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John Denver Greatest Hits, Ranked: 13 Top Tracks to Make You Happy

Get a Rocky Mountain high listening to the singer’s most impressive musical masterpieces!

With a career that spanned four decades and 30 albums, John Denver won over millions of fans all across the world with his unique and thoughtful approach to his music. “When I write a song, I want to take the personal experience that inspired it and express it in as universal way as possible,” he once shared of John Denver greatest hits, adding, “I’m a global citizen.”

The artist was born Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. in Roswell, New Mexico, the son of an Air Force pilot. Before the aspiring musician headed out to LA in 1964, he’d lived in numerous states, including Oklahoma, Arizona, Alabama, and Texas, yet it was his love of Colorado that led to him adopting his stage name in the mid 60s, right around the time he was chosen to be the new lead singer of the Mitchell Trio upon its frontman Chad Mitchell’s departure.

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John Denver playing guitar
John Denver (1982) Paul Natkin / Contributor / Getty

After four years with that group, during which his songwriting talents for other artists started to build up his reputation, Denver headed out on his own, releasing his first solo effort in 1969. Within a couple of years, he was selling millions of records and his career soared throughout the 70s and 80s.

Along the way, he proved he could create John Denver greatest hits with anyone, from Kermit, Miss Piggy and company for 1979’s John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together to legendary opera singer Plácido Domingo, for whom he wrote the title track for his 1981 crossover album, Perhaps Love, resulting in a gold record for their duet on it. He’d also collaborate with artists such as opera singer Beverly Sills, violinist Itzhak Perlman and Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra.

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By the time he died at 53 in a plane crash in California’s Monterey Bay on Oct. 12, 1997, the aviation enthusiast — who’d passed NASA’s rigorous testing and hoped to be the first civilian in space on the Space Shuttle Challenger — had scored eight platinum and 14 gold albums. To this day, fans old and new revel in the long list of John Denver greatest hits he left behind.

“The songs would just come from him, as if he was a vehicle from God that the songs flowed through,” his first wife, Annie Martell, said upon the singer’s passing. “It was a part of him that he wasn’t very ego-attached to. The man was driven to write songs.”

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John Denver holding guitar
John Denver (1990) Jim McCrary / Contributor / Getty

Annie — yes, the inspiration to Denver’s 1974 hit — also noted that, despite all of his success, “I don’t think John ever really got how much people loved him. John was a romantic in the best sense of the word, and the world can be tough on romantics.” He shared his passions — for life, music, and nature — with the world, though, and was far ahead of his time in regard to his environmental activism. “When he was talking about environment, most people couldn’t even spell it,” his manager Hal Thau once said, and the artist had built a solar-powered home in Aspen and started his own environmental nonprofit, the Windstar Foundation.

He also aimed to build bridges of peace throughout the world. In 1985, he was invited to the Soviet Union to perform, which inspired his song “Let Us Begin (What Are We Making Weapons For?),” a duet with Russian rocker Alexandre Gradsky. 

Denver’s subsequent 1986 tour there was the first by an American artist since the start of the Cold War, and he even returned in 1987 to help raise awareness and money for the victims of Chernobyl. Five years later, he’d bring his music to a multi-city engagement in China.

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John Denver speaking
John Denver (1984) Tom Hill / Contributor / Getty

“Music does bring people together,” Denver once said. “It allows us to experience the same emotions. People everywhere are the same in heart and spirit. No matter what language we speak, what color we are, the form of our politics or the expression of our love and our faith, music proves we are the same.”

This list of John Denver greatest hits are sure to appeal to music lovers of folk, rock, country and pop, genres that the talented artist freely floated throughout.

13. “Calypso” (1975): John Denver greatest hits

This B-side became so popular, it was eventually made an A-side and it docked in the No. 2 position on the charts. With shanty flourishes and a soaring falsetto hook, it was inspired by the singer’s visit aboard Jacques Cousteau’s famed boat. “The first few moments I had on my own, I was walking around the deck of the ship and in the time it takes to sing it—‘Aye, Calypso, the places you’ve been to, the things that you’ve shown us, the stories you tell’—I had the chorus of the song,” Denver shared.

12. “Looking for Space” (1976)

“Sometimes I fly like an eagle / And sometimes I’m deep in despair,” Denver sings on this introspective No. 1 Adult Contemporary hit. “It’s about looking for the definition of who you are, by finding out where you are, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally,” he explained to Billboard.

11. “Fly Away” (1975): John Denver greatest hits

Olivia Newton-John layered her hauntingly beautiful vocals behind Denver’s on this No. 1 Adult Contemporary hit that he wrote. The Aussie superstar would go on to sing it in his honor when he posthumously became the first inductee of the Colorado Music Hall of Fame in 2011. 

10. “Shanghai Breezes” (1982)

This No. 1 Adult Contemporary tune would also prove to be the artist’s last Top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. It was inspired by and written during his 1981 multi-city tour through China, when he became the first Western artist to do so at the time.

9. “I’m Sorry” (1975): John Denver greatest hits

This was Denver’s final No. 1 on both the Hot 100 and Country charts, and it’s a strikingly melancholy note to go out on. “I’m sorry for all the lies I told you, I’m sorry for the things I didn’t say / But more than anything else, I’m sorry for myself / I can’t believe you went away,” he sings in this beautiful but emotional breakup track.

8. “Sweet Surrender” (1974)

“Sweet, sweet surrender, live, live without care / Like a fish in the water, like a bird in the air.” This free-spirited song hit No. 7 on the country charts and was an Adult Contemporary No. 1. It lended itself nicely to be used in the opening credits of the 1974 Disney film The Bears and I, about a soft-hearted Vietnam veteran who adopts and cares for three orphaned cubs in the wild.

7. “Leaving on a Jet Plane” (1969): John Denver greatest hits

Denver wrote this wistful classic back in 1966 when he was still with the Mitchell Trio. Folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary recorded it in 1967 and scored their only No. 1 career hit with it in 1969, the same year he released it himself. “I was constantly, constantly on the move,” Denver told Merv Griffin of the nomadic, restless, and lonely lifestyle he was living when he wrote the song. “In my life at the time, there was nobody that I had to sing that song to, and I wanted someone like that too,” he added of the imaginary relationship he so poignantly wrote about.

6. “Back Home Again” (1974)

This was Denver’s first of three No. 1 John Denver greatest hits on the country charts, and it won him Song of the Year honors at the Country Music Association (CMA) awards in 1975. In a now infamous incident, Denver was also crowned Entertainer of the Year during the ceremonies, prompting presenter Charlie Rich to light Denver’s name slip on fire in protest of what he saw as an unwanted shift in the genre to “new country” performers. Accepting via satellite, Denver was unaware of the bold display. His album of the same name also earned a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year.

5. “Sunshine on My Shoulders” (1974): John Denver greatest hits

The songwriter was in a melancholy mood, he admitted, when he penned this stunningly simple but nonetheless powerful No. 1 hit about how, as he put it, “you remember [that] sometimes just the sun itself can make you feel good.” It made Carly Rae Jepsen feel so good that she covered it in 2008.

4. “Annie’s Song” (1974)

Denver scored big with this sentimental hit he wrote while on a ski lift, shortly after a quarrel he’d had with his then-wife, Annie Martell. “Suddenly I was hypersensitive to how beautiful everything was. All of these things filled up my senses,” the artist wrote in his 1971 autobiography, Take Me Home. The song, which spent two weeks at No. 1, “was the embodiment of the love that I felt at the time. In the ten minutes it took to reach the top of the mountain, the song was there.”

3. “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” (1975): John Denver greatest hits

If this knee-slapper doesn’t put you in a great mood and have you dancing around the room, well, we don’t know what will. Written by John Martin Sommers, a fiddle player (and multi-instrumentalist) in Denver’s backing band, this No. 1 smash “hooks and reels before you even know what’s hit ya,” as American Songwriter puts it. “Some songs just got it.”

2. “Rocky Mountain High” (1972)

“This is living. This is what man was created for: to live and work and continue what these mountains represent. This is true freedom. Being part of nature and drawing from it, and returning back to it,” Denver said during his 1973 BBC Radio show about the sense of wonder his adopted home state gave him. That sense of wonder, in turn, inspired his co-writing of this timeless classic. Fittingly, in March 2007, the Colorado Senate made it one of its two official state songs.

1. “Take Me Home, Country Roads” (1971): John Denver greatest hits

This gem is “almost heaven,” just as its opening line states. Denver shares writing credits on it with his friends, the then-married Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert. “I did get the idea riding down a country road in Maryland, but it was the idea of country roads anywhere that inspired the song,” Bill told the Library of Congress in 2023, upon the universal homecoming tune being selected to enter the National Song Registry. It had also been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998, and served as the anchor of a mashup — with Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” and Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” — that was performed by a cavalcade of country music stars to honor the CMA Awards’ 50th anniversary in 2016.

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