BOULDER SKIES (BY PURE PRAIRIE LEAGUE) A Colorado Song

The fog on a London morning is not the same as the toxic haze of Beijing, and both are different from the the wide open vistas of Montana’s Big Sky Country.

Songs like Paul Simon’s “Under African Skies” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Ole Buttermilk Sky” evoke images of particular and distinct locales.

sunset-skyThe sky that is seen from any place on Earth is determined and shaped by what is below it.  Its breadth may be framed by mountains or extend across an ocean to the horizon.  The color of the sky and the clouds it holds result from the dust and humidity of the land, and the clouds often form around geographic features like lakes or mountains.

The sky above is familiar to those below who have seen its ways.  They can predict the weather based on the color of the sunrise or sunset, and they can use the stars to guide them home.

In a real sense, any place on this planet is defined by the sky which is above it.  Therefore, it would seem that a song like Pure Prairie League’s “Boulder Skies” should tell us something about the City of Boulder.  But it doesn’t.

“Boulder Skies” is a pleasant song performed by talented musicians, and it is definitely a Colorado song; though I can’t say precisely what it is about – other than a brown-eyed “Colorado Canyon Girl.”  But was she real, or just a pie in the sky dream?

Pure Prairie League is not a Colorado band.  It was formed in Ohio in 1969, with the name taken from a fictional temperance movement in the 1929 movie, Dodge City.  Its first two albums, Pure Prairie League and Bustin’ Out, which were released in 1971 and 1972, featured songs written by guitarist and lead vocalist Craig Fuller.  Although the albums did not sell very well, they are now recognized as among the best in the country rock genre.

After the initial disappointment of those two albums, the group was dropped by its record label and it essentially disbanded.  Some of the members continued to play local engagements, but Fuller dropped out completely due to problems with his draft board.  It was during the Vietnam War and Fuller claimed to be a conscientious objector.  That status was denied and litigated all the way to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Ultimately, he served two years of alternative service working at a hospital in Kentucky.1

During the time Fuller was doing that service, several college radio stations began pure_prairie_league_-_bustin_outplaying his “Falling In and Out of Love/Amie” from Bustin’ Out.  The song was picked up by the commercial stations and became a big hit.  The record company sought to capitalize by getting the group back together for a tour and a new album – though Craig Fuller was not able to participate.  More than 40 years later, with many personnel changes over those years (including country superstar Vince Gill for a few years), Pure Prairie League is still popular and regularly performing.

“Boulder Skies” is another of the songs on Bustin’ Out written by Craig Fuller.  As I have already said, he was not from Colorado, and I can’t say whether he had ever even been to Boulder before he wrote it.  From what I have read, it was written on a farm outside of Toronto where the band was staying while recording that second album.

Now, the song may very well be about a girl he met during some trip to Colorado, but I rather think that he is dreaming of what life would be like in the simplicity of the Colorado mountains.  This must have been a difficult time for Fuller because of his problems with the draft and his use of LSD, which he told the draft board had helped to shape his view on the War.  Getting away from those contentious legal issues would have surely been blissful, which may be why he sings, “Colorado canyon girl COULD set me free/Brown eyes in the mornin’ lookin’ back at me/And just for that one moment… you’re all that I see/Searchin’ for SOME OTHER PLACE TO BE.”

The melody to the song is slow and simple and straightforward (basically a G-C-G-D chord progression), creating a dreamy feeling that is enhanced by a background of strings arranged by British rocker Mick Ronson.  If the song is, in fact, about a longing to experience the perceived freedom of Colorado – much like John Denver’s “I Guess He’d Rather Be in Colorado” – the lyrics and the music work quite well together.

On the other hand, Fuller does end the song singing, “I’ll come on BACK to Boulder Skies.”  So perhaps he had been there before.  Either way, it is a good song; and a Colorado song.

Of course, the skies in Ohio and in Toronto are part of the one great sky that covers Boulder…and you…and me.  In one of his more thoughtful moments, Chinese dictator Mao Zedong told of a frog at the bottom of a well who thought the sky was only as large as the top of the well; but when he came up to the surface he gained a different view of the world.

Boulder Skies
By Craig Fuller

Sew your skirt lace out of time
While I write the words to rhyme
Just what I am thinkin’… just what I should say
If I have to go I’d rather stay

Colorado canyon girl could set me free
Brown eyes in the mornin’ lookin’ back at me
And just for that one moment… you’re all that I see
Searchin’ for some other place to be

More than anyone can try I hope you’ll see that I belong
Standin’ right before your eyes
If you can take the time to find where I went wrong
Then I think you just might realize

So sew your skirt lace and I’ll go home
But not quite where I started from
And take it so you’ll feel it… and take it so you’ll know
Take one long last look before I go

More than anyone can try I hope you’ll see that I belong
Standin’ right before your eyes
And when you’ve had the time to see it’s been too long
Then I’ll come on back to Boulder Skies

© WARNER/CHAPPELL MUSIC, INC.

For an index of the Colorado Songs in this series, please click here.

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  1.  For a real, intriguing Colorado story, you should read the great comment posted by conscientious objector and former Boulder resident Bob Griffith.  You can find that by clicking here.

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