Sunday, 01 September 2013
ELDER MUSIC: John Denver
This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
Here's a column for the boomers. Initially, JOHN DENVER was respected as a songwriter of considerable facility. However, as he became very popular indeed, he didn’t get much respect from the cooler-than-thou types. When he died, though, things changed a bit.
By then he was re-acknowledged as an excellent songwriter. He was also, somewhat grudgingly, given some kudos for his singing. Okay, clear-eyed (or should that be clear-eared?) people like me recognize that there were clunkers in his oeuvre, but lordy, there are some of those even in Bob Dylan’s output so we’re not holding those against him.
John first impacted on my ears when Peter, Paul and Mary covered his song Leaving on a Jet Plane. I think that their version was superior to John’s, but he’s the man of the column so it’s his we have today.
John did have a thing for Colorado, after all he named himself after its major city. He also wrote songs about various places in the state. This might be the pick of them, Starwood in Aspen.
He recorded a whole bunch of albums but to my mind the best of them was “Farewell Andromeda.” From that one we have Berkeley Woman, a particular favorite of mine.
Here is another song that I believe Peter, Paul and Mary did better than John. Mary did a fine job on that one singing solo. However, as with the previous one by PP&M, John didn’t do a bad job of it either, although I don't know about that choir. The song is For Baby (For Bobbie).
No, this isn’t Rocky Mountain High, it’s Rocky Mountain Suite, subtitled Cold Nights in Canada, a completely different song, and to my mind, a better one.
Now a song that John didn’t write. It was written by Steve Gillette and Tom Campbell. The first version I came across was by Ian and Sylvia, way back, who did a fine job of it. I think theirs was the first time the song was recorded.
There are many others these days including an interesting one by Nanci Griffith. Steve Gillette’s may beat them all though. John also does a really good job.
The song is Darcy Farrow and it starts out nice and happy, quite sunny really, but turns dark as we get into it. A sad tale if ever there was one.
The song sounds so good and authentic that it must be a song based on fact. Well, sort of.
The myth, propagated by Ian Tyson whenever he and Sylvia sang it, is that it was written by Steve and Tom as an exercise in their college English class. Steve said that this was such a good tale that he left it out there, not correcting it until recently.
It seems that it's sort of based on fact. Steve's sister Darcy was once kicked by a horse and broke her cheekbone so that bit's sort of correct. They made up the rest, and it wasn't for an English class.
For a change of pace, here is STEVE GILLETTE's version of the song.
A song from later in John's career, and one of his best, is Some Days are Diamonds (Some Days Are Stone). Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, insisted on this one being present.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s no surprise that several of the tracks today come from his album “Farewell Andromeda” as it was easily his finest recorded moment, although the critics seem to disagree with my judgment. I often disagree with critics.
This album has some really interesting songs rather than just the greatest hits. Here is, sort of, the title track, Farewell Andromeda (Welcome to My Morning).
One more song. I won't say it was a toss-up as half a dozen were in contention. I played them all and they sounded too much like each other. Then I realized he performed on one of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's "Circle..." series.
That's the one, I thought. It's called And So It Goes.