John Denver began his career playing with folk groups in the 1960s. After signing as a solo artist to RCA, he scored his commercial breakthrough with his fourth album, Poems, Prayers & Promises. Although his commercial success waned in the 1980s, he dominated the charts in the 1970s with hits like Take Me Home, Country Roads and Annie’s Song. Four of his albums went platinum and 12 went gold, resulting in around 33 million album sales in total. Denver died when the plane he was piloting crashed in 1997. He was 53 years old. Here we take a look back at his legacy as we rank all 30 John Denver albums from worst to best.
30. Whose Garden Was This
Neither of Denver’s first two albums hit the mark, but his third studio album, Whose Garden Was This, fell even further short. Consisting of a collection of expendable cover songs, it’s a lazy, lackluster effort that, unsurprisingly, both the charts and critics turned their back on.
29. The Flower That Shattered the Stone
Denver’s 22nd studio album,1990’s The Flower That Shattered the Stone, comprised of a selection of songs taken from Stonehaven Sunrise (which was released in Australia the previous year), and Earth Songs, along with the title track, which had previously been released as a single in Japan. It proved a minor hit in the US, reaching No. 185 on the Billboard 200.
28. All Aboard!
All Aboard!, Denver’s 27th studio album, finds the singer incorporating elements of everything from swing and big band to bluegrass and gospel into his signature folky sound. The songs – a mixture of contemporary covers and traditional standards- hang on a railroad theme. It’s not a very inspired album, but it did at least make an appearance in the charts, peaking at No. 165 on the Billboard 200.
27. Dreamland Express
Denver described his 18th studio album, Dreamland Express, as more optimistic than his previous two LPs, calling it an album about “falling in love again.” And yet all four original songs he contributes to the album are about falling out of love. Even the covers, although much more positive than the originals, seem to be more about looking back than forward. Overall, it’s not a success, lacking the personal quality that made his better albums so strong.
26. One World
By the mid-1980s, Denver’s audience was diminishing rapidly. One World, the singer’s 19th studio album, was not the album to galvanize the troops. It failed to produce any hit singles and didn’t enter the charts, leading RCA Records, his label of 17 years standing, to terminate his contract.
25. Earth Songs
Earth Songs, Denver’s 22nd studio album, was a well-kept secret for years, available only via his concerts or by mail order from the National Wildlife Federation. It finally got a general release in 1995, and while it failed to generate much fanfare, its collection of ecology-themed tunes was greeted warmly by fans.
24. Stonehaven Sunrise
By the late 1980s, Denver’s home audience had shrunk considerably, but he continued to enjoy moderate chart success in Australia. As something of a thank you to the country for their continued support, he recorded Stonehaven Sunrise, an album of songs about the environment and other topical issues that was released only in Australia.
23. John Denver Sings
Two years before he released his first official studio album with RCA, Denver recorded John Denver Sings, a self-produced demo featuring a selection of songs he’d been performing in concerts. Although the album is very rough and ready, it’s notable for the addition of Babe, I Hate to Go, which was later retitled Leaving on a Jet Plane. Denver’s producer, Milt Okun, bought the song to Peter, Paul and Mary, who later scored a number one hit with it.
22. Different Directions
Although 1991’s Different Directions failed to chart in the US, its uplifting collection of topical songs was a moderate success in Australia, where it peaked at No. 71 on the album chart.
After a run of successes, Spirit marked the start of a period of commercial decline for Denver. It’s too subdued to be attractive to casual listeners, but there are still enough little gems (including the Hot 100 hit, Baby, You Look Good to Me Tonight) to appeal to the devoted.
20. I Want to Live
After the commercial disappointment of Spirit, Denver was hoping for better things with I Want to Live. He didn’t get them. Although it managed to climb to No. 10 on the country charts, it peaked and stalled at No. 45 on the Billboard 200.
19. Seasons of the Heart
As The Independent writes, Seasons of the Heart, Denver’s 16th studio album and his last to go gold, was dedicated to his wife, Annie. The pair had begun experiencing difficulties when his career went into overdrive with Rocky Mountain. Seasons of the Heart was essentially written as a love poem to her, but despite featuring a winning combination of songs, it failed to work its magic. The couple divorced within the year.
18. Love Again
One year before his death, Denver’s career experienced a renaissance with his 26th studio album, Love Again. Featuring a selection of new editions of some of his most popular songs, it finds him performing at the top of his game, delivering crystal-clear vocals over gorgeous arrangements. It’s let down slightly by some of the song choices, but it clearly struck the right chord with fans, who took it to No. 15 on the US Country Albums Chart.
17. Higher Ground
After being dropped by RCA due to the poor sales of his 19th studio album, One World, Denver rebounded with its follow-up (and the first album to be released on the Windstar label), Higher Ground. Commercially, it was his best performing album in years, generating two hit singles (For You and Country Girl in Paris) and hitting No. 49 on the Top Country Albums chart. In Australia, it was an even bigger success, reaching No. 5 in the charts.
16. Forever, John
The year after Denver’s death, RCA released Forever, John, a collection of previously unreleased songs and alternate takes recorded between 1969 and 1980. Some of the songs are slightly ragged around the edges, but Denver’s reedy vocals are strong throughout.
15. Christmas, Like a Lullaby
In 1990, Denver released Christmas, Like a Lullaby, his first Christmas album since 1979’s A Christmas Together with the Muppets. It’s not groundbreaking, but there’s more than enough festive cheer to keep fans happy, particularly on the very lovely title cut.
14. John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together
John Denver came into his own at Christmas, and John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together finds him in particularly good form. There’s a little too much electric piano at play and not all of the songs have aged particularly well, but if you can overlook the cloying sentimentality, there’s an awful lot to like about this fun, lively record. A novelty album maybe, but a deeply entertaining one regardless.
Denver got the 1980s off to a flying start with his 14th studio album, Denver. A gorgeous collection of sweetly sentimental songs that showcase Denver’s charismatic delivery and strong songwriting, the album peaked at No. 39 on the US Billboard 200 and No. 28 on the Billboard Top Country Albums.
12. Farewell Andromeda
After the critical and commercial success of Rocky Mountain Road, expectations were high for its follow-up. Farewell Andromeda certainly delivered the goods. Despite rocking harder than fans were used to, the intimate songwriting and superb craftmanship still appealed to enough listeners to turn the album into a top 20 hit.
11. Rhymes & Reasons
In October 1968, Denver released his first commercial studio album, Rhymes & Reasons. It was almost completely ignored in the US, stalling at No. 148 on the Billboard 200. It fared better in the UK, where it managed to claim to No. 21 on the UK Album chart. It’s a tentative debut, with more filler than thriller. It’s not completely without its charms though, With Leaving on a Jet Plane (which Peter, Paul and Mary took to the top of the charts later that year) standing out as a particular highlight.
10. It’s About Time
For his 17th studio album, Denver called on some of his famous chums for support. The collaborations with Patti Austin and the Wailers are all excellent, but it’s his duet with Emmylou Harris, Wild Mountain Skies, that became the album’s biggest success. In 2010, the Western Writers of America named it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time and, three years later, it was named the best song about Montana by the Great Falls Tribune.
9. Take Me to Tomorrow
Just over a year after releasing his disappointing debut, Denver was back with his second studio album, Take Me to Tomorrow. It’s far from typical Denver fare, with a heavy folk-rock sound and lyrics that swap prettiness for realism. Despite being a very sound album, it’s a little too far removed from Denver’s signature style to be a huge crowd-pleaser.
8. John Denver
‘Denver’s self-titled 13th album might not be in the same class as Back Home or Rocky Mountain Christmas, but the hard-rocking Johnny B. Goode and the delicious twin delights of Joseph and Joe and Southwind are enough to make it essential listening for fans.
7. Poems, Prayers & Promises
Poems, Prayers & Promises, Denver’s fourth studio album, is where things started to get good for Denver, at least from a commercial perspective. It’s not a flawless album, but the proliferation of hit songs it contains (including the title track, My Sweet Lady, I Guess He’d Rather Be in Colorado, Sunshine on My Shoulders, and Take Me Home, Country Roads (which quickly became his signature song) guaranteed its popularity. Released in April 1971, it became Denver’s highest-charting album to date, peaking at No. 15 on the Billboard 200.
6. Some Days Are Diamonds
As Return of Rock says, Denver tells stories of love, the country, and memories, and on his 15th studio album, Some Days Are Diamonds, he does it beautifully. Key standouts include the wonderfully nostalgic Wildflowers in a Mason Jar (The Farm).
Aerie, Denver’s fifth studio album, wasn’t as commercially successful as its predecessor, Poems, Prayers & Promises, stalling at No. 75 on the Billboard 200. Yet it’s by far the superior of the two, consisting of a beautiful collection of songs that include the hauntingly lovely cover of Kris Kristofferson’s Casey’s Last Ride, the bluesy Readjustment Blues, and the uplifting album centerpiece, The Eagle and the Hawk.
4. Rocky Mountain High
Poems, Prayers & Promises gave Denver his breakthrough, but his sixth studio album, Rocky Mountain High, was what really kickstarted his dominance of the charts in the ’70s. Driven by the success of the top ten hit single, Rocky Mountain High, the album became his first top 10 hit, charting at No. 4 on the Billboard 200. It was also a hit on the other side of the pond, reaching No.11 on the UK Album Charts.
By 1975, Denver fever was at its peak. Windsong, his ninth studio album, did little to dent his reputation, charting at number 1 on both the pop and country charts and winning over the critics with its strong songwriting and thrusting delivery. The key track is the epic Calypso, a song that still ranks as one of his very best to this day.
2. Rocky Mountain Christmas
If anyone was born to release a Christmas album, it was John Denver, who adds plenty of his usual warmth and homespun appeal to this collection of traditional carols and popular festive standards. As All Music says, it’s an album “perfect for late nights by the fire.”
1. Back Home
Back Home, Denver’s multi-platinum selling eighth studio album, is almost impossible to fault. Propelled by the success of the hit singles Annie’s Song and the titular track, it became his most successful album to date, topping both the Billboard 200 and the country charts and entering the top 20 in various other countries. A wonderful collection of charmingly uplifting and witty songs, this is Denver at his most delightful.