Everyone has guilty pleasures. John Denver happens to be one for many. Not that this gifted singer/songwriter produced songs that only appealed to a pop crowd, he didn’t. In fact, many of his songs are talented compositions that have been covered by others. Peter, Paul, and Mary recorded a version of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” that many erroneously attribute to the popular folk trio. It starts out this 2CD collection of songs found on the newly released (02/27/07) The Essential John Denver.
From 1969 through 1995, John Denver’s RCA output had seen its periods of ups and downs but still accented by well received songs that seemed to touch people. Denver’s first charting single came off his 1971 RCA album, Prayers and Promises, “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” a beautiful tune that recounts the perfect place – home. This song was covered in a 2-song medley by the popular Hawaiian singer, IZ, which is still well received today. With his folk voice, John Denver crossed over charts – pop, folk, country – to become a favourite to many.
It was his massive hit, “Rocky Mountain High” that provided his widest exposure, gaining him a large audience. He followed that up with the beautiful “Sunshine on my Shoulders,” and a few years later with the rollicking country tune, “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” What separated John Denver from this period and the music of it was his deep respect for life and nature, a subject rarely broached by singers. You can hear it in his songs and in his voice.
Many of the songs on this 2CD collection have seen chart action, although many never crested the Top 40 other than the well known tunes that mentioned in the body of this review. “Goodbye Again,” a single from the same album (Rocky Mountain High – 1972) that “Rocky Mountain High” extended from peaked at #88 but was still an excellent pop song and should have enjoyed better attention than it received. The same goes for the even better “I’d Rather Be a Cowboy (Lady’s Chains)” from his next album, Farewell Andromeda (1973). The song is a strong shift into a more rock-oriented pop market that seen peak at #62.
Leading through 1975, John Denver enjoyed greater success with 8 subsequent songs sitting in the Top 20 that included my personal favourite “Sunshine on my Shoulder,” “Back Home Again,” “Annie’s Song,” “Sweet Surrender,” “I’m Sorry,” “Calypso,” and “Fly Away.” When John returned with his 1976 album Spirit, a mere year later, audiences had noticeably shifted away from his style of songcraft, especially with this country-flavoured shift from Windsong.
The rest of The Essential John Denver is completed with low charting singles that are still valid but do not match the earlier gold output. As a collection, this Essential series album will give fans, although not a perfect selection, a useful one. As in other Essential titles, there is a batch of songs that will sit in the player for an extended length and will even remain within easy grasp for future spins. As these collections are meant for fans, any casual John Denver fan will be pleased with this title if they do not already own one of several Denver best of compilations already out there.
-- In Memory of John Denver --