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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This song was a hit for a string of country stars - for Hank Snow in 1962, later Lynn Anderson, then Asleep at the Wheel, then Johnny Cash.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'VE BEEN EVERYWHERE")

JOHNNY CASH: (Singing) I've been everywhere, man, I've been everywhere...

MARTIN: An all-American classic, right? Well, think again.

GEOFF MACK: Hello. I'm Geoff Mack. My main claim to fame was the writing of "I've Been Everywhere."

MARTIN: More than 50 years ago, it was an Australian who was sitting in his van trying to come up for a new opener for his act, as we learn in this What's In a Song?

MACK: At that time, 1959 it was, there were a lot of tasteless rock numbers on the radio. And I thought, oh, craggy. I should write one. And then I'm seeing all these road maps in the front of the car. And I thought, you know, a lot of these towns rhyme. And I'm thinking (singing). Mostly aboriginal.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'VE BEEN EVERYWHERE")

MACK: (Singing) (unintelligible) What's the matter? I've been...

So, I came back to Sydney and I did it around the club for a while. And that's all there was, that's - I never thought anybody would be the least bit interested with it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'VE BEEN EVERYWHERE")

MACK: (Singing) (unintelligible)...

We were up in Millmerran, in Queensland one night. One of the wives, she said come listen to this. And it was Lucky Starr on the radio singing:

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'VE BEEN EVERYWHERE")

LUCKY STARR: (Singing) I've been everywhere, man, crossed the desert bare, man. I've breathed the mountain air, man. Of travel, I've had my share, man. I've been everywhere.

MACK: I couldn't believe it. And it was number one on the Top 40 for 15 weeks.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'VE BEEN EVERYWHERE")

STARR: (Singing) (unintelligible) I'm the fella who's been everywhere, man, I've been everywhere, man...

MACK: And then Festival Records suggested that I write some other versions - American, New Zealand and English. The English one was easy 'cause I almost do that without an atlas. The American one, I needed an atlas and a magnifying glass to look for town to drawn on. So, there I am with a magnifying glass looking over Reno.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'VE BEEN EVERYWHERE")

CASH: (Singing) And a Reno, Chicago...

MACK: Chicago, and looking for all the Os.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'VE BEEN EVERYWHERE")

CASH: (Singing) Ottawa, Oklahoma, Tampa, Panama, Mattawa, La Paloma, Bangor, Baltimore, Salvador, Amarillo, Tocopilla, Barranquilla and Padilla. I've been everywhere, man...

MACK: Two hours work, but I'm still doing it over 50 years later. How lucky can you get?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'VE BEEN EVERYWHERE")

MACK: (Singing) ramble, I've done my share, man...

CASH: (Singing) I've been everywhere..,

MARTIN: What's in a Song is produced by Hal Cannon and Taki Telonidis of the Western Folklife Center with support from the George S. and Delores Dore Eccles Foundation. This is NPR News.

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