Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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John Denver

  • Poems, Prayers and Promises [RCA Victor, 1971] C
  • Aerie [RCA, 1971] D
  • Rocky Mountain High [RCA Victor, 1972] C
  • John Denver's Greatest Hits [RCA Victor, 1973] B-
  • Back Home Again [RCA Victor, 1974] C+
  • Windsong [RCA Victor, 1975] C-
  • John Denver's Greatest Hits Volume 2 [RCA Victor, 1977] D+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Poems, Prayers and Promises [RCA Victor, 1971]
Denver is everything an acoustic singer-songwriter might be--pretty, vapid, and commercial. "Take Me Home, Country Roads" is a genuine pop archetype, and as an inhabitant of the temperate regions of earth I find that sunshine on my shoulder makes me happy, too. But usually his voice and his songs are tepid rather than temperate, as is the mid-'60s folk sensibility and stringless/hornless instrumentation. There's more originality and spirit in Tom Jones--maybe even Engelbert Humperdinck. If James is a wimp, John is a simp, and that's even worse. C

Aerie [RCA, 1971]
Some sort of nadir among commercially successful singer-songwriter records. The voice and the songs are tepid and uninteresting, as if the mid-'60s folk sensibility and the stringless/hornless instrumentation. There's more originality and spirit in Engelbert Humperdinck. If James is a wimp, John is a simp, and that's apparently even worse. D

Rocky Mountain High [RCA Victor, 1972]
Denver is everything an acoustic singer-songwriter might be--lush, pretty, vapid, commercial. C

John Denver's Greatest Hits [RCA Victor, 1973]
I still don't like Denver, who purveys privacy in hockey rinks and who never wonders how we are to "maintain our society" by contact with wilderness without destroying said wilderness. But except for the odious "Follow Me"--so that's why he loves his Annie so much--I find this stuff inoffensive when it's not likable. Twice it's brilliant: "Leaving, on a Jet Plane" and "Goodbye Again" are the essence of domesticus interruptus. Not that he's as talented as many of his supposed rivals. But he aims lower. B-

Back Home Again [RCA Victor, 1974]
Singer-songwriter folk fault Denver for his simple-minded escapism, implying a preference for subtle escapism in the manner of James & Carly. But if escapism is the context maybe Denver's transparency is a (small) virtue. Good wholesome product, no falser (or true) than the run of the competition, tuneful and chaste with flatness for that common touch. Maybe the folk are offended because he sold four million albums in six months. C+

Windsong [RCA Victor, 1975]
Why haven't all those textual analysts who figured out that Paul was dead and Dylan a junkie applied themselves to the song sequence "Two Shots," "I'm Sorry," and "Fly Away," a mini-triptych that proves (rilly) that John and Annie are on the rocks!! Too morbid a thought, I bet. Upgraded for documentary interest. C-

John Denver's Greatest Hits Volume 2 [RCA Victor, 1977]
My God, he was right about cities after all--urban blights like television and Ticketron have turned this innocent folkie into the blandest pop singer in history. Only "Annie's Song" packs any of the old simple-minded charm, and four of these ten songs are devoid of any interest whatsoever--his folksy lies about country boys and feather beds are at least upbeat by comparison. D+