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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Forty years ago this month, a little-known singer released a song which made John Denver famous.

(Soundbite of song, "Take Me Home, Country Roads")

Mr. JOHN DENVER (Musician): (Singing) Almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountain, Shenandoah River...

INSKEEP: The song is "Take Me Home, Country Roads." It will now be stuck in your head for the rest of the morning. And so we might as well hear the story of its creation.

John Denver did not write this song. He first heard it when he visited the Washington, D.C. apartment of songwriter Bill Danoff and his girlfriend Taffy Nivert.

Mr. BILL DANOFF (Songwriter): He said play me something. So Taffy said play him the "Country Roads." And I said he won't like that 'cause it's, you know, it's not his thing. It's for Johnny Cash.

INSKEEP: Danoff was hoping to sell that song to Johnny Cash, but agreed to let John Denver hear it.

(Soundbite of song, "Take Me Home, Country Roads")

Mr. DENVER: (Singing) All my memories, gather round her, modest lady, stranger to blue water...

Mr. DANOFF: So, I played him what we had of "Country Roads" and he said, wow, that's far out. That's great. Golly, you know. And he said that's a hit song. And did you record it? Again, I said no, we don't have a record deal. And he said, well, I'm working on a record right now. He said, why don't we record it together?

INSKEEP: So they did - and here's the irony: At the time, songwriter Bill Danoff had never even been to West Virginia. He could just as well have been writing of his home state, Massachusetts.

Mr. DANOFF: When I came up with the phrase almost heaven West Virginia, Massachusetts would have fit in there, but I wasn't - at that point I wasn't crazy about Massachusetts, and I thought I can't write a song about Massachusetts. That's kind of dorky.

INSKEEP: So West Virginia was the subject. Bill Danoff, Taffy Nivert and John Denver finished the song together.

Mr. DANOFF: Left to our own devices, Taffy and I might never have gotten that record cut. It wasn't a country record. We could have beat up Nashville and nobody ever would have recorded it. One thing I learned in this business is that things turn out other than you planned them to, no matter what it is, and you can't predict what's going to happen.

INSKEEP: Here's what did happen with "Take Me Home, Country Roads" 40 years ago: It climbed to number two on the Billboard charts and made John Denver a star.

(Soundbite of song, "Take Me Home, Country Roads")

Mr. DENVER: (Singing) Country roads, take me home, to the place I belong, West Virginia, mountain mama, take me home...

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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