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John Denver and Me


I feel like I grew up with John Denver orchestrating my life. That isn’t really true since he started recording hits in the early 1970’s and I was married by then but I feel like we’ve been friends for decades. One of my happiest memories of 1977 and 1978 was practicing John Denver songs on my autoharp while my son was taking his naps. I got pretty good at the autoharp and even performed “Annie’s Song” for a gathering of musicians. We don’t need to discuss my horrible case of nerves, forgetting the words and being totally embarrassed. Performing has never been my thing.
All my old 33 rpm records are long gone and most of my early cd’s sprouted legs and wandered away. Up until yesterday my entire John Denver collection included only the two cd “Wildlife Concert” he recorded in 1995 just two years before his death in 1997. He sings all his great hits on these cd’s along with some songs I hadn’t heard before. I love all his music but these recordings are different than what I remember from the 70’s. No big surprises there, really, since more than 20 years had passed by and he was older, more measured, more mature. But I missed the older recordings so when I was at the store yesterday and happened on The Essential John Denver, I snapped it up.
So, here is the weird thing. When I listen to the original recordings from the 70’s they are all being sung by a child with John Denver’s voice. Most of the songs have a much faster and very rigid tempo that seems to cover up the meaning of the words. It’s like he’s keeping the pace very fast to show off his guitar skills. The cd’s include more songs than were on the Wildlife Concert – early songs that I remember well enough to sing along with even though I hadn’t heard them in years. Also included are his great songs that were recorded later in his life. These sound much more like the 1995 versions, also no surprise there.
The upshot of all of this is that I’ve decided I like John Denver’s older style much more that the early versions. Probably because I’m much older now, too. Some things really do get better with age. There is more life, more experience, more practice, more pain and more joy in his older voice. It reminds me of what happened with the song “How Will I Live” featured in the movie Con Air (1997). The song was originally recorded by LeAnn Rimes who was a fabulous singer but only 14 years old at the time. She did a great job on the song but the people in charge decided it had too much of a pop feeling and that she was too young to carry it off effectively.   Trisha Yearwood recorded it and it was her version that was used in the movie. Both versions were released and did well in sales and on the charts. I’m a big Trisha Yearwood fan but it’s hard to deny that her version has more depth of feeling than what LeAnn Rimes could manage at her tender age.
So I’ll listen to the older versions of John Denver’s songs again but I think I’ll go back to the Wildlife Concert and enjoy his older voice.