John Denver: Definitive All-Time Greatest Hits is a two-CD compilation of the best songs written or performed by the late singer/songwriter/activist John Denver (1943-1997). Produced by Rob Santos and put together by Gary Pacheco for BMG Heritage and Denver’s original label RCA, this 24-track collection was dropped on October 4, 2004 – the 35th anniversary of Denver’s first RCA album Rhymes and Reasons.
In the same vein as Sony Legacy’s more comprehensive The Essential John Denver, this retrospective follows Denver’s career from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, starting with the seminal Leaving On a Jet Plane and ending with 1983’s Wild Montana Skies.
1. Leaving on a Jet Plane
2. Take Me Home, Country Roads (Original Version) [Remastered]
3. Sunshine On My Shoulders
4. Poems, Prayers & Promises
5. The Eagle and the Hawk
6. Rocky Mountain High
7. Farewell Andromeda (Welcome to My Morning)
8. Annie’s Song
9. Back Home Again
10. Sweet Surrender
11. Thank God I’m a Country Boy
12. I’m Sorry
14. Fly Away
15. Looking For Space
16. Like a Sad Song
17. My Sweet Lady
18. Perhaps Love – John Denver, Plácido Domingo
19. Shanghai Breezes
20. Wild Montana Skies – John Denver Duet with Emmylou Harris
1. Leaving On a Jet Plane (Babe, I Hate To Go)
2. The Weight
3. Annie’s Song
The second disc is surprisingly sparse. It only contains four tracks, but – until 2004 – they were either rare or previously unreleased. Three of the songs are acoustic versions of established hits, including an early recording of Leaving, On a Jet Plane (Babe, I Hate to Go) from 1966’s John Denver Sings, while a fourth, The Weight (written by Robbie Robertson) had never been released.
John came into the studio and played a song he called “A Song for Annie.” I said, “That’s the first measures of Tchaikovsky’s First Symphony, Second Movement.” It was also used for a pop song forty years ago called “Moon Love.” So John walked over to the piano, sat for a half-hour and changed it. So it’s semi-Tchaikovsky, mostly-Denver. It was John’s idea to do a whole chorus of humming. Back then you had to record every voice. Today you can do it with a couple of buttons. Tchaikovsky turned out to be a great co-writer. As “Annie’s Song,” it touched a nerve all over the world. – Milt Okun, in “Song-by-Song with Milt Okun,” John Denver: Definitive All-Time Greatest Hits
John Denver: Definitive All-Time Greatest Hits includes a fully-illustrated 20-page booklet with an essay by David Wild (“A Fan’s Notes” and a “Song-by-Song” breakdown by Milton “Milt” Okun, the famous producer and impresario who worked on most of Denver’s albums and helped make him a star.
Okun, who died in 2016 after a career that spanned almost 60 years, worked on all of the tracks when they were originally recorded and is, therefore, a trustworthy source of information.
Even though RCA and its eventual successor Sony BMG released several “Greatest Hits” compilation albums both during John Denver’s active career and after his tragic death in 1997, John Denver: Definitive All-Time Greatest Hits is both succinct and subtle. Compilation producer Rob Santos gives listeners a good summation of Denver’s career while avoiding gimmicks or dodgy tracks from live performances.
Despite its brevity, John Denver: Definitive All-Time Greatest Hits is a good album for the singer’s loyal fans and newcomers to his music alike. Most of Denver’s best-loved songs are here, remastered with the utmost of care by Vic Anesini at Sony Music Studio in New York City. The tracks are all from the original recordings; they are not from re-recordings or from concert performances; the “Song-by-Song” analysis by Milt Okun also includes the dates in which each track was recorded and in which Denver album it was released.
If you like good music and deeply-felt, meaningful lyrics that come from the heart, I recommend John Denver: Definitive All-Time Greatest Hits. The songs in this album are melodic, wonderfully crafted, and have become part of the American musical canon. So much so, in fact, that many professionals singers and producers put him on the pantheon of great American songwriters, in the company of Stephen Foster, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, and George and Ira Gershwin.
As his long-time producer and friend Milt Okun said to David Wild in an interview for “A Fan’s Notes”:
“When I first met him, I thought he was a good folk singer. All his pop success startled me. And today I still think he’s a very good folk singer who picks up themes that are universal and positive and life-enhancing. To me, John Denver’s music represents the very best in art.”