23
Nov 07

JOHN DENVER – “Annie’s Song”

FT + Popular24 comments • 4,835 views

#357, 12th October 1974

Versions of “Annie’s Song”, in order of preference:

1/ The “Greasy Chip Butty” song, which effortlessly out-poetries Denver in the content-meets-form sensory hit of its images and hence taps directly into the spirit of the song. Not that I’ve actually heard it in a terrace setting, but it’s a thing of wonder anyhow.

2/ Version I played on an acoustic guitar, c.1990. Its hesitancy – though dictated by practical, not artistic, considerations – brought out the fragile beauty of Denver’s melody better than the original, which buries it under orchestral syrup. This is the only song on the whole of Popular I have ever actually performed, hapless karaoke and playground Paul Hardcastle beatboxing attempts notwithstanding.

3/ Version my Dad played in the mid-70s on his cassette recorder. Pedants might insist that this version was in fact the original but memory and love tell a different story – my Dad’s tastes in pop centre on sentimental country music and he enjoyed this one with a total sincerity I think Denver can’t actually achieve and perhaps doesn’t deserve. One of my earliest and haziest pop memories.

4/ Denver’s actual record, disappointingly feeble in comparison.

4

Comments

  1. 1
    Erithian on 23 Nov 2007 #

    Well done Tom – that’s a football reference no-one should miss, and you’re right it’s a football chant that does pretty well what the original does, and many would say it does it better. And so it should, coming from the home of Jarvis Cocker and Alex Turner (err, we’ll leave Phil Oakey’s lyrics to one side for now).

    But looking back to 1974, it’s the sensory hit itself that was behind this record reaching Number 1 – think John Denver, think Rocky Mountain High, think Country Roads, think escapism for people buying into the widescreen Americana on offer. At a time when Western themes in TV programmes were being replaced by cop shows (which would benefit Kojak and Hutch in chart terms before long) we still wanted rhinestone cowboys, blankets on the ground and homespun tales from ladies in large wigs. Contrast that to the situation now where a Trisha Yearwood or Dwight Yoakam could pretty well walk down Oxford Street unmolested.

  2. 2

    at the time i think i associated john denver with the waltons more than country

  3. 3
    katstevens on 23 Nov 2007 #

    Did John Denver actually resemble his character in House Of Rock at all? Said cartoon is my main point of contact with him, having never willingly listened to or watched ‘Annie’.

    HOWEVER I know how the melody goes, because this was in Kenneth Baker’s Learn To Play Keyboard Songbook 2. I seem to recall regularly spurning it in favour of ‘Take Me Home Country Roads’.

  4. 4
    rosie on 23 Nov 2007 #

    I think you hit the nail on the head with the reference to your father’s cassette-player version, Tom. All music is affective to one degree or another, but I think of all the number ones that have ever been, this one is the most affective of all. For me, it’s about 1986, and my first Open University summer school at Stirling. Somebody sang the song at the folk night and it seemed to catch the mood of the week, so that Denver’s version was played by request as the last track at the traditional Thursday night ‘Desperation Disco’ (the idea being, if you haven’t scored all week, you can’t fail at the DD). We’ll draw a veil over what happened then. I wonder how many other relationships have been sparked off to this song? Quite a lot, I should imagine. But then, there was a time when any decent disco ended with a good smoochy track like this (there’s a couple of other number ones coming up that fill the role, at least one of them a far better track than this one, and I can name the classic track for this role – Gladys Knight’s version of Help Me Make It Through The Night – because I don’t think it made much impact on the charts.) to seal the evening. It was when dancing was as sexy as it should be – the horizontal expression of a horizontal desire.

    The advance of Disco and its successors, though, sterilised dancing and sucked all the sex out of it (if you will pardon the expression). A new generation was coming through, one which would regard physical sex as just something you do, but which was terrified of intimacy. Dancing became relegated to narcissistic exhibitionism at best, and solitary masturbation within the crowd at worst. O tempora, o mores!

    But then, this song has a nice tune, it’s easy to sing, it’s easy to play on a musical instrument, even by beginners, so ten years before I could teach an ensemble of 11 and 12 year-old recorder players to play it for a public performance. It’s infinitely versatile, and that’s its charm. Listening to it cold, stripped of associations, there’s not much left but even that’s pleasant enough. 6 from me.

  5. 5
    Billy Smart on 23 Nov 2007 #

    The misplaced image of the smug former home secretary that “Kenneth Baker’s Learn to Play Keyboard Songbook” gives me greater pleasure than Annie’s Song ever did. A bit bland and overproduced.

    I do remember greatly enjoying John Denver’s appearance on The Muppets as a boy, though.

  6. 6
    Monitor on 24 Nov 2007 #

    I’d speak up for this. His voice is rather reedy (sounds oddly like I imagine Bill Clinton would sound singing) and there’s a touch too much reverb around – and the strings drown everything in the middle – but this is a pretty melody, with a certain gentle emotion kick in the way that the descending bass lines is feebly countered by those vocal swoops upwards in the second half of the verse. Is this the first number one with no chorus since ‘Maggie May’?

    It appears to have taken seven weeks to climb to number one, which, even for them olden days of yore, seems an unusually long and winding road. For the utterly mediocre we should flash forward four years to James Galway’s otiose version.

    Stupid thought: if you speed it up slightly (and change it from 3/4 to 4/4 time) it sounds very slightly like Brian Wilson’s ‘Love and Mercy’.

  7. 7
    Waldo on 24 Nov 2007 #

    This pleasant little piece could have been anyone’s – I don’t know about Annie’s. It surprised me when it went to the top but I didn’t dislike it then and still don’t. A little superficial, I would say, but then most pop ballads are one way or another. The only thing we took the piss out of was Denver’s “John Boy Walton” appearance; basin haircut and ill-fitted bins. He wouldn’t have lasted five minutes at Stockwell Manor. And now he’s dead, the poor little sod.

  8. 8
    RobM on 24 Nov 2007 #

    You see, I’m suddenly waking up after a few years hibernating because the number ones are finally getting to the point where I remember them at the time. I would have been 5 and a half when this was #1, and I do remember this song freaking me out for some reason. I think it was the combination of the melody and John’s rather creepy persona (to a five year old). My parents had his album “Poems prayers and promises” and that really DID scare me, because there was a song about Pandora’s Box on it which gave me the willies. I’d love to hear it again, to see if it was worthwhile. But then a lot of things did that to me at that age. So, I’ve never liked this song because it gave me the willies, and it’s probably the most innocent song to get scared by. Can’t see it now.

  9. 9
    jeff w on 24 Nov 2007 #

    I have quite specific memories associated with this song as well. In the late 70s or early 80s my parents became friendly with a younger married couple (possibly through the bridge club they attended) and for a couple of summers we often used to go over to their large house (which had an equally large garden). The couple had a daughter, but she must have been very young at the time. I remember nothing about her.

    The mother (Joan) was an outgoing, outspoken and slightly eccentric person – not your typical stiff-upper-lipped / staid / repressed English type that I was used to. Joan thought nothing of blasting out John Denver’s greatest hits on the family hi-fi in the middle of the day while rushing around, organising the kids in some useful activity or other. “Annie’s Song” was a particular favourite of hers. Joan took an interest in everyone and spoke to children like adults. I dare say she turned my head a little.

    But after a while it began to become clear that all was not well in this garden of eden. Joan and her husband were drifting apart and in private the D word started to be mentioned by my parents. Soon after that, our visits to the house had to stop too.

    Many months later, one winter evening, Joan suddenly showed up at our door when only my mum and I were home. In a slightly frantic state Joan announced that she and her daughter were off to Suffolk. Now. Immediately. And she needed a good home for all her houseplants – which she’d conveniently brought over in her car. In minutes our house was festooned with potted plants of all shapes and sizes. And then she was gone. I never saw her again.

  10. 10
    jeff w on 24 Nov 2007 #

    PS My mum loved the James Galway version of “Annie’s Song” and my parents gave me the 7″ single of it one Christmas. (I had flute lessons for many years while at school, so I suspect my mum was hoping I’d learn to play the tune myself and perform it for her. No such luck ha!)

  11. 11
    crag on 26 Nov 2007 #

    Surely the best version of “Annie’s Song” is on the track “Farewell to John Denver” from Monty Pythons Contractual Obligation Album. The track starts as normal but before ‘Denver’ finishes his first line he is suddenly throttled to death. Arf. What larfs. Its sadly no longer available as the humorless get threatened to sue and the track was removed from all future pressings.

  12. 12
    Jack Fear on 26 Nov 2007 #

    The [Monty Python] track starts as normal

    Funny, I don’t remember the first line of “Annie’s Song” as “You came on my pillow”…!

  13. 13
    Mark G on 26 Nov 2007 #

    Thios is one of those misheard lyrics to follow on from the last number one…

    “You fill up my senses, kung fu me again…”

  14. 14
    Mark G on 26 Nov 2007 #

    oh, and…

    FT’s katstevens on November 23rd, 2007
    Did John Denver actually resemble his character in House Of Rock at all? Said cartoon is my main point of contact with him, having never willingly listened to or watched ‘Annie’.

    Um, it’s not in the film “Annie”

  15. 15
    Erithian on 26 Nov 2007 #

    Jeff – that story about “Joan” was looking very promising until she just left you with all the houseplants. In the movie version of your life I’m sure she’d have taken you upstairs for a good rogering before saying goodbye to your startled mum, but reality doesn’t tend to be like that does it? ; )

    Monitor (#6) – the last three number ones all entered in the same week, and Denver dutifully waited his turn until the toothy troupe and he with the kick-ass moves had finished. An unusually stately progress, rarely matched.

  16. 16
    Matthew H on 26 Nov 2007 #

    I, like Jeff, had flute lessons at school mainly (I think) because my mother wanted me to recreate her James Galway album. John Denver was just an inexplicably regular chat show guest to me.

  17. 17
    mike on 26 Nov 2007 #

    This caused problems at Top Of The Pops, as there was no video, no performance clip, and no promotional visit to the UK from Denver himself. Instead, TOTP was obliged to finish each week with tracking shots of the audience waving giant sunflowers around for three minutes, IIRC.

    Donkey’s years ago, I dated a Pan Am air steward who regularly worked the international first class cabin – and it was he who told me that the supposed Wild Men Of Rock were usually the tamest passengers, whilst the supposed Clean Cut Goody Two Shoes types were the most trouble. My ex’s two wildest, most hell-raising passengers: step forward, The Late Andy Gibb and The Late John Denver, the latter of whom managed to renew his subscription to the Mile High Club on three separate occasions in the course of one flight, with three separate obliging Annie Auditionees. (Clearly, an artistic soul such as JD must have needed his senses re-filling a little more regularly than the rest of us…)

  18. 18
    mike on 26 Nov 2007 #

    (Did I say “finish each week”, when Annie’s Song was only at #1 for a single week? How the old mind plays tricks!)

  19. 19
    Snif on 26 Nov 2007 #

    What was JD keeping from the No. 1 position?

  20. 20
    Billy Smart on 26 Nov 2007 #

    ‘Rock Me Gently’ by Andy Kim. Which is superior to ‘Annie’s Song’ – both as a record and as a declaration of love.

    According to the reference book, ‘Annie’s Song’ was first performed on Top of the Pops as a disc, then as a studio performance (repeated twice), and finally as a promo film at Christmas. Only the Christmas episode survives.

  21. 21
    richard thompson on 10 May 2008 #

    I’m sure I remember him singing it only Pans People danced to it one week, before it got to number one.

  22. 22
    Lazarus on 24 Oct 2012 #

    ‘Rock Me Gently’ – great song, yes, by the writer of ‘Sugar Sugar.’ The B-side of my copy is an instrumental version which has allowed the odd late-night alcohol-fuelled karaoke rendition. ‘Annie’s Song’ is back in the Top 40 this week thanks to its use in the latest TalkTalk commercial. Doesn’t sound like JD though, somehow.

  23. 23
    Mark G on 25 Oct 2012 #

    I still hear it as ‘You fill up my senses, kung fu me again’ …

  24. 24
    mapman132 on 30 Mar 2014 #

    Funny how one country’s major star is another country’s one hit wonder. It usually seems to work the opposite way but in this case John Denver only had this one UK Top 40 (it was one of four #1’s in the US). Hard to tell if JD was a true one hit wonder though: apparently he did okay on the UK album chart. Count me as a minor fan, and “Annie’s Song” is probably my favorite of his. Well, unless you count the John Denver and the Muppets Christmas album – a perennial classic in my family.

    I bet a lot of Americans would be surprised to hear that “Annie’s Song” has been turned into an English football chant, although “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” is for some arcane reason played at every Baltimore Orioles baseball game.

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