Music Album Review: ‘John Denver: Definitive All-Time Greatest Hits’

© 2004 BMG Heritage/RCA

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.  

Leaving On a Jet Plane was Denver’s first “great hit” back in 1969.

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.

The original version of Take Me Home, Country Roads

Disc 1

  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
  13. Calypso
  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

Annie’s Song: Denver wrote this song in July of 1973 as an expression of love for his first wife, Annie Martell Denver.

Disc 2

  1. Leaving On a Jet Plane (Babe, I Hate To Go)

  2. The Weight

  3. Annie’s Song

  4. Calypso

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.

A live performance by John Denver of Like a Sad Song.

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.

My Take

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.

Perhaps Love teamed John Denver with tenor Placido Domingo in one of his last “great hits” back in 1981

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.”

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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