Rocky Mountain High

John Denver

RCA Records, 1972

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Rocky Mountain High, John Denver's 1972 release (and sixth overall), was a turning point for the artist as a superstar. He had briefly tasted success with his fourth album, Poems, Prayers & Promises thanks to the song "Take Me Home, Country Roads". However, when the follow-up album, Aerie, came out, it seemed like the success that Denver had worked so hard to achieve was quickly fading away.

This album not only stopped the brief skid, but also re-established Denver as an up-and-coming star whose music demanded that you take notice. An amalgam of folk and country, his musings about nature and its beauty captured the hearts of many people in the '70s, and the title track alone says volumes about Denver the musician and Denver the human.

So why am I disappointed with this album in general? I mean, sure it has some wonderful moments, but each time I listen to it, with one or two exceptions I have a hard time grasping how this album was the key to unlock the door for Denver. Take away the hits and the concert staples, and this album is a bit boring - maybe overambitious is the correct way to phrase it. More on that later.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

One listen to the title track, and you don't doubt for a minute that Denver's success was deserved. "Rocky Mountain High" has a friendly air about it; it's a song that transports you from wherever you are to the mountains pictured on the dust jacket. No matter how much smog is in your city, you almost swear you can breathe crisp, unpolluted air. There's a reason why this song remained a fan favorite until Denver's untimely death in 1997.

Two other songs from Rocky Mountain High should ring bells with the older listeners in the audience. "Goodbye Again" was another single from the album (the first, though it never made it very high on the charts), but is one whose gentle but sad message is sure to warm your heart. "For Baby (For Bobbie)" is one that might ring some bells, especially if you grew up with a copy of John Denver's Greatest Hits in your parents' record collection - and it's still a great song.

After that, Rocky Mountain High starts to go flat faster than a can of Coors left open on the table for a week. I'm sorry, long-time Denver fans, but "Darcy Farrow" has never been a favorite of mine. It's not that I'm against country folk, it's just that this song is not the best example of a story-telling number that I can think of. Likewise, the cover of "Mother Nature's Son" isn't very noreworthy; if you weren't a diehard Beatles fan or you weren't reading the liner notes, you'd never know this was a cover version.

Where Denver becomes a little overambitious is on "Season Suite," a five-movement song that tries to capture the passage of time through the changing seasons, as well as Denver's feelings as they slowly fade into one another. The sad thing is, this song doesn't work in the ways that Denver intended; instead of being another praise for the wonders of nature, it almost appears to be self-serving, as if Denver wanted to prove he could write a longer, more congruent piece of music.

There is one selection of "Season Suite," however, that is worth mentioning: "Late Winter, Early Spring" is a beautiful instrumental that features some brilliant guitar work from Mike Taylor. If the album had closed with this piece, it actually would have drawn things together better than going to "Spring" and reprising some of the concepts introduced in the first movement, "Summer".

Rocky Mountain High might have been the album that assured Denver his place in the annals of musical history, but unless you're a diehard fan who has to hear every recorded note, in this case, you'd be better off sticking with any of the compilations to hear the worthwhile songs from this disc.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of RCA Records, and is used for informational purposes only.