Synopsis of Pop Music
“And the Colorado Rocky Mountain high,
I've seen it rainin' fire in the sky,
I know he'd be a poorer man if he never saw an eagle fly,
Rocky Mountain high...”
John Denver loved all things green, from the forests in his beloved Colorado mountain-scape, to the golf courses he frequented, to his frequent duet partner, Kermit the Frog. He was an adroit songwriter with fourteen gold records to his credit, and though his music—with its environment-friendliness and folk appeal—seemed uniquely American, he was incredibly popular internationally. The 70’s certainly wouldn’t have been the same without him, and it’s hard to imagine Christmases without his TV specials. Besides all of that, what would Kermit have done without his best strumming buddy?
Thanks to a Gibson acoustic guitar that his grandma gave him (we should all have grandmas that hip), the music bug bit. He played in local clubs while attending college in Texas, and adopted the last name “Denver”—his family name was the not so-stage-friendly “Deutschendorf,” and he had always loved things Rocky Mountain-related. In 1964, he moved out west to Los Angeles where the sun shined on him indeed. He joined the Chad Mitchell Trio, chosen out of 250 other aspiring vocalists; and Peter, Paul and Mary sang his “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” which became their first #1 hit.
Denver's songwriting was now established, and it wasn’t long before his vocalizing was as well. In 1969, he flexed his solo muscles on his debut LP, Rhymes and Reasons. A couple of albums later, Poems, Prayers and Promises, and its hit single “Take Me Home, Country Roads” (later a hit for Olivia Newton-John) made him a star. Songs like “I’d Rather Be a Cowboy,” “Sunshine on My Shoulders” and “Annie’s Song” (written for his wife, and penned on a ski lift, as the story goes) only firmed that star status up. Many of his songs celebrated the beauty of the natural world, and in those years, when environmental concerns were just starting to make headlines, he became a sort of spokesperson.
Denver was obviously King of Recordland through the 1970’s, and soon reigned over Screenland as well. Rocky Mountain Christmas and John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together became holiday standards. And in terms of non-puppets, he sang with the likes of Placido Domingo, Julie Andrews and Beverly Sills. For his film debut in 1977, he starred opposite George Burns in the Carl Reiner-directed Oh God! His record label Windsong parented hits like the Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight.”
Denver's unexpected and gigantic international success definitely garnered some attention. He was invited to the still-Communist Soviet Union in 1984, one of the first artists to perform since cultural exchanges between that country and the U.S. had been banned years before. He went back years later for a Chernobyl benefit concert after that city's nuclear disaster. He was the first to tour China, in 1992, where devoted fans knew all the words to his songs. And two years after that (to a decidedly less responsive crowd unfortunately), he was the first post-war artist to perform in Vietnam.
Denver was also a respected photographer whose shows, largely nature- and wildlife-based, were exhibited all over the country. He devoted himself not only to the environment, but also to global issues like hunger, and to this end, he became a UNICEF spokesperson. He was an avid flyer of small craft airplanes and consummately interested in space travel—it was reported that he was in the process of persuading the Soviets to put him on the Mir space station as a civilian astronaut.
Very sadly, tragedy struck in October of 1997, when after he had played a round of golf, Denver boarded his experimental plane in Monterey, California and crashed into the ocean, to his death.
As a songwriter and humanitarian and lover of all things green, he will be fondly remembered.
"West Virginia, mountain mama,
Country roads, take me home..."
Artist Release History1969 - Rhymes and Reasons
1970 - Take Me to Tomorrow
1970 - Whose Garden Was This
1971 - Aeire
1971 - Poems, Prayers, and Promises
1972 - Rocky Mountain High
1973 - Farewell Andromeda
1974 - Beginnings of the Mitchell Trio
1974 - The John Denver Radio Show
1974 - Back Home Again
1975 - And So It Does
1975 - Rocky Mountain Christmas
1975 - An Evening with John Denver
1976 - Windsong
1976 - Spirit
1977 - Live at the Sydney Opera House
1977 - I Want to Live
1977 - Greatest Hits, Vol. 2
1979 - John Denver
1979 - A Christmas Together with the Muppets
1980 - Autograph
1981 - Perhaps Love
1981 - Some Days are Diamonds
1982 - Seasons of the Heart
1983 - It's About Time
1985 - Dreamland Express
1986 - One World
1988 - Higher Ground
1990 - The Flower that Shattered the Stone
1990 - Christmas Like a Lullaby
1991 - Different Directions
1993 - Voice of America
1995 - The Wildlife Concert
1996 - The Rocky Mountain Collection
1996 - The Best of John Denver
1996 - Reflections: Songs of Love and Life
1997 - All Aboard
1997 - Celebration of Life
1997 - Merry Christmas
1998 - Forever John
1999 - Christmas
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