Behind The Song: John Prine, “You Got Gold”

You Got Gold” Written by John Prine & Keith Sykes 

Videos by American Songwriter

I don’t remember which college fraternity brother turned me on to the music of John Prine twenty years ago, or which song it was that first found me. I vaguely remember a Thursday night frat party, I remember a beer keg, and I remember someone yelling “Dude, I freaking love John Prine!” at the top of their lungs, as our Peavey loudspeaker did its best to keep from blowing. For me, discovering John Prine was like finding gold. 

In the late ’80s/early ’90s, Prine was no stranger to the music scene. He was a little obscure perhaps, at least when compared to the likes of people we might call “mainstream” artists, but John was heavily respected within his craft of songwriting, palling around with folks like Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Goodman and Keith Sykes. Oftentimes, these hangout sessions would result in the birth of a song. 

In 1989, Prine and his friend Keith Sykes sat down to write a song entitled “You Got Gold.” For two songwriters who spent years honing their craft, the task only took them one hour. According to Sykes (2020), “John had the line ‘You got gold’ when we started. I started throwing lines out there for the verses and John did too. When he came up with the line that said “I got some gold inside me too,” I looked at him and said “now we got a real one!'” 

In 1991, “You Got Gold” became track No. 12 on John Prine’s 10th album The Missing Years. The album featured well known artists such as Tom Petty, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp.  For John and Keith, a song that took only an hour to write proved to have a much longer lasting impact. The album went on to win a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album that year. “We said to each other we thought this one might go places, and it has proved us right over the years.” Sykes (2020).

As we venture into the future, a future without our beloved John Prine, we are reminded through his music and the words of his friends, John Prine truly had gold. 

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