From the grave – John Denver warns us

John Denver may be trying to warn us. Yes, one of the biggest-selling artists of the 1970’s, who’s been dead now for 21 years, may be sending us a message – and we should pay attention. Music history depends on it.

I have two teenage boys, so I’m perhaps a little more hip to youth culture than most (but still hopelessly out of step). It’s my eldest, now eighteen, who brought this to my attention.

Over the last year or so, Denver’s ubiquitous 1971 hit “Take Me Home Country Roads” has become part of youth culture, joining a small list of older songs like “Africa,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It’s been the subject of countless memes and videos, and was also featured in the recent Fallout ’76 video game.

An entire new generation of young people have come to know this folk-rock classic. But, here’s the issue: they’re listening to the WRONG version.

A quick search of the song on Spotify reveals something shocking: The most-listened to version of the song (128 million and counting) is a RE-RECORDING, featuring a much-older Denver, not at the peak of his talent.

This version comes from The John Denver Collection Volume One, a budget compilation from Laserlight Records, – you know, the CDs you often see at truck stops mixed in with the $1 DVDs.

The actual, 1971 hit version has less than 1/4th the plays (a mere 36 million).

Well, who cares – I mean it’s just John Denver, right? But, it could happen to any artist. What if a lousy version of an Elvis song or a Beatles’ recording becomes all the rage?

Spotify has long stayed out of curating their music, allowing what’s actually being played to come up first. But, in a situation like this, it might be good for someone to step in.

The re-recording of “Country Roads” is inferior in every way – the musicianship is bland, and Denver’s voice is ragged and lacks the soaring quality that made him a worldwide superstar. I’d bet that Denver’s estate probably isn’t getting any of the royalties from this version either (it’s usually these type of recordings that exploit artists just looking to make some extra money late in their careers).

Thankfully, a similar search on Youtube reveals the original recording coming up first, at 188 million views.

Not sure how this happened on Spotify, but it’s certainly something to keep an eye on. –Tony Peters