John Denver – Rocky Mountain High

If you asked who the hippest person was in the seventies…John Denver probably would not make the shortlist. He did, however, release some interesting songs and this is one is great. This song peaked at #9 in the Billboard 100 and #8 in Canada in 1973.

Denver started writing this song during the Perseid Meteor Shower which happens every August. He was camping with friends at the tree line at Williams Lake near Windstar (his foundation in Colorado) and all of a sudden there were many shooting stars and he noticed “The shadow from the starlight”… thus the line from the song. He says that while the inspiration struck quickly, it took him about nine months to complete the song. The song was written by John Denver and Mike Taylor.

The song peaked at #9 in the Billboard 100 and #8 in Canada in 1974.

In 2007 “Rocky Mountain High” was named one of the two state songs of Colorado. The other song is “Where the Columbines Grow.”

From Songfacts

In Denver’s autobiography, he wrote: “I remember, almost to the moment, when that song started to take shape in my head. We were working on the next album and it was to be called Mother Nature’s Son, after the the Beatles song, which I’d included. It was set for release in September. In mid August, Annie and I and some friends went up to Williams Lake to watch the first Perseid meteor showers. Imagine a moonless night in the Rockies in the dead of summer and you have it. I had insisted to everybody that it was going to be a glorious display. Spectacular, in fact.

The air was kind of hazy when we started out, but by 10 p.m. it had grown clear. I had my guitar with me and a fishing rod. At some point, I went off in a raft to the middle of the lake, singing my heart out. It wasn’t so much that I was singing to entertain anyone back on shore, but rather I was singing for the mountains and for the sky. Either my voice gave out or I got cold, but at any rate, I came in and found that everybody had kind of drifted off to their individual campsites to catnap. We were right below the tree line, just about ten thousand feet, and we hadn’t seen too much activity in the sky yet. There was a stand of trees over by the lake, and about a dozen aspens scattered around. Around midnight, I had to get up to pee and stepped out into this open spot. It was dark over by those trees, darker than in the clearing. I looked over there and could see the shadow from the starlight. There was so much light from the stars in the sky that there was a noticeable difference between the clearing and everywhere else. The shadow of the starlight blew me away. Maybe it was the state I was in. I went back and lay down next to Annie in front of our tent, thinking everybody had gone to sleep, and thinking about how in nature all things, large and small, were interwoven, when swoosh, a meteor went smoking by. And from all over the campground came the awed responses “Do you see that?” It got bigger and bigger until the tail stretched out all the way across the sky and burned itself out. Everybody was awake, and it was raining fire in the sky.

I worked on the song – and the song worked on me – for a good couple of weeks. I was working one day with Mike Taylor, an acoustic guitarist who had performed with me at the Cellar Door and had moved out to Aspen. Mike sat down and showed me this guitar lick and suddenly the whole thing came together. It was just what the piece needed. When I realized what I had – another anthem, maybe; a true expression of one’s self, maybe – we changed the sequencing of the album we’d just completed, and then we changed the album title.”

Some of the references in the lyrics:

“He was born in the summer of his 27th year” – John was 27 that summer.

“Coming home to a place he’d never been before” – He and Annie had just made Aspen home.

“And he lost a friend but kept his memory” – A good friend from Minnesota had come to visit and was killed riding John’s motorcycle.

“Why they try to tear the mountains down to bring in a couple more” – This referred to the debate at that time about bringing the Olympics to Colorado.

On his BBC radio program The John Denver Show, he set the stage for this song by introducing it with this story: “You and I have just broken out of a huge stand of Douglas fir. The trees tower hundreds of feet above us. We’ve come out of the solemn, cathedral-like darkness of the trees, into the bright, early morning sunshine of a grassy slope. The grass is wet and soft with morning dew beneath our feet. The air is crisp, so crisp it sends little needles of joyful pain through the membranes of your nose. The air is so clear, it seems to purify your lungs. On both sides, above and beyond, stretch the awesome Rockies, their great, snow-capped peaks jutting out of the early morning mist. This is living. This is what man was created for: to live and work and continue what these mountains represent. This is true freedom. Being part of nature and drawing from it, and returning back to it.”

Denver invoked this song when he testified at a Senate hearing in 1985 where he opposed the labeling of albums proposed by the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC). “As an artist, I am opposed to any kind of a rating system, voluntarily or otherwise,” he said. “My song “Rocky Mountain High” was banned from many radio stations as a drug-related song. This was obviously done by people who had never seen or been to the Rocky Mountains and also had never experienced the elation, celebration of life, or the joy in living that one feels when he observes something as wondrous as the Perseides meteor shower on a moonless, cloudless night, when there are so many stars that you have a shadow from the starlight, and you are out camping with your friends, your best friends, and introducing them to one of nature’s most spectacular light shows for the very first time. Obviously, a clear case of misinterpretation. Mr. Chairman, what assurance have I that any national panel to review my music would make any better judgment?”

Rocky Mountain High

He was born in the summer of his 27th year
Coming home to a place he’d never been before
He left yesterday behind him, you might say he was born again
You might say he found a key for every door

When he first came to the mountains his life was far away
On the road and hanging by a song
But the string’s already broken and he doesn’t really care
It keeps changing fast and it don’t last for long

But the Colorado rocky mountain high
I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky
The shadow from the starlight is softer than a lullabye
Rocky mountain high (Colorado)

He climbed cathedral mountains, he saw silver clouds below
He saw everything as far as you can see
And they say that he got crazy once and he tried to touch the sun
And he lost a friend but kept his memory

Now he walks in quiet solitude the forest and the streams
Seeking grace in every step he takes
His sight has turned inside himself to try and understand
The serenity of a clear blue mountain lake

And the Colorado rocky mountain high
I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky
You can talk to God and listen to the casual reply
Rocky mountain high

Now his life is full of wonder but his heart still knows some fear
Of a simple thing he cannot comprehend
Why they try to tear the mountains down to bring in a couple more
More people, more scars upon the land

And the Colorado rocky mountain high
I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky
I know he’d be a poorer man if he never saw an eagle fly
Rocky mountain high

It’s Colorado rocky mountain high
I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky
Friends around the campfire and everybody’s high
Rocky mountain high
Rocky mountain high
Rocky mountain high
Rocky mountain high
Rocky mountain high
Rocky mountain high

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

21 thoughts on “John Denver – Rocky Mountain High”

  1. I think that I remember John Denver having some trouble with this song being played because of the line, “Friends around the campfire and everybody’s high” being in it which was perceived as a drug reference. Denver explained that being high had nothing to do with drugs, that it was about feeling goo about life.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. “hippest” singer of the 70s? Hardly… he brings to mind that Huey Lewis song “it’s hip to be square.” But no matter, he was pretty cool, wrote a number of fine songs and performed them well. One of the few musicians back then that my parents both liked and I did too. Nice picture he paints, seeing those meteors out on a mountain lake. I noticed when I moved here, the night sky is brighter (of course, more so in the country). Seems like there are less streetlights in this city than the Toronto suburbs I came from.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. No we wouldn’t make the list lol. That is a good comparison.
      I like Denver…I can take him in doses…sometimes I really enjoy him and he was part of my life growing up.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I was an avid fan way back. To my ear these days listening to his songs he’s lost a little of the charm – but those were different days!


      1. Pete Townshend had a quote about John Denver that is true…it’s dark at the end…but I think you would appreciate it. The interviewer told Pete just because you are happy you don’t have to be John Denver… Pete’s response:
        No. I mean, if you’re unlucky enough to be born John Denver there’s not much you can do, really. But there are moments when I’ve listened to John Denver and he has actually gotten across to me the joy he feels from standing in the Colorado mountains. It’s just that he does it in every song, and I get a bit bored with hearing about the mountains and the spring flowers and the trees and everything. I think they’re going to look just as black as New York City when the bomb drops.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I understand John Denver has been ridiculed by some as a hillbilly. I think he’s written some beautiful songs. In addition to this tune, I’ve always liked “Take Me Home, Country Roads”, “Leaving On a Jet Plane” and “Annie’s Song”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Leaving on a Jet plane was one of the first songs I heard. I grew up with him…other artists really gave him a hard time. He was a good songwriter.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for featuring John Denver today. Happy to learn the song origin. I learned to play some John Denver songs on the guitar and it brought me a lot of joy to sing them. I like the carefree spirit of his music.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do like Denver in doses. You get lost in this descriptions…makes me want to walk around my house when I hear him. Glad you liked it Lisa.

      Liked by 1 person

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