sidetracks & detours &
by Norman Warwick
There is country music beneath those Wild Montana Skies, or at least there was when John Denver and and Emmylou Harris kicked up some dust with a stormy energy and howling but beautiful harmony on Denver´s recording of his own song of that title. For me, that is the song that defines: not as refined as Annie, perhaps, but not as sing-along as Take me Home, Country Roads, but more inviting than Grandma´s Feather Bed. However, come follow you art down sidetracks and detours of a handful of other Denver songs that confirm how wrong I am to hve been so dismiussive of him for so long.
If you take a look beyond the big hits, you will quickly lose any pre-conceived notions about John Denver (left). Sure, he was the all-American boy with songs dripping in sunshine, but he was not immune to the blues and every so often let that lonesome balladeer take the wheel.
Though Denver will surely always be known for the anthemic Take Me Home, Country Roads or the syrupy sweet Sunshine On My Shoulders,” ´I was recently reminded by an article in American Songwriter there are at least another five songs that aren’t as well known, yet every bit as good.
Friends With You (From Aerie, 1971)
From Denver’s fifth studio album comes this wistful reflection. In the verses, Denver explores the gift of growing old and all the experiences that come with it. The verses are weighed down by a minor melody before the chorus erupts into a buoyant major chord. A crowd of voices then join Denver in singing
Friends I will remember you, think of you / Pray for you /
And when another day is through / I’ll still be friends with you.
Mother Nature´s Son from Rocky Mountain High
Though this song was originally recorded by the Beatles for their eponymous White Album, it seems to be tailored-made for Denver.
His songs often evoke a deep reverence for the earth. From Rocky Mountain High to Sunshine on My Shoulders no one paints as clear a portrait of mother nature as Denver. So it’s apt that this song talks of being raised in fields of grass and beside mountain streams.
The Cowboy And The Lady
In “The Cowboy and the Lady” Denver plays the odd couple with the grandest lady he’s ever seen. While he is donning his rhinestone-studded suit and his cowboy hat and boots, she’s wearing a fancy feathered hat while waiting for her plane to take off.
Matthew from Back Home Again 1974
One of Denver’s most affecting songs—and one that indicates a real belief in the idea of being a good person and living life the right way—is “Matthew.” Loosely based on the short life of his uncle, the song forgoes total accuracy for the sake of creating a touching ode to a genuine person.
During the live Wildlife Concert in 1998, he introduced the song by saying, “This song was written about my Uncle Dean. Dean was the second-youngest of my dad’s brothers; there were nine boys and two girls—eleven children in that family. Dean and I worked on wheat harvests a couple of summers together. We were very, very close. He was a great inspiration to me. He was killed right around his 21st birthday in a car accident. I thought about him and the things he inspired in me, about life on the old Deutschendorf family farm that my father was raised on, and all that meant to me, and out of it came this song.”
All of My Memories (From Aerie, 1971
In “All of My Memories,” Denver longed for home while out on the road. Amid a never-ending cycle of hotel rooms and long, endless highways, Denver dreams of more pastoral settings—the only place that seems fitting for the singer to be.
Somewhere in the shade near the sound of a sweet singin’ river
Somewhere in the sun where the mountains make love to the sky
Somewhere to build me a faith, a farm, and a family /
Somewhere to grow older, and somewhere a reason to try.