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John Denver: 30 Great Songs

30 Great Songs of John Denver

By Rick Henry Christopher Published about a year ago Updated about a year ago 13 min read

John Denver's music is a pure gift - quote from a fan

John Denver is a national treasure. His music has filled the hearts and souls of millions with joy and elation.

For decades critics have written off his music as being bland and middle of the road (MOR). These critiques fail to recognize the inbred beauty and depth of Denver's music. His music is both sentimental and joyful. Even his upbeat songs like "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" have a sense of sentimentality.

At first it may be easy to miss the proficiency and depth in Denver's voice. After a few listens you realize Denver is not just another singer. He had a special gift. His voice is strong, uplifting, and soulful. He had an amazing natural vibrato which adds another layer to his ability to communicate a song with depth and soul. Denver was a one of a kind.

Sadly, John Denver died on October 12, 1997, at the young age of 53. He died when his light homebuilt aircraft, a Rutan Long-EZ, crashed into Monterey Bay near Pacific Grove, California, while making a series of touch-and-go landings at the nearby Monterey Peninsula Airport. He was the plane's only occupant. The official cause of death was multiple blunt force trauma resulting from the crash. Within three minutes after the plane slammed into the water, search and rescue crews had sailed to the scene. They found Denver's body floating near some debris about 20 minutes later, although they could not confirm his identity until Monday.

The accident was not influenced by alcohol use; an autopsy found no sign of alcohol or other drugs in Denver's body.

Denver left his fans with a legacy of music which is even more bittersweet due to his tragic early death.

Bubbling Under

55. "Islands" (1982) / 54. "Two Different Directions" (1991) / 53. "You're So Beautiful" (1979) / 52. "Seasons of the Heart" (1982) / 51. "Shanghai Breezes (1982) / 50. "Joseph and Joe" (1979) / 49. "Sail Away Home" (1970) / 48. "Daydream" (1969) / 47. "Tradewinds" (1977) / 46. "Aspenglow" (1970) / 45. "Hitchhiker" (1976) / 44. "Steel Rails" (1997) / 43. "Potter's Wheel" (1991) / 42. "Country Love" (1981) / 41. "Old Train" (1997) / 40. "I Want To Live" (1977) / 39. "River of Love" (1973) ? 38. "Like a Sad Song" (1976) / 37. "Boy From the Country" (1981) / 36. "Some Days are Diamonds (Some Days are Stones) (1981) / 35. "Spirit" (1975) / 34. "Leaving on a Jet Plane" (1969) / 33. "Dancing with the Mountains" (1980) / 32. "Freight Train Boogie / Choo Choo" (1997) / 31. "Sweet Melinda" (1979)

30. "Along for the Ride ('56 T-Bird) (1986)

Parent Album: One World

"Along for the Ride" was a minor hit for John Denver in the summer of 1986 reaching #57 on the US Country Music chart. The song was written by Danny O'Keefe and Bill Braun. O'Keefe is best remembered for his Top 10 hit of 1972 "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues." He also wrote the song "The Road" which Jackson Browne covered in 1977 for his album Running on Empty.

O'Keefe's original version was from his 1984 album The Day to Day. Denver's 1986 cover replicates O'Keefe's earlier synth-pop arrangement note for note.

29. "It Amazes Me" (1977)

Parent Album: I Want To Live

"It Amazes Me" did not make the Top 40 in either the US or Canada but was a hit on the Adult Contemporary charts in both countries reaching #9 and #12 respectively.

28. "Rhymes and Reasons" (1969)

Parent Album: Rhymes and Reasons

For some reason this song was not released as a single. It was overlooked and instead "Daydream" and Denver's own recording of "Leaving on a Jet Plane" were released as singles but both failed to chart. As it is "Rhymes and Reasons" has become a big fan favorite and has ended up on several of Denver's compilation albums.

27. "Poems, Prayers and Promises" (1971)

Parent Album: Poems, Prayers and Promises

The song "Poems, Prayers and Promises" is one of Denver's most enduring album tracks and a missed opportunity of his early solo career.

At the time of the album's release only "Take Me Home, Country Roads" was released as a single. But as time progressed more singles were released: "Sunshine on My Shoulders" in 1973 and "My Sweet Lady" in 1977. The title track and "I Guess He'd Rather Be In Colorado" are among Denver's most popular songs.

26. "Homegrown Tomatoes" (1988)

Parent Album: Higher Ground

"Homegrown Tomatoes" is Denver's first album to be released on the Windstar label. Windstar was formerly Windsong a subsidiary of RCA Records founded by John Denver in 1976. Starland Vocal Band and Maxine Nightingale were both signed to Windsong. After several disputes RCA dropped Windsong and Denver continued the label independently in 1986 renaming it to Windstar.

"Homegrown Tomatoes" was written by country musician Guy Clark. He had a semi-hit with the song 8n 1981 taking it to #42 on the US Country chart.

Denver's upbeat rendition sports a tasty piano solo by Glen Hardin.

25. "18 Holes" (1992)

Patent Album: N/A

Denver wrote this song as a parody to Tennessee Ernie Ford's "Sixteen Tons" which was a hit in 1955.

The snappy arrangement for Denver's song, which is about golf (duh!), is very reminiscent of Roger Miller's "King of the Road."

Denver gives us a bluesy jazz timed vocal most backed by cool cat finger snaps.

24. "City of New Orleans" (1997)

Parent Album: All Aboard

Denver first recorded this famous song for his 1971 album Aerie. His 1997 recording has a better-defined musical arrangement and John Denver's vocals are more refined and focused.

The children's music album All Aboard was Denver's final album before his untimely plane crash death on October 12, 1997. Two months after the release of the album. Denver was posthumously awarded his first Grammy award for Best Musical Album for Children.

23. "Farewell Andromeda (Welcome to My Morning) (1973)

Parent Album: Farewell Andromeda

This song, like so many of John Denver's songs, gives you that feeling of being underneath the open skies out in the great outdoors seeing sunsets and sunrises and rippling waters of the lakes and creeks. His songs are so in touch with nature, and you feel it every time you hear one.

22. "I Guess He'd Rather Be In Colorado" (1971)

Parent Album: Poems, Prayers and Promises

John Denver moved to Aspen, Colorado in 1969 and wrote a few songs describing his love for Colorado. Some of the others are "Aspenwood," "Starwood in Aspen," and his classic "Rocky Mountain High."

Denver's Stirring melody and melancholy voice make this song a fan favorite. Many felt this should have been a single.

21. "On the Wings of an Eagle (1980)

Parent Album: N/A

"On the Wings of an Eagle" was recorded in 1979 during the Autograph recording sessions but was not chosen to be added onto the album. The song finally saw the light of day in 1998 when it was released on the compilation album of previously unreleased songs and alternate takes recorded 1969–1980. It also appeared as a bonus track in 2000 on a reissued release of Autograph.

20. "Autograph" (1980)

Parent Album: Autograph

"Autograph" was a minor hit for Denver reaching #52 on the US Pop charts. Despite this relatively low chart placing the song is a big fan favorite.

Denver has said the song is his autograph to his fans.

19. "Goodbye Again" (1972)

Parent Album: Rocky Mountain High

Written by John Denver, the serene "Goodbye Again" was the first single release from the Rocky Mountain High album. The radio friendly song failed to capture Top 40 radio programmers and only made it to #88 on the US Pop charts. However, the song was an Adult Contemporary (AC) hit making it to #23 US AC and #12 Canada AC. Despite the low chart position 19his fans consider it to be one of his greatest songs.

18. "Friends With You" (1971)

Parent Album: Aerie

Riding on the coattails of "Take Me Home, Country Roads," Denver's first big hit, "Friends with You" was the follow-up hit squeaking out a #47 position on the US charts. In Canada it made it into the Top 40 reaching #35. Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert (married Bill Danoff from 1972 to 1981) wrote the song. Bill and Taffy later went on to form the country pop band Starland Vocal Band and had the #1 hit "Afternoon Delight" in 1976.

17. "Matthew" (1974)

Parent Album: Back Home Again

John's voice rings crisp and clear on this song. His vocal timing is impeccable. This is a sentimental favorite of his fans with many calling it one of Denver's most underrated songs.

The song is from Back Home Again, an album full of highlights and is Denver's most successful album.

16. "Grandma's Feather Bed" (1974)

Parent Album: Back Home Again

This one is simply a good fun listen from start to finish.

Written by The New Kingston Trio banjo player, Jim Connor. He also gave a lively banjo performance on Denver's version of the song.

15. "Aspenglow" (1975)

Parent Album: Rocky Mountain Christmas

Denver originally recorded "Aspenglow" for his 1970 album which is a fan favorite. Although the sound quality of his 1975 rendition is superior to that of earlier recording. Denver's vocal abilities grew and matured by 1975.

The musical arrangement rings with tinkling pianos and harpsichord and Denver's lovingly performed 12-string guitar.

14. "My Sweet Lady" (1971)

Parent Album: Poems, Prayers and Promises

One of Denver's most sentimental songs featuring his sincere vocals and gentle acoustic guitar. "My Sweet Lady" was Denver's last US Top 40 hit in the 1970s reaching #32 in 1977. He did make it into the Top 40 two more times. He made it to #36 in 1981 with "Some Days are Diamonds (Some Days are Stones)" and #31 in 1982 with "Shanghai Breezes."

13. "How Can I Leave You Again" (1977)

Parent Album: I Want To Live

Several fans have believed that this one should have reached the Top 40. It did however come close making it to #44 on the US chart and in Canada it spent a week at #40. The song was a big hit on the Adult Contemporary charts in the US and Canada reaching #2 and #10 respectively.

12. "Fly Away" (1975)

Parent Album: Windsong

On its original release Olivia Newton-John was uncredited for her backing vocals on the song. But of course, back in the day we all knew who it was singing those soft whispering vocals behind John Denver's emotive lead vocal. The song made it to #13 in both the US and Canada. Additionally, it was an Adult Contemporary hit reaching #1 and #2 in the US and Canada respectively. Finally, the song also did well on the Canadian and US Country music charts.

11. "I'm Sorry" (1975)

Parent Album: Windsong

Denver examines the personal hardships of breaking up with your significant other. He sings about: the lies he told, the things he didn't say, the things he took for granted, the chains I put on you. He went deep in the details for what he was sorry about and how much he's hurting. Beyond the lyrics his heart wrenching vocal performance brought the emotions and sadness to the surface and could be felt by those listening.

The song was a huge hit making it into the Top Ten in Australia, and South Africa and #1 in Canada and the US.

10. "I'd Rather Be A Cowboy (Lady's Chains)" (1973)

Parent Album: Farewell Andromeda

Denver's guitar work is a song highlight. He runs through the chords with fluid agility. A fan favorite although it only made it to #62 on the US singles chart.

9. "Annie's Song" (1974)

Parent Album: Back Home Again

Written for his then wife Annie Martell Denver. The song came to him on a ski-lift, after “a very difficult ski run” which he finished successfully. But Okun recalled that Denver had to reinvent its melody since he pointed out it was identical to Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, Second Movement. John rewrote the melody within an hour. The only thing remaining from Tchaikovsky was the first five notes.

Denver's wife Annie became well known to his fans especially after he included her on the cover of his 1974 album Back Home Again.

"Annie's Song" is Denver's biggest hit worldwide. The song made it to #1 in Canada, Ireland, UK, and US. It also reached the Top 15 in Australia, France, Netherlands, and South Africa.

8. "Back Home Again" (1974)

Parent Album: Back Home Again

One of Denver's most successful songs in many areas. Let's start with its chart successes. It made it to #5 on Billboard's Hot 100 Singles chart (after two consecutive #1 hits). It reached #10 in both Canada and South Africa. The song topped the Adult Contemporary and Country charts in both the US and Canada. The single was certified a gold record by the RIAA. The song won a CMA Award for Denver in 1975 in the category "Song of the Year"; he was also named "Entertainer of the Year" at the same ceremony.

7. "Take Me Home, Country Roads" (1971)

Parent Album: Poems, Prayers and Promises

Denver's first taste of success was when folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary recorded Denver's "Leaving on a Jet Plane" and took it to #1. But his first major success as a recording artist was with "Take Me Home, Country Roads." The song soared to #2 in the US and #3 in Canada as well as being a Top 5 Adult Contemporary hit in both countries.

Bill and Taffy Danoff, who were married at the time (Taffy later became Taffy Nivert) had been working on the song at the time they performed with Denver in Washington DC. After the show they played the song for him, and he helped them complete the song. Originally the Danoff's we're hoping to have the song recorded by Johnny Cash.

6. "Thank God I'm a Country Boy (1974)

Parent Album: Back Home Again / An Evening With John Denver

"Thank God I'm a Country Boy" was written by his guitarist/fiddler John Sommers. Sommers put in some zesty fiddle and banjo solos. While Steve Weissberg livened things up with his lead guitar. Of course Denver gives an enthusiastic happy go-lucky lead vocal.

The upbeat feel-good song is Denver's second biggest hit worldwide. The song was originally included on Denver's 1974 album Back Home Again. But it was the live version from his 1975 album An Evening With John Denver that was released as a single. The song was a #1 hit in the US, Canada, and Yugoslavia.

5. "Windsong" (1975)

Parent Album: Windsong

John Denver gives us one of his finest vocal performances here. His voice is strong, crisp, clear, and genuine with a vibrato that gives his voice a quality that feels as natural and refreshing as the breeze blowing through your hair.

This song written about the wind is one of many songs Denver wrote about nature. This poetic song is filled with several words that conjure lovely imagery such as "the goddess who first learned to fly" and "the fragrance of freshly mown hay." The one line "The wind is a symbol of all that is free" sums the song up beautifully reminding us how the beauty of nature can be such a freeing experience.

4. "Looking For Space" (1975)

Parent Album: Windsong

This is one of those songs that many fans felt should have peaked higher than it did. It made it to #29 in the US and #63 in Canada.

In an interview with Billboard magazine Denver said, "It's about looking for the definition of who you are, by finding out where you are, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally."

3. "Calypso" (1975)

Parent Album: Windsong

This majestic song started out as the B-Side to Denver's #1 hit "I'm Sorry." When "I'm Sorry" began its slide down the chart "Calypso" began receiving major airplay across the US., Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, and The Netherlands. The song made it to #2 in the US, Belgium and The Netherlands and Top Ten in Australia and New Zealand.

John Denver was a close friend of Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Calypso was the name of Cousteau's research boat that sailed around the world promoting ocean conservation.

2. "Rocky Mountain High" (1972)

Parent Album: Rocky Mountain High

This is probably the most famous song about Colorado. Denver had a great love for Colorado - the majestic beauty and the open sky. After years as an unofficial anthem for Colorado, on March 12, 2007, the Colorado General Assembly made "Rocky Mountain High" one of two official state songs, sharing the honor with "Where the Columbines Grow".

"Rocky Mountain High" was briefly banned by the FCC citing that it promoted drug use due to the word "high." The ban was lifted in 1985 when Denver publicly testified before Congress explaining that the "high" was his innocent description of the sense of peace he found in the Rockies. He said, "This was obviously done by people who had never seen or been to the Rocky Mountains."

The song was a Top Ten hit in the US and Canada.

1. "Sunshine on My Shoulders (1971)

Parent Album: Poems, Prayers and Promises

"Sunshine on My Shoulders" is one of those songs that is both feel-good and sentimentally philosophical. The song brings beautiful tears of joy to your eyes as you listen to it. It is absolutely one of Denver's most beautiful songs.

Originally this masterpiece was used as the B-Side to "I'd Rather Be a Cowboy. "Sunshine On My Shoulders" was released as an A-side single in October 1973 which was two years and five months after the release of its parent Album Poems, Prayers and Promises. For some reason during the original release of the album record executives did not recognize the potential the song had. The song was finally released toward the end of 1973 to promote Denver's first Greatest Hits album.

The song made it to #1 in the US on March 30, 1974. It was also #1 in Canada.

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About the Creator

Rick Henry Christopher

Writing fulfills my need for intellectual stimulus, emotional release, and soothing the bruises of the day.

The shattered pieces of life will not discourage me.

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Comments (14)

  • Mariann Carrollabout a year ago

    He is a Legend, grow up listening to his songs. Sweet soul. Thank you for creating this ❤️🥰poem, prayers and promises

  • Erica Wagnerabout a year ago

    Not long ago I came across a documentary about JD and it made me start listening to his music again — I've continued to do so, and I really enjoyed this uplifting piece about him and his work. Thanks!

  • JBazabout a year ago

    I keep forgetting how many songs of his I know. Thanks for putting this out there.

  • The Invisible Writerabout a year ago

    I forgot he died in a plane crash. This was really good Rick. And Good time Charlie’s got the blues is one of my all time favorites. Have you heard the version Charlie Crockett did? And I don’t care what anyone says John Denver was a freaking genius

  • Ahna Lewisabout a year ago

    As a graduate of WVU, “Take Me Home, Country Roads” will always be a favorite! Great article!

  • Great Insight ❤️💯‼️

  • Babs Iversonabout a year ago

    Love this!!!💖💖💕

  • It's so sad that his death was so tragic. You gave him a beautiful tribute with this playlist!

  • Gina C.about a year ago

    I always love these music articles!! I learn something everytime 😍 I definitely recognize some of these songs. Awesome, informative piece!!

  • Cathy holmesabout a year ago

    Good article with some old memorable songs.

  • Loryne Andaweyabout a year ago

    Oh man, I only know 2 of the songs you listed here. I had no idea he was so prolific. Thank you for the deep dive into this timeless artist 😄

  • Donna Reneeabout a year ago

    His voice is definitely instantly recognizable. Great article, there were some songs in here that I’d completely forgotten about!

  • I am looking forward to listening to some of this! Great article.

Rick Henry Christopher Written by Rick Henry Christopher

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