John Denver is one of the most prominent figures in the world of music, and his legacy in country music is something that remains unrivaled to this day. He was the bestselling artist in 1974 and had four No. 1 Singles in the year 1974 & 1975 according to Billboard magazine, the time when he was at the peak of his music career. His acoustic guitar playing technique is unique and has spawned artists like Timothy Monger and Mickey Guyton.
Almost all his guitar playing and compositions are soothing and his songs are perhaps the best music companion if you have an appetite for country music. John Denver was highly influenced by ‘The Birds’, Eric Anderson and Bob Dylan – traces of whose compositions are quite evident in the choices of scale and chords of his acoustic guitar playing.
For a music lover that I am, John Denver is a staple nutrition for my playlist diet. Here are 10 best compositions by the great musician –
1. Annie’s Song –
The song was released as a single in John Denver’s album, ‘Back Home Again’. John Denver had written this song as an ode to his then wife, Annie Martell Denver. It’s a little-known fact that this song became a prayer for him and latterly a wedding song during that period. The evergreen country song soared to the top of the charts in the UK.
2. Leaving on A Jet Plane –
It was this song through which I got acquainted with John Denver, who is one of the best country musicians. Even though it was 1974 when John Denver was at the peak of his music career, this song from 1966 recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary is equally good. John Denver recorded a version of the song as a solo for his debut album ‘Rhymes & Reasons’.
3. Rocky Mountain High –
The song was penned by John Denver and Mike Taylor as an ode to Colorado and it became one of the two state songs of Colorado. The seventh stanza of the song had allusions towards Government’s practice of destroying beauteous mountains in the name of urbanization. This is one of those songs that have roots in the artist’s personal adventures and love for nature.
4. Thank God I’m A Country Boy –
The song, also known as just ‘Country Boy’, is written by John Martin Sommers and was recorded by John Denver. The live version was released as a single and went on to top the charts of Billboard Magazine Hot Country Singles and Billboard Hot 100 charts. The lyrics had roots in Sommers’ peaceful, happy and content phase of life at his home. He jotted down the song on his way from his home in Aspen, Colorado to Los Angeles.
5. Take Me Home, Country Roads –
The song, also known as Country Roads, is written by Bill Danoff, Taffy Nivert, and John Denver. Country roads came out as a single and peaked at Number 2 on Billboard’s US Top 40 Single for a week in August 1978. The song has a status of the iconic song of West Virginia and the lyrics had roots in an adventurous journey.
6. Back Home Again –
It is the title song John Denver’s incredible album ‘Back Home Again’. The song had peaked to top 5 in the Billboard top 100 the time it was released. It’s an emotional ballad and had won him his first number one Country record. The song also received ‘Song of the Year’ trophy from Country Music Association in 1975.
7. Calypso –
Calypso song is an homage to Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his research ship. The song is a part of Windsong album by John Denver. Apart from country music and acoustic guitar tunes; the best part about Calypso is John Denver’s vocals, and that’s why it is near impossible to cover this song to the effect Denver has sung. Even though it wasn’t the number 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100, it did gather more airplay than the number 1 song, ‘I’m Sorry’.
8. Rhymes and Reasons –
Rhymes and Reasons is the title song of John Denver’s album of the same name. This song, which sounds more like a ruminated prose is perhaps the best song written by John Denver. John Denver backs his own vocals with a soothing rendition of acoustic guitar giving it perfect archetype of a country song.
9. Poems, Prayers and Promises –
In most of the blogs or Vlogs, you will never find this in the list of top 10 John Denver Songs. However, this song had beautiful lyrics and evokes a feel-good emotion. While many songs of his are pensive, this song imbues a positive outlook towards life. The song is backed with the very passive strumming of the guitar and it’s the lyrics that do the magic.
10. Sunshine on My Shoulders –
This was the first Denver song that topped the charts and was one of the best records that came out in the 1970s – the period when America was in war with Vietnam. Amidst that gloomy evening news of America embroiled on Watergate, listeners used to look forward to Denver’s inspirational songs with lyrics that evoked a sense of hope. The song featured as number 1 at Billboard Hot 100 in early 1974.
With near about 300 songs he sang, 200 of which he himself composed, John Denver was one of the most prolific musicians of his era and his contribution to country music is unmatched by his peers and the country music artists that followed. Allmusic has described John Denver as “among the most beloved entertainers of his era”.
Despite his brilliance at composition, songwriting, singing and guitar playing, he had critics who reproached few of his lyrics and compositions, to which he self-effacingly responded saying, “Songs I write are about very simple things in life.” Perhaps, simple things are most difficult to understand!