you could always have the theme to Cheers, which was set in Boston. (Or anything by Boston, for that matter.) Then you’ve got The Boston Rag by Steely Dan.

    I think that’s enough to be going on with…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Glad I’m not totally predictable then – It will have to be a compromise between the totally obvious and the totally tenuous I think.

      Thanks as ever for all of these suggestions and sorry I’ve inflicted tricky spelling on people – much harder than Mississippi as you say.

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  2. Vermont looks lovely in the pics – yes, I can imagine a lot of similarities with the North of Scotland so that’s a perfect connection of your grandfather and the snow plough.
    Songs which mention Massachusetts (damn, yes, as Rol says, so hard to spell!) – apart from the most obvious one how about Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers and ‘Roadrunner’? He was in love with Massachuss…Masachu…/Massachusetts in that (with the radio on…) Happy memories walking home from school with my mates singing that at the tops of our voices (especially as it didn’t matter whether or not you could actually sing!) Got roped in with punk at the time too, didn’t it – that strange ‘new wave’ crossover – and also covered by the Sex Pistols.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, the way this journey started it was tricky coming up with songs for the first three states but it’s just going to get easier and easier now. As for JR, can’t believe I didn’t associate his music with New England before but just wasn’t concentrating on the lyrics properly first time around – As you said elsewhere this week, it is because of reading other blogs and having lines in the lyrics pointed out that I’m really starting to appreciate what went into the writing of them in a way I hadn’t done before.

      See you in Masachu…/Massacchu…/Masacchu…… the next state!

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  3. Willie Nelson famously sold the rights to Crazy for 50 dollars.
    Not doing so would have saved him much grief from the IRS in later years.
    I think we all know which song is going to feature next but as a left field suggestion New England’s very own Jonathan Richman ( again!) with Roadrunner.

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    1. So many songs and rights to music sold off for tuppence ha’penny – Think we’ve probably all done something like that in the past and regretted it but maybe not to such an extreme extent. Willie seems to have done ok at the end of the day though and still going strong at 84 (touch wood).

      I am really not going to be too predictable with this (would be boring) so keep the suggestions coming – I have a few draft posts waiting in the wings already and think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what I already had planned for Massachusetts. All could change of course!

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  4. I’d like to disrupt proceedings by casting my vote for The Dan’s*** “Boston Rag”.
    ***(I’ve been a Steely Dan fan from the start, so I’m allowed to call them The Dan).
    As for Willie, I first heard him and Ol’ Waylon way back in the 1970’s and have loved both of them since. More recently, I saw Willie perform live in Aberdeen. Not only did he play for over 2 hours, but after his show he spent about the same time at his tour bus signing autographs and being photograped with fans. The bloke is a legend.

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    1. That’s another vote for Steely Dan then (I have been a fan since the late ’70s but maybe that’s not a sound enough provenance to be allowed to call them anything else!).

      If you saw Willie in Aberdeen quite recently he must have been a fair age then – an absolute legend as you say. Liked his pared down version of this song by far the best.

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  5. A lovely post Alyson and particularly nice to see a photo of your Grandad. I could listen to Willie sing the phone book quite frankly. I’m jealous of lynchiefromab as I had a chance to see Willie in concert several years ago, but for one reason or another couldn’t make it – gutted. Your next port of call reminds me of the one about the dentist who opened a branch in Boston, specialising in oversized dentures – he called it Massive Tooth Sets. I’ll get my coat.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A lot of love still out there for Willie. Shame you didn’t manage to see him that time as just wonder how much longer he will be able to get up on a stage.

      As for the joke, it is a very bad one indeed, but not one I’d heard before so thanks for sharing (I think)!

      Like

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