Thank goodness for playlists. As I was scrolling down the playlists of my collection, I came across “John Denver Best”. It had been too long since I listened to John Denver, and the songs sounded so good. I’m not sure his music is played much anymore, or that there are still radio formats with his songs, but John Denver deserves to be remembered.
The first time I saw John Denver was on The Tonight Show. It was before he became famous. In fact, John said he only had one hit, and although he wrote it, he wasn’t the one who made it famous. The song he sang was “Leaving On A Jet Plane”, a #1 hit by Peter, Paul & Mary in December of 1969.
The first record I bought by John Denver was his breakthrough album, Poems, Prayers & Promises in 1971.
With this album, almost everyone knew about John Denver. The songs played from the album were “Take Me Home Country Roads” #2, “Sunshine On My Shoulders” #1, “My Sweet Lady”, and “Poems, Prayers & Promises”. The album also includes two covers of songs by Paul McCartney, “Let It Be” and “Junk”, plus the James Taylor classic “Fire And Rain”…which is a very good version. By the way, the two co-writers who helped John Denver with “Take Me Home Country Roads” were members of the Starland Vocal Band which had the famous/infamous hit “Afternoon Delight”.
From 1971 through 1975, Denver’s career was like a “skyrocket in flight”. More of his hits included “Rocky Mountain High” #9, “Annie’s Song (You Fill Up My Senses)” #1, “Back Home Again” #5, “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” #1, “I’m Sorry” #1, and “Calypso” #2.
But it wasn’t just his recording career. John Denver starred in the hit movie Oh God! with George Burns, had his own TV variety show, won an Emmy for his concert special An Evening With John Denver, and was a guest star on many other television shows. In 1975 he was named “Entertainer Of The Year” by the Country Music Association, and he hosted the Grammy Awards five times.
For about five years in the 1970’s, John Denver was probably the highest profile musician in America, and may have been overexposed. There was blowback from some people who thought he was too lightweight or not hip enough. After 1975, Denver’s career cooled off. He never had another Top-20 hit, even though he still maintained a solid fan base who loved his music. In the later part of his career, John Denver used his earnings and celebrity to help charities and environmental organizations.
Sadly, John Denver died too soon, at the age of 53, on October 12th, 1997. He was an experienced pilot who was flying a home-built aircraft (he purchased it after it had been assembled). Unfortunately, the switch to change to a reserve fuel tank was improperly installed. It’s thought that led to the crash that killed him.
Like the majority of musical careers, John Denver’s legacy is mostly remembered through a variety of “Greatest Hits” collections. His songs feature beautiful acoustic guitar playing, and some extremely memorable melodies. A demonstration of that took place last year at an American NFL game that was held in Germany. The German crowd serenaded the players with a song they all knew…”Take Me Home Country Roads”.
Extra: My playlist. All songs are the original versions. (Some tracks on his Greatest Hits albums are re-recorded versions.)