CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "Almost Heaven" is not only one of West Virginia's slogans -- it also is the first line in what could become the state's fourth official state song.
A measure moving through the Legislature would make John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads" an official state song. Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, introduced the House Concurrent Resolution and said the tune shines a positive light on West Virginia, even in the midst of a water contamination crisis.
"All West Virginians know the song. People around the world know the song," Gearheart said. "It just seems to be a simple positive for us to adopt that as one of our state songs."
The resolution passed the House Friday and is now before the Senate Government Organization Committee.
Denver, Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert wrote the song in 1970. Denver featured the song on his 1971 album "Poems, Prayers and Promises." It hit No. 2 on the U.S Billboard Hot 100 chart that same year and eventually became one of Denver's most popular songs.
The lyrics "are an apt poetic description of our landscape and heritage," according to HCR 40, including mentions of the Shenandoah River and Blue Ridge Mountains. However, some like to point out those landmarks are only marginally associated with the far eastern part of West Virginia and more suitably describe western Virginia.
Michael Lipton, founder and director of the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame, said Danoff disclosed in an interview he thought he was in West Virginia when he wrote the lyrics but was actually on the wrong side of the river, in Virginia. However, Lipton concedes the song has become synonymous with West Virginia.
"I have one story and I know there are lots of stories like this," he said. "I was in a taxicab in Moscow and the driver said where are you from and I said United States. He said where and I said West Virginia. He started singing 'Country Roads.' My wife and I were in western China. We were at a wedding. There's a tradition where you get up and sing. We sang 'Country Roads' and people got up and sang. It was pretty crazy."
Although the song is associated the world over with West Virginia, Lipton said Hazel Dicken's song, "West Virginia, My Home" should become the next official state song.
"It's not a pop song, but it's a very, very powerful song written by one of the West Virginia icons, both in music and women's rights, labor rights," Lipton said.
He's not the only one. Others in the music community agree "Country Roads" doesn't deserve to be a state song.
"It's an interesting question," he said. "They're only taking up 'Country Roads,' they're not taking up Hazel's song. It's not a choice between the two. There are a lot of people in the music community who feel the same way I do and beyond the music community. Hazel affected people all over the state, all over the world."
Gearheart disagrees with Lipton's assessment of the song, saying it describes a person's journey home to West Virginia.