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John Denver: Pure Gold

Published: 10/12/2012
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John Denver (Everett Collection)

Today marks 15 years since John Denver died. The singer-songwriter's biggest hits are now four decades in the past, but they still sound as good as ever. Some might even say better than ever – as our world gets louder, as popular music gets harsher, as cars get faster, commutes longer and jobs busier, there's nothing that soothes at the end of a long, loud day like a little John Denver.

Denver recorded many wonderful and enduring songs, but there are a few that are remembered above the rest. Those are the singles that went gold, selling more than half a million copies. And they're the ones we're listening to today as we remember him.

Take Me Home, Country Roads

Of all Denver's gold records, "Take Me Home, Country Roads" was recorded the earliest. It never topped the charts (though it came close), but it's one of Denver's most recognizable songs – his signature song, really – much covered, much quoted, and often in the running to be West Virginia's new state song.

Sunshine on My Shoulders

"Sunshine on My Shoulders" brings to mind a beautiful summer day – and that's just what Denver was dreaming of when he wrote it. On a grey late-winter day in Minnesota, Denver was longing for a bit of warmth, and the song came to him. It's been warming up his listeners ever since.

Annie's Song

According to Denver, he wrote this classic in just 10 1/2 minutes while on a ski lift feeling overwhelmed by the natural beauty all around him and thinking of his then-wife, Annie Martell Denver. Though the relationship went south in the years to follow, the song is still as touching as ever.

Back Home Again

"Back Home Again" won Denver a Country Music Association award for song of the year in 1975. That same year, he also received the CMA's entertainer of the year award, a controversial choice – singer Charlie Rich, who read his winning name, burned the envelope after reading it. The stunt did more damage to Rich's career than Denver's, with "Back Home Again" hitting No. 1 on the country chart.

Thank God I'm a Country Boy

It's amusing to note that after the CMA incident, Denver's next gold record was one that was even more country than "Back Home Again." The down-homey song topped both the country and Hot 100 charts and inspired many a two-step.

I'm Sorry

Denver's final gold record was also his final No. 1 hit on the pop charts. It's a poignant apology for a love gone wrong – and it's a golden way to close our remembrance of Denver.

Written by Linnea Crowther

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