Sunday, October 4, 2009

John Denver

To be honest I was not a great fan of John Denver during his period of great commercial success in the US in the early 70's. His first great hit - apart from "Leaving on a Jet Plane" recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary - was "Take Me Home Country Roads". I have to say this is just one of those songs that does nothing for me (whether sung by John Denver or on a cover such as that of Olivia Newton John). I felt the same about many of his other popular "country" efforts such as "Rocky Mountain High"and "Sunshine on My Shoulder". Indeed I did not even like his voice at the time! Though this changed somewhat with "Annie's Song" and "I'm Sorry" it was not till the early 80's that I became a fan (and a big one at that!)

What changed my opinion so much was the album "Seasons of the Heart" given to me by a Denver fan at work. It left an indelible impression on me with a couple of tracks on it still among my favourites.

The most famous song on the album is "Perhaps Love" . Though this is recognised as a classic (largely due to a hit version featuring John with Placido Domingo) there are other tracks that I prefer. The title track "Seasons of the Heart" is a truly beautiful song and one of Denver's best. However the standout for me is "Heart to Heart" which I like even more now nearly 30 years on.

It was clear that Denver was going through a period of pain and readjustment when he was recording the album and gave free rein to philosophical speculation on the meaning of life. And this comes to the fore brilliantly on this track in a manner that is moving and sincere evoking a genuine depth of feeling. As mystics of all ages have discovered we cannot really explain life's suffering but ultimately its meaning is to be found in love. And this is the answer that Denver also arrives at that is beautifully expressed in the line "love is a light that shines from heart to heart". There is a wonderfully affirmative transcendent quality to this song greatly assisted by the soaring ability of Denver's voice that has never been used to better effect.

As is well known Denver died in a somewhat mysterious plane crash in 1997. Apart from Roy Orbison the death of no other pop singer has left me with such a residual sadness. It is not really the quantity of an artist's output that I find important. Much better that even one song strikes a rich chord and this one song has left a truly lasting impression which still moves me today.

However one more unexpected surprise was to await.

Though it is now - perhaps rightly - made illegal, there was a glorious period of freedom on the Internet when music downloading sites such as Napster were in their prime.

What fascinated me at the time is that such sites had the capacity to serve somewhat as archaeological digs where certain forgotten treasures of an artist's recordings could be unexpectedly found.

I found several tracks in this manner of various artists - of which I had not been previously aware - which now rank among my favourites.

Of these, pride of place has to be given to a Jim Webb song "Postcard from Paris". Though this had been recorded by John Denver, I had not been aware of it and was in fact hidden away on an album released in 1990 "The Flower that Shattered the Stone".

It really baffles me as to why John Denver's version remains so unknown. I have never heard it on radio, and believe that if it was played it would evoke considerable interest from listeners. It is a really class song with a truly lovely nostalgic quality and has joined "Heart to Heart" as my two all time favourites of his recordings.

Even at this late stage it should be promoted for I am sure that many others who have not yet heard the song would react on hearing it in the same manner that I did!

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