Friday Five: Alaska

Ken Morton, Jr. | November 16th, 2012

On this day in 1973, President Richard Nixon signs the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act into law, authorizing the construction of the Alaska Pipeline.  Four years later, it was finished. Since that time, over 16 billion barrels of oil have traveled down through the last great frontier of tundra.  A handful of good country songs have been inspired by Alaska over the years. These are five of our favorites.

5. Johnny Cash (with June Carter) – “When It’s Springtime in Alaska (It’s Forty Below)”

Something tells me that this tune wasn’t utilized much by the Alaskan Tourism Board.

 

4. John Denver – “Alaska and Me”

This song appears on at least three of Denver’s albums, but it was first released on Higher Ground. Here, he toasts the state, “Here’s to Alaska, here’s to the people/ Here’s to the wild and here’s to the free/ Here’s to my life in a chosen country/ Here’s to Alaska and me.”

 

3. Laurie Lewis – “Alaska”

The fantastic fiddler and bluegrass songstress recorded a great song about leaving your troubles behind by moving to Alaska: “Can’t take my brother, he don’t like the north country at all/ Can’t take my sister, if there’s no mirrors on the walls/ Can’t take a book to read ’cause I’m only thinkin’ of the land where I am bound/ I think I’ll go up to Alaska where the heat of the summer’s comin’ down.”

2. Joe Walsh – “Fairbanks, Alaska”

This is from his 1992 album, Songs for a Dying Planet. He wasn’t always sober during that era. It makes more sense at that point.

 

1. Johnny Horton – “North to Alaska”

Gold, mushing dogs, northern lights and true love. Yeah, it’s got everything a great old-fashioned, classic country and western song needs.

  1. timeo
    November 16, 2012 at 9:24 am

    I used to think Hank Thompson’s “Squaws Upon the Yukon” was an Alaska-based song, and that “squaws” was just a synonym for Eskimo. But, recently I met someone from Yukon, Oklahoma, which I had never heard of before. Given Thompson’s Oklahoma roots, I suspect that song was not about Alaska after all. In that vein, the only other county-ish song with something Alaska in the title that comes to mind is Ray Stevens’ “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.” Alaska plays a key role in Lefty Frizzell’s “Saginaw, Michigan” (the protagonist prospects in Alaska, then sells his father-in-law a bogus gold mine).

  2. luckyoldsun
    November 16, 2012 at 9:52 am

    “Squaw” has never been a synonym for eskimo but that Hank Thompson song is definitely about Alaska, not Oklahoma. Not that it’s likely to be embraced by the Alaska Tourism Board, either.

  3. Barry Mazor
    November 16, 2012 at 10:06 am

    And “Sgt Preston of the Yukon” refers, some of a certain age will well-remember, to a kids-oriented adventure show (they had those) of the mid-1950s by that name. He was a mountie, and we learned about mounties, sort of. He said “Mush; mush! On you huskies!” a lot.

  4. timeo
    November 16, 2012 at 10:07 am

    Of course, you are right LOS: I forgot the mention of Cheechakos, as well as the last line of “The Squaws ALONG the Yukon”: “Carry me back to old Alaska.” And the song came along around the time of Alaska statehood (as did the Horton songs), so there would be a reason the 49th state was on Thompson’s mind.

  5. Jon
    November 16, 2012 at 11:04 am

    Note that Sergeant Preston was, as Barry says, a Mountie, meaning that the Yukon in that title refers to the Canadian province, not the river that runs through the state of Alaska.

    “When It’s Springtime In Alaska” was, of course, a big hit for Johnny Horton, compared to whose version the Cash/Carter one is, sadly, pretty humdrum. I had in mind that it was a follow-up to “North To Alaska,” but I see that it was actually the other way around.

    The Del McCoury Band’s “White Pass Railroad,” on their Family Circle album, is based on actual Alaskan history.

  6. nm
    November 16, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    “Saginaw Michigan” is probably my favorite country song about Alaska. But if we’re venturing a little farther afield musically, I think I like Michelle Shocked’s “Anchorage” even better.

  7. luckyoldsun
    November 16, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    “Springtime In Alaska” was Johnny Horton’s first #1 hit. “North to Alaska” was the title song to a John Wayne movie a year or so later–Presumably, the earlier record spurred the producers of the movie to choose Horton to sing the song.

    Horton is a guy who should be inducted into the H-o-F. To my mind, one thing that puts him over is staying power. Aside from his influence on later artists, like Yoakam, Horton’s own records have been continually played for the last six decades and you still occasionally hear them today in all sorts of places.

  8. Arlene
    November 16, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    I also like “Denali, Not McKinley” by Eric Brace and Peter Cooper.

  9. Rick
    November 16, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    My favorite John Denver song about Alaska is “The Wrangle Mountain Song” due to it’s high yodel content! (lol)

    I love Hank Thompson’s “Squaws Along The Yukon” partly because by today’s standards it is very politically incorrect! If any pretty salmon colored eskimo gal wants to sit upon my knee, well that’s just fine with me! (lol) That may be the only song that compares a woman’s body to parts of an airplane. Hmm…

  10. scooter
    November 20, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    NM wrote “Saginaw Michigan” is probably my favorite country song about Alaska.
    I saw Jimmie Dale Gilmore the other day and he sang that song- great song

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