John Denver: Records Of Influence

Please write about John Denver – any chance you get. Today’s generation mainly thinks of him as a goofy guy with weird glasses that hung out with Muppets. They need to be exposed to a spiritual man that rejoiced in our many differences, praised our father in heaven and cared for mother Earth. He taught us to slow down and notice the people, animals and world around us. He taught us how to love, forgive, and love again when life requires it of us. I have proudly professed him to be my favorite singer/songwriter for most of my life -even when it wasn’t cool. Please write about John Denver – I will read!

With a comment like that, how can I not write about this guy?

I purchased two John Denver records myself; Rocky Mountain High (1972) and Greatest Hits (1973). At the age of ten, I joined the Columbia Record Club (I wrote about that experience – and a John Denver song! – a few years ago). The incredible opportunity to Get 13 Records or Tapes for Just $1! offered great riches to this music-loving kid.

What I remember most from those two purchases was this: First, the beauty of Annie’s Song and the purity of the love expressed in those lyrics in a way that made sense to me. Who couldn’t relate to having your senses filled like a night in the forest, the mountains in springtime or a walk in the rain? Musical doors were opening to me through radio hits like You’re So Vain and Angie, but I was yet too young to understand the erotic appeal of those love songs. John Denver made sense to me. Repeated listening to Annie’s Song came in handy in years to come. I got the sheet music; I learned to play it, and I accompanied singers at many a wedding (and other gigs) who professed their adoration through this Denver hit.

Secondly: On Rocky Mountain High, I was always a bit put off by what I assumed were referenced to marijuana in the title song. I was a very good little girl in 1973 – I was only ten! – and pot was a dangerous thing. But that record was where I first heard John Prine’s Paradise – and that was a moment that stuck, and stuck hard. I respect John Denver, but John Prine is a master storyteller and songwriter. I will forever be thankful to Denver for covering that tune and broadening my horizons.

When I was a child my family would travel
Down to Western Kentucky where my parents were born
And there’s a backwards old town that’s often remembered
So many times that my memories are worn

And daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking
Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away

To this day, that song resonates; it’s the foundation, the bed of my affection for American folk music that helps me hold on to my humanity on my worst days.

There was a third John Denver record as well. Except it wasn’t a record, and I didn’t buy it.

My dad had Back Home Again on 8-track; we probably wore it out. And my grandmother had a copy of the record at her house in Franklin, Pennsylvania.

I was born in Franklin, and I lived there for the first 13 years of my life. My dad took a transfer offered by his steel company, and in 1976 we celebrated American’s Bicentennial with a move to the great state of Texas. It was a long drive to get there, and it was a long, long way home.

We came back when we could, driving for two days to return to my grandmother’s house. It was always fun to try to apply the lyric to Grandma’s Feather Bed to our family; it was a stretch, but we laughed about it, and we loved to sing it.

It was nine feet high and six feet wide and soft as a downy chick
It was made from the feathers of forty ‘leven geese,
took a whole bolt of cloth for the tick
It could hold eight kids and four hound dogs and a piggy we stole from the shed
We didn’t get much sleep but we had a lot of fun
On grandma’s feather bed
Somebody always had a guitar – usually my dad – and I remember singing this song, and laughing, and I think about my own kids coming home and singing and playing music that feels like home to them.
The song we sang the most was the one that reminded us what home felt like; the title song from that record, when Denver walks up to the four chord in the chorus and sings:
Hey, it’s good to be back home again
Sometimes this old farm feels like a long lost friend
Yes, and hey it’s good to be back home again
And really, I think that’s what I am writing about – and thinking about here – the sense of home that comes with something familiar.
We went home to Franklin, to that old farm, and it did feel good. The rhythm, rhyme and melody of that lilting country shuffle brought us home.
Somehow, this music helps transport me back to a different version of myself; even now, with Back Home Again playing in the background as I write, I feel grounded. There is resonance to this music – not just in the sense of familiarity, or a tune or melody that is known and remembered. Resonance is defined as “the reinforcement…of sound…by the synchronous vibration of a neighboring object”.
That vibration is my heart; and if the power of music is nothing else, it is the ability to help us remember the many things that have caused our soul to sing. When our collective ‘neighboring objects’ vibrate together, the mystery becomes whole.
For any of you who remember these records…I know you feel it.

3 thoughts on “John Denver: Records Of Influence

  1. Love John Denver and I was also a member of the Columbia Record Club at a young age! Being from West Virginia, I am partial to Take Me Home, Country Roads. :). My grandmother’s name was Annie, so I also love Annie’s Song. Great music!


  2. Pingback: Music That Matters – graceeveryday

  3. I had an uncle, name of Matthew, he was his father’s only boy.
    Born just south of Colby, Kansas, he was his mother’s pride and joy.
    Yes, and joy was just a thing that he was raised on,
    love was just a way to live and die.
    Gold was just a windy Kansas wheat field,
    blue was just the Kansas summer sky.



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