Rocky Mountain Slide

Twelve steps that led John Denver from firsthand commercial success to secondhand experimental aircrafts

6. Foisted the Starland Vocal Band on the World! Any list of the worst songs ever grunted by man, woman or their nearest food-chain cousin would seem naked unless it had "Afternoon Delight" somewhere near the top of it. Denver, friend of the environment, spewed this compost waste across the land of ours under the auspices of his Windsong record label. That's like owning the factory where napalm was made!

7. Too Closely Associated With est! Some may have been turned off because Denver was an outspoken advocate of est training. Anyone who has ever been subjected to recruitment tactics by Werner Ernhardt's disciples knows that any indoctrination which locks you in a closet and tells you not to shit or cry for an entire weekend sounds a little too much like fraternity hazing to be a healthful thing.

8. Replaced Andy Williams As the Host of the Grammy Awards! Sure, Andy's recording career was a cool cadaver by 1976. But people didn't begrudge Denver for beating an old sweater man out of a job so much as cringe to his wooden shuck 'n' jive renditions of "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" and "Stayin' Alive." Imagine John Travolta loaded down with eight cans of Dutch Boy paint, and you have some idea of the carnage on display here.

9. "Perhaps Love"! In an attempt to counteract his accelerating unhip cachet, Denver agrees to duet on his song "Perhaps Love" with Placido Domingo, knowing full well that every time a tenor sings in the Queen's English, it's gonna sound oompah-oompah pompous, and that even being in proximity with this musical skin graft, Denver's gonna come out sounding more "with it"! Perhaps not.

10. Behind Round Eyes! Denver was born in Roswell, New Mexico, and his face started to take on an extraterrestrial quality when he ditched his trademark cousin-Oliver glasses for contact lenses. Must've creeped out a few fans who took the words to his "Looking for Space (to Find Out Who You Are)" all too literally. Not to mention his failed attempts to fly out to the Mir space station. But, hell, you cads stuck by Kenny Loggins even after he shaved his beard, cut his hair and revealed ears the size of watermelon slices.

11. Dreamland Express! At the same time Denver's "Fly Away" duet partner Olivia Newton-John was trying to undo her goody-goody image with her steamy ode to blowjobs, "Soul Kiss," Denver was also trying his darndest to "cross over" to a music-video leading man. Sadly, it wouldn't be the last experimental contraption he mounted that didn't fly! As KISS had its Music From "The Elder" and the Stones had Their Satanic Majesties Request, so Denver had his Dreamland Express!

Imagine a John Denver album with nary a love sonnet to nature, "All Night Long" rewrites right down to the crossing-guard whistles and saxophones that sound about as sexy as something you'd hear in a Safeway commercial. Denver's come-ons like "I'm in the Mood to Be Desired" sound like he's more concerned about containing the flames in the fireplace than the ones in his heart. A cover of the Everly Brothers' "Claudette" concludes with an unconvincing soul-man grunt "Good God!" from jive-talkin' John. But it's nowhere near as bad as the one he lets rip in "The Harder They Fall." Denver proves he's mastered the disco idiom 10 years too late and still manages to invent Garth Brooks' sorry sound in the process.

Saturday-night fever in Aspen entails a lot of people afraid of being alone. Despite looking as dejected as Sinatra on the She Shot Me Down album cover and deliverin' lines like "Think about a bad time, can't get much worse/Think about a hard line, take it to the wall," doggonit if Denver doesn't sound as cheerful as when he yelped, "Thank God I'm a country boy."

12. The Drunker You Drive: Not even Tim Allen on a bender got as much press as Denver did every time he got toasted behind the wheel of an automobile. One hopes Denver didn't become an aviation enthusiast simply because the Department of Motor Vehicles took away his license to fly too close to the ground. (Actually, the Department of Aviation took away his pilot license, too, so he died breaking the law. Well, there goes my copy of John Denver's Greatest Hits!)

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