John Denver – Sunshine On My Shoulders

The post starts with John Denver and ends with Frank Zappa and Dee Snider from Twisted Sister…

John Denver’s reputation went down after the 70s and really unfairly. He was noted as square and sometimes rejected by his musical peers. That is sad to me because he was a great songwriter, guitarist, and singer. He didn’t get much street cred until…you will see at the bottom.

During the “We Are The World” filming featuring dozens of pop stars, Willie Nelson cracked, “If a bomb hit this building, John Denver would be No. 1 again.” Everybody laughed – and sneered. And the image of Michael Jackson, Kenny Rogers and others mocking Denver is a sad one. It showed just how low he’d fallen on the barometer of pop music.

Denver was an easy target for critics and peers. Robert Christgau dubbed him “the blandest pop singer in history,” and compared him to James Taylor…  “If James is a wimp, John is a simp, and that’s even worse.” I don’t think all the criticism was fair. Some of his music was really good to great like Rocky Mountain High, Sunshine on My Shoulders, and Take Me Home Country Roads.

Denver was a huge star in the early to mid-seventies.  I’m not a huge fan by any means but he did have a few songs I liked. He was a songwriter, musician, activist, and actor, and he sold millions of records (over 33 million). He was never known to be cool or hip but he was John Denver and he did things his way.

Lyn Helton
9/23/1971, NOV 8 1971 Dies of Cancer – Mrs. Lyn Helton, 20 the mother who tape-recorded her thoughts on death as cancer was taking her life, died Sunday at Denver’s Children’s Hospital. Credit: Denver Post (Denver Post via Getty Images)

Denver wrote this song in Minnesota on a rainy spring day. It first appeared on John Denver’s 1971 album Poems, Prayers & Promises. This song got a big boost when it was used in a November 1973 made-for-TV movie called Sunshine, a tale about a woman dying of cancer who recorded tape messages for her child in her final days. It was based on a true story of Lyn Helton who would listen to John Denver’s music.

The song peaked at #1 on the Billboard 100 and #1 in Canada in 1973. It was included in his Greatest Hits album that year.


The PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center) was a group founded by Tipper Gore that was designed to provide censorship and/or warning of offensive material in regard to music albums that had things that parents would find offensive such as profanity, obscene images, lyrics, descriptions of sexual and/or violent matters, etc.

In 1985, several hearings were held to discuss the possibility of certain albums being required to have a ‘Parental Advisory’ sticker placed on the cover. Many musicians were understandably against this action, and some of those musicians were even invited to come and speak their minds about this issue. Three stand out in particular. Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, Frank Zappa, and maybe most notably, John Denver.

Frank and Dee spoke out against it of course and they were afraid of John Denver being in favor of it…and Congress was counting on it. Well, that didn’t happen. John gave arguably the sharpest testimony out of anyone who testified. He was eloquent and blunt. The looks on the faces of Congress say it all. Inviting John Denver to testify backfired for Congress.

John Denver on the TV Movie: “It was the true story of Lyn Helton, an incredibly courageous lady who chose to live her short life to the fullest even though she knew she would die of a rare bone cancer in a matter of months. It seems that in the last year of her life she found some happiness in my music. I was most honored to have my songs used as part of that television show.”

John Denver: “On one level it was about the virtues of love. On another, more deeply felt level, it reached for something the whole world could embrace.”

Dee Snider of Twisted Sister talks about John Denver. It should start at the place Dee talks about Frank and John.

Sunshine On My Shoulders

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happySunshine in my eyes can make me crySunshine on the water looks so lovelySunshine almost always makes me high

If I had a day that I could give youI’d give to you a day just like todayIf I had a song that I could sing for youI’d sing a song to make you feel this way

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happySunshine in my eyes can make me crySunshine on the water looks so lovelySunshine almost always makes me high

If I had a tale that I could tell youI’d tell a tale sure to make you smileIf I had a wish that I could wish for youI’d make a wish for sunshine all the while

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happySunshine in my eyes can make me crySunshine on the water looks so lovelySunshine almost always makes me highSunshine almost all the time makes me highSunshine almost always