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Country Roads, John Denver & Cinema In 2017

Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain momma
Take me home, country roads

For those who aren’t aware, John Denver was a famous American singer-songwriter who primarily record what most would consider to be country and adult contemporary music. This is a site about film and television, so I won’t relay his recording history, but there’s two things that you need to know going forward. One is that one of his earliest and biggest hits was a song titled “Take Me Home, Country Roads“, which hailed from his 1971 album Poems, Prayers, and Promises. The second is that Mr. Denver tragically perished in a plane crash on October 12th, 1997.

As you can imagine, being that it’s a world famous tune, it carries a special place in the hearts of most West Virginians due to the lyrics. It’s been a hit in the state ever since it arrived and you’d be hard-pressed to attend any sizable event within where it isn’t played over the loudspeakers at some point. Hell, it was finally made the official state song in 2014.

As someone who has lived in West Virginia all of his life to date, I’m intimately familiar with the tune, despite not being much of a country music fan. For a time, I had a cynical outlook on the song. “Is this beloved solely because it name-checks the state? LAME!“. Of course I’m no longer an idiotic teenager and these days even a metalhead such as myself can appreciate good songwriting within other musical genres. While not something I intentionally seek out as a listener, it still manages to feel like a warm blanket whenever I hear it pop up.

Normally when people remember an artist’s death and, in turn, their life, you get some memorial pieces that pop up. Articles, radio specials, and even sometimes documentaries come along celebrating their life and life’s work. I’m sure those will come along in some form for Denver in the near future, if they haven’t already, but 2017 has managed to conjure up a very different tribute to the singer-songwriter and one of his most famous tunes.

Earlier this year, despite being a spacebound, future-set creature feature, Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant managed to weave “Take Me Home, Country Roads” both into its publicity materials and even the film itself. Its appearance in the latter was a fleeting moment, but part of a pivotal event in the film’s plot. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but smiling and musing about how it should go over well with my state’s populace. The film arrived on May 12th, exactly five months out to the day from the approaching anniversary of Denver’s death. An odd coincidence.

Cut to August 18th and I find myself sitting in a theater watching a very different film: Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky. “Country Roads” pops up again in the film in two important places, becoming an integral element to the subplot involving Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) and his daughter Sadie (Farrah McKenzie). The film opens with him explaining the song’s importance to Sadie and why it’s his favorite song. Later on, we see Sadie sing it to an auditorium of people, virtually all of whom join in as she sings it for her school’s talent show.

It was fun seeing the song pop up as an important plot point twice in the same year, but I didn’t think too much of it. After all, most of the main characters in Logan Lucky are West Virginians, Soderbergh has set a film here before (Bubble), and Tatum even lived here for a stretch in his pre-acting days. It’s an appropriate song choice.

It is now September 22nd. We are less than three weeks away from the anniversary of Denver’s death and guess what? The song has popped up again, this time in Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Just like the other two appearances, it is once again integral to the plot. In this case, it happens to be one of the main character’s favorite songs. He’s Scottish, but that doesn’t stop him from singing it at one point. On top of that, the tune is even woven into the film’s score, albeit with a bagpipe twist*.

I knew going into Kingsman last night that it would pop up, as someone said something about it in my social media feed earlier in the week. Still, I figured it would begin and end with the motif in the score. I was wrong and I couldn’t be happier. Honestly, between these three films, I don’t think I have ever been this happy to hear this song over and over again.

I have no idea what the reason is for “Country Roads” showing up in these three films. Sure, this year marks the 20th anniversary of Denver’s death and the song finally went platinum back in August, but that has little to do with a monster movie, a heist flick, and a gonzo superspy adventure. Two of them hail from Fox, but the song is owned by RCA Records, a Sony company. So there goes that connection.

Two of the three films star Channing Tatum, who as I stated above, lived here for awhile in the late ’90s, but he’s not in the third film. Two of the films star Katherine Waterson, but I can’t see much of a connection there. Two of the films have strong connections to the James Bond franchise, but that seemingly has nothing to do with anything either.

For now, it all seems to add up to a bunch of strange coincidences. That’s perfectly fine, however. I don’t really need to be handed a reason for why Alien: Covenant, Logan Lucky, and Kingsman: The Golden Circle share this amusingly strange connection to the late John Denver. All I need to know is that it has brought a smile to my face every time out. Who knows? Perhaps that’s the universe’s sole intention here for all of this left field “Country Roads” usage. Simply to make us smile.

* – Hilariously enough, this is not the only musical oddity in Kingsman: The Golden Circle. The film also boasts a country music cover of Cameo’s “Word Up!“. And you know what? It’s a pretty good cover!

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