“Almost heaven, West Jamaica”?
That’s the first line in Toots & the Maytals’ adaptation of “Take Me Home (Country Roads).”
And that’s just fine with the song’s creator Bill Danoff.
Iconic Hawaiian singer Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole, known for his sweet, ukulele-driven “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” also took a crack at “Country Roads,” changing the song to reflect his homeland, West Makaha, a part of Honolulu.
Danoff calls that interpretation “a cool one.”
“I love when other artists do my songs,” he said. “When they change them around a little to make them more personal for their audience, I think it’s flattering. There are so many versions in many other languages.”
For instance, you can search “Siva Pot” on You Tube to hear “Country Roads” in Slovenian.
Danoff knows firsthand that his song hits home with other people, some of whom, like him, do not have a close association with West Virginia.
Once, a fellow parent at his son’s school told him how much “Take Me Home” meant to her and how she had grown up singing it on the beach by a huge bonfire.
The woman turned out to be from Papua, New Guinea.
The song is popular in Japan, as evidenced by Olivia Newton-John’s version as well as one by Japanese-Brazilian bossa nova singer Lisa Ono.
The cover that moved Danoff most was by Ray Charles, whose version appeared on the 1972 album, “A Message From The People.”
” When I heard his voice sing my song, I cried. It was unbelievable.”
Younger generations still show an interest. Carrie Underwood performed it during her 2010 Play On Tour.
“Country Roads” has been sampled on such diverse TV shows as “The Office,” “The Sopranos” and “Dharma and Greg” and even was a plot point in an animated Japanese film, “Whisper of the Heart.”
Danoff has given a lot of thought to the worldwide appeal of his song and has come up with a theory:
“If you write something universal, it doesn’t mean anything to anybody. By making something specific, it can be more universal. People can draw from it what they need to.”