John Denver

John Denver

Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. December 31, 1943-October 12, 1997. Most will know of the tragic passing of John Denver at the age of 53. Denver was an experienced pilot but according to the investigation a poorly designed fuel switch in his experimental plane caused him to turn around in the cockpit and he lost control. His plane crashed into Monterey Bay near Pacific Grove, California.
Apart from being a gifted singer he played a very decent acoustic guitar and wrote some of the most memorable songs of the 1970’s. Known for is concern for ecology, his photography and his humanitarian works he also made inroads in international relations being one of the first U.S. artists to be welcome into post cold war U.S.S.R. as well as touring mainland China.

Babe I Hate to Go” written and performed by John Denver. If you don’t recognize this song title that’s no surprise, he was the only one to call it that when he first released it in December of 1966. His then producer/manager Milt Okun convinced Denver to change the name of the song.  John wrote the song while still a member of the Chad Mitchell Trio, he left them, and the song helped him launch his solo career. Actually it was the version by Peter, Paul and Mary that helped him get noticed as a song writer, he would not have his own hit song until 1971.
Leaving on a Jet Plane”  by Spanky and Our Gang, the first cover, released August 1967.
Leaving on a Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul and Mary, released September 1967. This was the trio’s last big hit song that went #1 in the US and Canada and #2 in the UK.
Leaving on a Jet Plane” by Chantal Kreviazuk, a beautifully done version from the Armageddon Movie Soundtrack (1998) one of the best movie soundtracks ever, not surprisingly the album reached #1 in Canada and the US.
Covered another forty odd times since the soundtrack came out and again as recently as June of this year for a total of 117 documented times. Covered by such artists as Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli, Matt Munro and Brenda Lee.
John Denver has had at least 52 of his original songs covered to date, he himself would cover 95 songs.
While he did not a have hit anytime he did a cover song, he did a great job on any that I’ve listen too. Here is a song I recently blogged that was covered by Aretha Franklin. John of course had his own style and didn’t stray much from his straightforward delivery with his amazing voice.

People Get Readyby John Denver released in 1997, the original of course written by Curtis Mayfield and recorded by the Impressions. Quite remarkable how different a song can be from artist to artist.
His first hit song as I mentioned was in 1971.
Take Me Home,Country Roads” by John Denver, written by Taffy Nivert, Bill Danoff and John Denver. Released in May 1971 it would peak at #2 in the US and #5 in the UK.
Take Me Home,Country Roads” by Loretta Lynn, the first of seven covers in 1971 alone. Covered at least 140 times.
Country Road” by Toots and The Maytals in 1972.  One of my favorite Reggae groups turned this into a Jamaican tribute song.
John Denver’s next hit would be “Sunshine on My Shoulders” written by John Denver, Dick Kniss and Mike Taylor originally release on an album in 1971. The song began a rebirth when released as a ‘B’ side to the single “I’d Rather Be a Cowboy (Lady’s Chains)” in 1973. It went #1 in both Canada and the US, the song was inspired by a gray and dreary day at his home in Minnesota, the lyrics written entirely by Denver are simple and poignant. I’ve read it started to connect with people upon the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam, it makes sense as a ray of hope began to ripple across much of the country and for that matter here in Canada as well. A very lovely cover in 2008 by Carly Rae Jepsen.
Sunshine on My Shoulders”  by Barry Manilow with John Denver. The marvels of modern technology bring these two voices together and the last documented cover from 2014.

Denver, now a mega-star with soaring record sales would have another eight songs hit #1 on one chart or another over the next three years; “Back Home Again”, “Sweet Surrender”, “Thank God I’m a Country Boy”, “I’m Sorry”/”Calypso”, “Fly Away” (with Olivia Newton-John), “Looking for Space”, “Like a Sad Song” and of course…

Annie’s Song”  written by John Denver, apparently in ten minutes while on a ski lift in Aspen. Many of you may know this is about his first wife Anne Martell Denver. I will argue one of the most beautiful songs ever written. Charting #1 again all over the place but this was his only chart topper in the UK.
Covered over 90 times but this one will never get any better than when sung by John Denver.

Click here for a Spotify playlist of John Denver Songs

Music Trivia: Who other than Stephen Foster has two official state songs in the US? John is the only other artist to have written or co-written two state songs, “Take Me Home, Country Roads”  added by West Virginia in 2014, the other being Colorado adding  “Rocky Mountain High” in 2007.,

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