The more keen-eyed amongst you will have noticed that this series, when I can be bothered to write it, features not records that I used to own and have lost for various reasons (read: skint and sold it); rather it tends to feature records that I wished I’d bought years ago, or records which remind me of being a kid, by which I mean records owned by either my Dad or my brother.
Such is today’s choice, a record that loomed large over my childhood, and of which I have no complaints about (either the records looming or my childhood, this isn’t Angela’s Ashes).
Mention John Denver to most people and they will say something along the lines of one or all of the following things:
- The Annie’s Song guy?
- The Grandma’s Feather Bed guy?
- Didn’t he do a record with The Muppets?
- The crashing his airplane into a mountain guy?
- The Milky Bar Kid guy?
The thing is, when you’re growing up, or more specifically, as I grew up, I’d rather have eaten my own testicles than admit to liking any records that either my Dad or my brother liked. Their music tastes were my mortal enemy, to be defeated at every opportunity (generally by playing Quo really loudly).
But as I got older, and both me and my music tastes mellowed, I came to see they both had a point. As a kid, my brother liked the Stones, so I liked The Beatles, just to be contrary and different from him. That changed. And my Dad liked Kris Kristofferson, then okay I’ll sing along to appease him, but what I really wanted to hear at the time was some thumbs-in-belt-hoops, double-denim, three-chord boogie.
I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point the barriers came down. With my brother and I it was when we were in our teens; there’s only a couple of years between us so this was probably inevitable, I guess. But with my Dad’s record collection, I’d say maybe I was in my mid-twenties when I realised he had a point about some of the acts he loved.
A drunken night with my brother probably sealed it.
Me: Shall I stick some tunes on?
Him: Have you got Me and Bobby McGee?
Ah, bugger, he’s right again.
See, I feel rather blessed that music was such a big part of our family life as I was growing up, and much as I pretended to hate all those old records my Dad played, their effect was just as inescapable: they kind of soaked in, I absorbed them and stored them up for future use.
It just took me a little longer with some of his records than others, and John Denver falls into that category.
In fact, it wasn’t until in my mid- thirties – in a moment that I now realise resonates greatly with a moment in my teens I wrote about here when I could only bring myself to admitting to liking a record by Suzanne Vega because a mate said they liked it first – that I got into a conversation with a work colleague who was learning to play the guitar, and was ecstatic as he had mastered the aforementioned Annie’s Song.
“That’s such a great record,” I surprised myself by assenting.
“It is a great record,” he confirmed, a tiny bit of saliva threatening to escape his bulging jowls.
And there it was. I had admitted to liking John Denver to another human being. I was outed as a Denverite. And not to just anyone, someone who could play guitar and wasn’t a nerd at all.
Okay, in the interest of full disclosure, he played chess, and went on to tell me in rib-nudging fashion about some female professional Russian chess players he really fancied. But apart from that, definitely not a nerd.
And so, to today’s record: Windsong by John Denver.
Some things you need to know:
- It contains nothing as drop-dead wonderful as Annie’ Song (and if you don’t think that’s a drop-dead wonderful song a) you’re wrong, and b) you need to befriend a chess player
- It contains nothing as yee-haw hill-billy-esque as Grandma’s Feather Bed
- It does contain some pretty ruddy marvellous songs.
Like these (and by the way, this guy was such a massive star in the 70s, he didn’t even have to bother putting his name on record sleeves):
If you only listen to one of those, make it Calypso. Or Late Nite Radio. Or…oh I give up. Just listen, will you.