On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.
My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.
I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.
So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…
John Denver – Rocky Mountain High (1972)
We’re heading back to the US today, dear reader, and first of all making our way to New Mexico where today’s artist was born. His father was in the military so growing up he moved around a lot with his family. He had an early interest in music, performing in bands in the 1960s but by 1969 had decided to go solo. We pick up John Denver’s story in 1972 when he had released an album entitled Rocky Mountain High. 1001 Songs has gone with the title track from that record for its list.
John Denver had moved to Aspen, Colorado, a few years prior to the writing of Rocky Mountain High and it became a place he loved and cherished. The song has been interpreted by some as a reference to drugs but the reality is that Denver wrote it in tribute to the Rocky Mountains that he knew and immersed himself in. The song refers to a young man of 27 having a life altering experience, as if he has been born again because of what his surroundings are. His life was not good before but now he has found this place he can wander the forests and gaze at crystalline mountain lakes while taking in the serene air. There is a lament towards the end though, the hint that commercialism is infringing on the land and damaging the environment. Our narrator cannot comprehend why you would want to ruin such beauty.
Rocky Mountain High is an evocative and beautiful testament to a landscape that Denver fell in love with. He lived in Aspen for much of his life and his song would become one of two state anthems for Colorado in 2007. The song would also reach the Top 10 in the US and has been referenced often in popular culture, most memorably in 1994’s Dumb & Dumber when – having mistakenly wound up in the wheat fields of Iowa instead of the mountains of Colorado – Harry and Lloyd are critical of John Denver’s song, expressing their disappointment at how the Rocky Mountains are not remotely “rocky”. They later realise their error! In 1997 Denver, an experienced pilot, was killed in a plane crash at the age of 53. After his funeral, Denver’s ashes were scattered in the Rocky Mountains. What better place for his remains to go.
Favourite songs so far:
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)
The Beach Boys – God Only Knows (1966)
The Doors – The End (1967)
The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)
The Kinks – Days (1968)
Derek & The Dominos – Layla (1970)
David Bowie – Life on Mars? (1971)
Rod Stewart – Maggie May (1971)
Stevie Wonder – Superstition (1972)