Wednesday, December 31, 2014

John Denver, The #9 Artist of the Seventies*

Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. lived in numerous locations while growing up in a military family.  At the age of 11, Henry received an acoustic guitar from his grandmother.  He was a member of the Tucson, Arizona Boys Chorus for two years, then his father was transferred to Montgomery, Alabama, then Fort Worth, Texas.  John graduated from Arlington Heights High School in Fort Worth.

By the time he was in college, Henry adopted the surname Denver, and changed his name to John Denver soon after.  He began playing in local clubs in the Lubbock, Texas area and studied Architecture at Texas Tech University.  While working on his studies, John sang in a folk music group called the Alpine Trio.  Denver switched to the School of Engineering, but dropped out in 1963 and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a music career. 

In 1965, Denver joined the Chad Mitchell Trio.  In 1967, Denver recorded a demo of some of his songs, including a song "Babe I Hate To Go".  That song was later renamed "Leaving On A Jet Plane".  Milt Okun, who produced records for both the Mitchell Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary, had also become Denver's producer.  Okun brought "Leaving On A Jet Plane" to Peter, Paul and Mary.  They recorded the song, which reached #1. 

 In 1969, Denver ventured out on a solo career and signed a recording contract with RCA Records.  That year, John released his debut album Rhymes & Reasons.  RCA did not consider the album a high priority, but Denver went on an impromptu tour of the Midwest, playing wherever he could.  After several months, Denver had sold enough albums to convince RCA to extend his contract.  John had also begun to build a solid and loyal fan base.

Denver released two more albums in 1970, Take Me to Tomorrow and Whose Garden Was This.

The following year, John released the album Poems, Prayers, and Promises, which contained the smash single "Take Me Home, Country Roads".  It flew to #2 in the U.S. and #3 in Canada, and sold over one million copies.

The album went Platinum and reached #15 on the Album chart.  John was on his way.  

Denver's 1971 album Aerie went Gold.  Two great tracks from the album were later included on his Greatest Hits albums.  The first of these is "Starwood In Aspen".


The album Aerie included the sensational song "The Eagle And The Hawk", one of The Top Unknown/Underrated Songs of the Rock Era*

It was his next release that brought Denver to the forefront of the music business.  The album Rocky Mountain High solidified Denver's status as a major talent, a #1 album in Canada that has now sold over two million copies.  The single "Goodbye Again" at the time did not receive a lot of airplay, but it became a favorite of fans.

The title song, of course, became one of Denver's signature songs, extremely underrated even at #8 in Canada and #9 in the U.S.

Denver followed that up with the album Farewell Andromeda, his fourth consecutive Gold record.

Sunshine on My Shoulders by John Denver on Grooveshark
In 1973, Denver released the compilation John Denver's Greatest Hits.  Although many of the songs on the album were not big hits, they became extremely popular among his fans.  The album reached #1 in the United States and Canada, #4 in Australia, and #7 in the U.K.  It has now sold over nine million copies.  The album included a song originally included on Poems, Prayers and Promises.  "Sunshine On My Shoulders", became one of The Top Songs of the 70's*, hitting #1 in both the U.S. and Canada.

Poems, Prayers And Promises by John Denver on Grooveshark
"Sunshine..." sold over one million units.  Denver rerecorded the title song from his Poems, Prayers & Promises album and it became one of his career best.

  Another outstanding new track on the album was "Follow Me".

The follow-up single to "Sunshine On My Shoulders", "Annie's Song", and Denver hit #1 again in both the United States and Canada.

By the time of his 1974 album Back Home Again, Denver had become a superstar.  The album sold over three million copies and topped album charts in the United States and Canada.  The title song peaked at #5 in the U.S. and #10 in Canada, and reached #1 on the Adult chart.

The single "Sweet Surrender" gave John two consecutive #1 Adult songs, and reached #13 overall.

John captured American Music Awards for Favorite Pop/Rock Male Artist, Favorite Country Male Artist and Favorite Country Album (for Back Home Again).  Denver's concert special An Evening with John Denver won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Special, Comedy-Variety or Music. 

Denver's live album, An Evening with John Denver, topped album charts in the United States, Canada, and New Zealand, and has gone over three million in sales.  The smash single "Thank God I'm A Country Boy" topped charts in both the U.S. and Canada and went Gold.

John was on fire during this period, as he could do no wrong.  His Christmas album Rocky Mountain Christmas rose to #14 on the Album chart, nearly unprecedented for a Christmas album.  The album contains many songs which have become Christmas standards, and has sold over two million copies.  We will feature three.  John delivered an amazing performance on "Oh Holy Night".

Denver had the talent to take something as simple as a traditional Christmas carol and turn it into something special, as he did on "Away In A Manger".

What Child Is This by John Denver on Grooveshark
Denver appeared on numerous talk shows and variety programs on television, and was one of the most requested performers on many of them.  He also hosted his own television specials.  His special Rocky Mountain Christmas on ABC-TV was watched by 60 million people, one of the most popular shows of all-time.  Denver's version of another traditional Christmas favorite is among the best--"What Child Is This".

Denver hosted the Grammy Awards five times in the 1970's and 1980's and guest-hosted The Tonight Show on numerous occasions.

John's next album Windsong repeated the #1 success in both the U.S. and Canada, and sold two million copies.  "I'm Sorry" became another of Denver's greatest career songs, reaching #1 on both the Adult and Popular charts in the United States and also hitting #1 in Canada.  It also sold over one million units.

"Calypso" started out as the "B" side to "I'm Sorry", but received so much airplay that it became a hit in its own right, reaching #2.  That gave Denver one of The Top Double-Sided Hits of the Rock Era*.

Denver collaborated with another big country-rock star, Olivia Newton-John, on the single "Fly Away".  It was yet another #1 Adult song for Denver that peaked at #13 on the Popular chart.

Those are the songs you know from Windsong.  This song is one of The Top Unknown* ones--"Spirit".

In 1976, Denver released the album Spirit, which went to #3 on the Album chart and went Platinum.  Spirit contained two #1 Adult songs. The first is "Looking for Space"

The follow-up single, "It Makes Me Giggle", reached #9 on the Adult chart, but the next one, "Like A Sad Song", went all the way to #1.

Denver wrote "Baby, You Look Good To Me Tonight" for the Starland Vocal band, his backing band. They recorded it on their debut album in 1976, and John did also, taking it to #13 on the Adult chart.

Cliff DeYoung later had a hit with this song, but Denver wrote it and recorded it first--"My Sweet Lady".

Denver was also a guest star on The Muppet Show.  John began a lifelong friendship with Muppet creator Jim Henson that led to two television specials with The Muppets.  Denver also ventured into acting, starring in an episode of McCloud on television, and famously starring opposite George Burns in the great 1977 movie Oh God!

In 1977, Denver released the compilation package John Denver's Greatest Hits, Volume 2.  It went to #6 on the Album chart and sold over two million copies. 

Denver focused on important songs about themes he cared about--peace and the environment.  The album I Want to Live sold over one million copies and reached #10 on the Album chart.  The single "How Can I Leave You Again" hit #2 on the Adult chart and is one of The Top 100 Adult Songs of the 70's*.

"It Amazes Me" was a #9 Adult hit.

Denver cofounded The Hunger Project.  He served for many years and supported the organization until his death.  John was appointed by U.S. President Jimmy Carter to serve on the President's Commission on World Hunger.  He wrote the song "I Want To Live" as the theme song for the organization.  "I Want To Live" went to #10 on the Adult chart, and should have been a much bigger hit.

John performed "Rhymes & Reasons" at the Music for UNICEF Concert, with all royalties donated to the charity.  Denver's self-titled release in 1979 also hit #10 on the Album chart and went Platinum.   

]Denver was selected as one of Ten outstanding Young Men of America in 1979.  John released a second Christmas album, A Christmas Together, which also did well, selling over one million copies.   

Denver was also on the Board of Governors of the National Space Society for many years.  He founded the Windstream Foundation to encourage sustainable living.

In 1984, Roone Arledge, president of ABC Sports, asked Denver to write and sing the theme song for the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia.  Denver worked as both a performer and a skiing commentator.  He wrote and sang "The Gold And Beyond", and sang it for the athletes at the Olympics, as well as at local venues including many schools.

In 1985, John asked to become part of the project U.S.A. for Africa to sing the song "We Are The World" but was turned down.  John became involved with NASA, and received the NASA Public Service Medal in 1985 for "helping to increase awareness of space exploration by the peoples of the world.  Denver went through rigorous physical exams and was a finalist for the first citizen's trip on the Space Shuttle in 1986.  Teacher Christa McAuliffe was chosen instead, and after the Challenger disaster, Denver dedicated his song "Flying For Me" to all astronauts, and he continued to support NASA.

In 1994, Denver published his autobiography, Take Me Home.  In 1996, John was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.  In early 1997, he filmed an episode for the Nature series, featuring the natural wonders that inspired many of his best-loved songs.  The episode contains his last song, "Yellowstone, Coming Home".

In 1998, Denver's classic, "Take Me Home, Country Roads" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Denver was an avid flyer, and he bought a Christen Eagle aerobatic plane, two Cessna 210's, and in 1997, an experimental, amateur-built Rutan Long-EZ.  On October 12, Denver took his Rutan plane into the sky, but crashed into Monterey Bay in California.  Denver had over 2,700 hours of experience flying at the time.

Upon the announcement of his death, millions of people around the world mourned.  Colorado governor Roy Romer ordered all state flags to be lowered to half staff in his honor.  A special tribute to Denver was made at the Grammy Awards.  In 2002, a John Denver Spirit statue was sculpted, conceived of and paid for by his fans, and it will be placed in the Colorado Music Hall of Fame this year. 

In 2007, John's brother Ron witnessed the dedication of a plaque placed near the crash site near Monterey.  The Colorado Senate passed a resolution to make Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" an official state song.  The lyrics to the song are etched in a stone in Rio Grande Park, near Denver's hometown of Aspen.

In 2014, the West Virginia Legislature approved a resolution to make "Take Me Home, Country Roads" the official state song of West Virginia.  The resolution was signed into law by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin in March.  Denver is believed to be the only person in history to compose the official state songs for two states (Colorado and West Virginia).

The compilation albums The Very Best of John Denver, The Rocky Mountain Collection, The Best of John Denver, and Definitive All-Time Greatest Hits have combined to sell 3.5 million records, and focus on his 70's material.

Denver sold 29.5 million albums in the 70's, which ranks #7 in the decade.  He amassed 25 Popular hits, which also ranks seventh, and he scored seven Top 10 songs and four #1's.  Denver registered 24 Adult hits, with 17 Top 10's and 8 #1's; he obviously is one of the top artists of all-time among adults.  In looking at how John stacked up in The Top 5000 Songs of the Rock Era*, his songs in the 70's rank #11 among 70's artists.    

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.