Going Home: Ten Songs of Home

Happy is the man who
Journeyed far and wide,
Who turns homeward,
Seasoned in the ways of men
To claim his own
And there, in peace abide

– Translation of “Happy the Man” by Joachim du Bellay

Songs of home that express the longing to return to loved ones and beloved places are among the most wistful music ever written. I grew up with these tunes, and they’ve stayed with me, which I think, testifies to the centrality of home to our lives. So lately, I sat down to compile a list of songs in the English language with the home theme. Lo and behold! There were so many that I really needed to be selective. So here they are, a potpourri of home melodies from 1904 to this decade. If you enjoy old songs with home as the theme, the songs listed here will be a treat, and for some, will bring back a flood of memories. Happy listening,

GOIN’ HOME (Antonin Dvorak, 1904)

We kick off with Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 which was premiered by the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall on December 16th, 1893. The Czech composer died in Prague in 1904. One of his students, William Arms Fisher, then put words to the longing melody from the second movement, called this new song, “Goin’ Home,” and had it published 1922. Fisher died in 1948, but the song lived on as a timeless expression of longing for home, which in Dvorak’s case, is his European roots after settling in America in 1885.

Here’s Dvorak’s “Going Home” rendered by the angelic voice of Norwegian soprano, Sissel Kyrkjebø

FIVE HUNDRED MILES (Hedy West, 1961)

If you missed the train I’m on
You will know that I am gone
You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles

A hundred miles, a hundred miles
A hundred miles, a hundred miles
You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles

This is the first “modern” home-themed songs in my list. It was written by Hedy West in 1961 and made popular in the United States and Europe during the 1960s folk revival. The simple repetitive lyrics express a lament by a traveller who is far from home, out of money and too ashamed to return.

Here is “Five Hundred Miles” sung by the inimitable Joan Baez.

GREEN GREEN GRASS OF HOME (Claude Putman, 1965)

Another classic from the sixties, this song was famously sung by the British pop singer, Tom Jones and till this day, is still widely associated with him. Here are first six lines of the song.

The old hometown looks the same
As I step down from the train
And there to meet me is my mama and papa
Down the road I look and there runs Mary
Hair of gold and lips like cherries
It’s good to touch the green, green grass of home

CAROLINA IN MY MIND (James Taylor, 1968)

Dark and silent late last night
I think I might have heard the highway calling
Geese in flight and dogs that bite
Other signs that might be omens say I’m going, going
I’m goin’ to Carolina in my mind

The next songs are by the late folk singer, John Denver, best known for his 1971 hit. “Country Roads, Take Me Home”.

COUNTRY ROADS, TAKE ME HOME (Bill Danoff, Taffy Nivert and John Denver, 1971)

Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, growin’ like a breeze

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

Here’s another bucolic home-themed song that’s well-loved by Denver fans. It’s called “Back Home Again.”

BACK HOME AGAIN (John Denver, 1974)

It’s the sweetest thing I know of, just spending time with you
It’s the little things that make a house a home
Like a fire softly burning and supper on the stove
The light in your eyes that makes me warm

Hey, it’s good to be back home again
Sometimes this old farm feels like a long lost friend
Yes, and hey, it’s good to be back home again

SAILING (Gavin Sutherland, 1972)

I was a teen in 1972 when I first heard this modern classic, sung by the one and only Rod Stewart.

I am sailing
I am sailing
Home again
‘Cross the sea
I am sailing
Stormy waters
To be near you
To be free

CALEDONIA (Douglas MacLean, 1977)

Caledonia is the old name for the area in the UK north of the Fort River, which included most of Scotland. Today, it is used as a poetic name for Scotland. This eponymous song is a traditional folk tune composed by the famed Scottish songwriter and singer, Dougie MacLean (b. 1954). Here are lines from the chorus:

But let me tell you that I love you,
that I think about you all the time
Caledonia you’re calling me
and now I’m going home

Here’s “Caledonia” beautifully sung by Ireland’s leading country singer, Nathan Carter.

SING ME BACK HOME (Merle Haggard & the Strangers, 1967)

Sing me back home, the song my mama sang
Make my old memories come alive
Take me away and turn back the years
Sing me back home before I die.

This song is the story of an inmate at a state penitentiary, who is being led towards the death chamber. The inmate made a last request from the warden to allow his friend to play the last song for him. As the song is played, he remembers the church choir who passed by the prison a week ago. A member of the choir remembers a song that brings back the memory of her mother. The prisoner has caught up that picture that he wants to bring back feeling as well, as he sings “Sing Me Back Home”. In his early life, Merie Haggard, the song’s composer, spent three years at San Quentin State Prison in California for his role in a failed robbery. That may be the reason why he wrote many songs about prison, including this one.

Here’s the song performed by one of America’s leading country singer, Don Williams.

HOME (Amy Foster-Gillies, Michael Bublé, Alan Chang, 2005)

Another airplane
Another sunny place
I’m lucky I know
But I wanna go home

Almost everyone has heard of this song usually associated with Michael Buble, but I prefer this version by Blake Shelton.

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