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'Country Roads' Covers Uncovered

John Denver performs 'Country Roads' at WVU in 1980.

WRITTEN BY JAKE STUMP 
"Country Roads." We all know the words to John Denver's signature song. (If you don't, please return your Mountaineer badge.) It's the holiest of hymns for West Virginia's flagship university. 

In the Fall 2016 issue of WVU Magazine, Brad Paisley said, "It's sort of a worldwide anthem and I don't understand why it means anything to anyone who's not from here. But it does. And it's a really proud thing for us. It's such an iconic and wonderful piece of country music history that really is about love for this state."

The Mountaineer Marching Band has performed it at every home football game since 1972 (the song was released in 1971). You'll hear it blaring over the loudspeakers after every home victory, too, urging you to stay put in the stands, wrap your arms around the folks next to you and sing along. 

Denver himself christened the new football stadium in 1980 (pictured above) by performing "Country Roads" at the season opener against Cincinnati. 

Besides its prominence at WVU sporting events, "Country Roads" is an all-around fine piece of art. It's good for campfires. Road trips. Or if you're just homesick for the mountains of West Virginia.
 
What you may not know is that there have been several attempts at covering the country classic (i.e. There's a Ray Charles version? Pro wrestler John Cena sings it post-match in West Virginia?). Below are just a dozen versions of "Country Roads" we've uncovered on the Internet time-wasting machine known as YouTube for your listening pleasure (or displeasure). 

Brad Paisley at Mountaineer Field 



We kick off the list with the closest thing we have to John Denver today — Glen Dale, W.Va. native and Grammy Award-winner Brad Paisley. The country star made a surprise appearance before the WVU-Maryland football game on Sept. 26, 2015 and performed "Country Roads" for Mountaineer fans — some 35 years after Denver did the same in Morgantown. 

Dwight and Andy from "The Office"


So some of these aren't full-length studio recordings or live performances. A few are fun snippets from popular culture, like in this episode of "The Office." Here we have Dwight (Rainn Wilson) on guitar and Andy (Ed Helms) on banjo vying for the love of Erin (a pre-"Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" Ellie Kemper). What's the most surefire way to pierce a lover's heart? By playing them "Country Roads." Maybe.

Ray Charles



The legendary Ray Charles does not disappoint with this soulful spin on the Appalachian tune. Released on his 1972 album "A Message from the People," Charles echoes the sentiments of a post-60s America in search of peace and prosperity. "Country Roads" is truly one of those songs that unites people of all creeds, colors and backgrounds. 

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes   



"Country Roads" goes punk rock. Seriously. Give it a listen. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes' first release was a 1995 single called "Denver," which also featured "Leaving on a Jet Plane," clearly a fast-paced homage to the singer-songwriter.

David Hasselhoff   



Hey, I never guaranteed that all of these were winners. To be fair, "The Hoff" delivers a respectable rendition here. It may be even better if you play it over the outro of "Knight Rider" as KITT veers off into the sunset.

John Cena   



WWE superstar John Cena knows how to pander to an audience. We can see you, Cena. But we'll give you points for pandering to us. Whenever WWE hosts an event in the Mountain State, you can bet on one thing ending the evening if John Cena is on the card: He'll sing "Country Roads" in the ring. Surprisingly, his singing isn't as bad as a steel chair to the cranium.  

Brandi Carlile and Emmylou Harris   



In 2013, several recording artists spanning various genres pitched in for "The Music is You: A Tribute to John Denver." For "Country Roads," the female duet of Brandi Carlile and Emmylou Harris is a perfect, elegant fit.

"The Voice (Chinese version)"   



We all know someone who's been to China and swears that the Chinese love "Country Roads." It's apparently a go-to favorite on karaoke and can be heard frequently in China's finest watering holes. Here's some proof to the song's popularity in that country, as a contestant on "The Voice" performs it to the delight of the clapping-along crowd.

James Miltenberger   



James "Doc" Miltenberger is the Chopin of WVU. The piano professor has taught at the University for more than 50 years and is responsible for creating the arrangement of "Country Roads" that's been played by the Mountaineer Marching Band for decades. 

Forever Country   



This viral video, posted on Sept. 20, has already racked up more than six million views. In celebration of “The 50th Annual CMA Awards,” the Country Music Association called this "the biggest music video in country music history," bringing together country artists past and present. 

"American Dad"   



In this "American Dad" episode titled "American Dream Factory," a group of undocumented Mexican immigrants sings "Country Roads" at a 4th of July festival. It's the only song they know in English — a song that they'd sing in Mexico when dreaming about coming to America. This sways the ultra-conservative character Stan to try to prevent them from being deported.

John Denver at Mountaineer Field


Finally, enjoy John Denver's performance in all of its audio glory from Sept. 6, 1980.

We’re listening. You are our greatest voice. So use it. Use this form to send us story ideas, letters to the editor, questions for a future guest on Ask an Expert, memories for the Flashback section or tales for the Alumni Diary.

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