Thursday, 7 November 2013

The Archivist - John Denver - Windsong

Ok, let me just say that I am ready to take the howls of derision that may well follow this post. But let me also say, I don't care. Back in the mid 60s & early 1970s, Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr.,or to give him his more well know name, John Denver, embarked upon a series of albums, including Rhymes & Reasons,  Poems, Prayers & Promises and Rocky Mountain High, that resulted in him being one of the highest selling artists in US history. He remains 29th in the all time best selling list of solo artists in history. Not bad seeing as he has been dead for 16 years as has not released an album since that date. His estate has not released one single new John Denver album since his death. Unlike many other artists who have recycled umpteen Greatest Hits Packages to keep the cash flowing in..

His first Greatest Hits package released in 1973 is now a 9 times platinum album and he has sold over 32.5 million albums.

John has always been labelled a MOR artist and TV entertainer. But that is taking away from his quality as a songwriter. He was actually finally inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame the year before his death in 1996.

Following the huge success of his Greatest Hits volume 1, he released the album Back Home Again in 1974 which contained his biggest single success.

The following year in 1975, he released, what I think is his greatest single album, Windsong. In terms of his songwriting, John had gathered together the strongest and probably most varied set of songs outside the Greatest Hits collections. He always hired the top US session musicians to contribute to the recording and included percussionist Hal Blaine and arranger Lee Holdridge, who contributed some gorgeous string arrangements on the album. John was a commited campaigner for environmental issues and many of his songs reflected his love of nature. I loved this about him. The album kicks off with the plaintive title track.

He was always up for a duet, which you can see if you watched any of his TV shows or specials. He sings a beautiful duet with Olivia Newton-John on this album, it also became a hit single.

As part of John's environmental campaigning, he met Jacques Cousteau, who took him on many of his missions to map marine wildlife as part of the WWF conservation programmes. It resulted in one of John's best songs. It was also the name Jacques's ship.

As I said earlier, the variety in the songwriting is what makes this album so special for me. Often an artist can write a great ballad and struggle with uptempo songs and Vice Versa. John however, can write a great song in ALL types of music.

I must admit that my favourite on the whole album is the uplifting Spirit.

 Following Windsong, John released 14 albums before his death in 1997 and released some excellent songs and albums but never regained his huge success. I don't think he would have cared much anyway as he went on to have a great impact all over the world in his humanitarian and environmental campaigning.

I did manage to catch him live in Cardiff before his death. And do you know what? He even sung Annie's Song in Welsh. And apparently every time he played this song in a non English speaking country, he would learn Annie's Song in the language of the country he sang it. Now THAT'S impressive :)

He did play other people's songs as well as his own, here are two, the first written by Jimmy Webb and the second by Mike Batt.

Finally, todays artists are looking back and realising what a great songwriter john Denver was. A very special tribute album was released this year called The Music Is You.

Just check it out to see what some of todays artists have done with John's songs. It's a great tribute to him.

This is another song from the Windsong album covered by The Lemonhead's front man Evan Dando on the tribute album The Music Is You.

One final thought, for all you guitarists out there. John even wrote a song for you. Did it get you YOUR lady??

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