Music

John Denver's 'Rocky Mountain High' Was Inspired by One Magical Night

ASSOCIATED PRESS

It's no secret that John Denver was fond of the state of Colorado, and few songs describe the feeling one gets when standing on a "Colorado rocky mountain high" better than his 1972 song, "Rocky Mountain High." The song was inspired by Denver's own experience in Colorado, but more specifically, by an exceptionally awe-inspiring night in the beautiful state. It was during that night that he witnessed a Perseid meteor shower while camping with friends (including his then-wife Annie Martell) at Williams Lake. The singer wrote about the experience in his autobiography.

 

"I remember, almost to the moment, when that song started to take shape in my head. We were working on the next album and it was to be called Mother Nature's Son, after the Beatles song, which I'd included," he wrote, according to Songfacts.com. "It was set for release in September. In mid August, Annie and I and some friends went up to Williams Lake to watch the first Perseid meteor showers. Imagine a moonless night in the Rockies in the dead of summer and you have it. I had insisted to everybody that it was going to be a glorious display. Spectacular, in fact."

Denver goes onto say that he went out onto the lake for a while and when he came back, his group had retreated back to their tents. But soon, the meteor shower made its appearance and it was just as spectacular as the singer thought it would be.

"I went back and lay down next to Annie in front of our tent, thinking everybody had gone to sleep, and thinking about how in nature all things, large and small, were interwoven, when swoosh, a meteor went smoking by," wrote Denver. "And from all over the campground came the awed responses 'Do you see that?' It got bigger and bigger until the tail stretched out all the way across the sky and burned itself out. Everybody was awake, and it was raining fire in the sky."

Read More: ''Take Me Home, Country Roads': John Denver's Hit Was Inspired by Maryland

Many of the visuals one hears in the Rocky Mountain high lyrics come from this night. Lines such as "I've seen it rainin' fire in the sky," "The shadow from the starlight is softer than a lullabye," and "Serenity of a clear blue mountain lake" are inspired from this experience Denver had in the state. Denver began writing the song on his own and then brought it to collaborator Mike Taylor, after which he says "the whole thing came together." The song became so impactful to Denver that he changed the album title from Mother Nature's Son to Rocky Mountain High.

Although the song serves as a fitting and serene tribute to a beautiful place, it did withstand its share of misconstrued controversy. Not long after the song was released, radio stations began banning it on the assumption that the "high" in "Rocky Mountain High" was a reference to marijuana use. Denver later testified in Congress, stressing that the song was simply describing the high one gets from experiencing the beauties he experienced.

"Rocky Mountain High" was a success for Denver, landing at No. 3 on the Adult Contemporary chart and No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also became one of the two official state songs for the state of Colorado in 2007. It continues to be one of Denver's most memorable songs, alongside "Take Me Home, Country Roads," "Annie's Song," "Thank God I'm A Country Boy," "Sunshine On My Shoulders," and more. Visitors to Rio Grande Park in Aspen, Colorado can also find a commemorative stone for Denver with the "Rocky Mountain High" lyrics on it.


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Rocky Mountain High lyrics:

He was born in the summer of his 27th year
Coming home to a place he'd never been before
He left yesterday behind him, you might say he was born again
You might say he found a key for every door

When he first came to the mountains his life was far away
On the road and hanging by a song
But the string's already broken and he doesn't really care
It keeps changing fast and it don't last for long

But the Colorado rocky mountain high
I've seen it rainin' fire in the sky
The shadow from the starlight is softer than a lullabye
Rocky mountain high (Colorado)

He climbed cathedral mountains, he saw silver clouds below
He saw everything as far as you can see
And they say that he got crazy once and he tried to touch the sun
And he lost a friend but kept his memory

Now he walks in quiet solitude the forest and the streams
Seeking grace in every step he takes
His sight has turned inside himself to try and understand
The serenity of a clear blue mountain lake

And the Colorado rocky mountain high
I've seen it raining fire in the sky
You can talk to God and listen to the casual reply
Rocky mountain high

Now his life is full of wonder but his heart still knows some fear
Of a simple thing he cannot comprehend
Why they try to tear the mountains down to bring in a couple more
More people, more scars upon the land

And the Colorado rocky mountain high
I've seen it rainin' fire in the sky
I know he'd be a poorer man if he never saw an eagle fly
Rocky mountain high

It's Colorado rocky mountain high
I've seen it rainin' fire in the sky
Friends around the campfire and everybody's high
Rocky mountain high

 

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John Denver's 'Rocky Mountain High' Was Inspired by One Magical Night