Rocky Mountain High

Album: Rocky Mountain High (1972)
Charted: 9
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  • Denver started writing this song during the Perseid Meteor Shower which happens every August. He was camping with friends at the tree line at Williams Lake near Windstar (his foundation in Colorado) and all of a sudden there were many shooting stars and he noticed "The shadow from the starlight"... thus the line from the song. He says that while the inspiration struck quickly, it took him about nine months to complete the song.
  • In Denver's autobiography, he wrote: "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. 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.

    The air was kind of hazy when we started out, but by 10 p.m. it had grown clear. I had my guitar with me and a fishing rod. At some point, I went off in a raft to the middle of the lake, singing my heart out. It wasn't so much that I was singing to entertain anyone back on shore, but rather I was singing for the mountains and for the sky. Either my voice gave out or I got cold, but at any rate, I came in and found that everybody had kind of drifted off to their individual campsites to catnap. We were right below the tree line, just about ten thousand feet, and we hadn't seen too much activity in the sky yet. There was a stand of trees over by the lake, and about a dozen aspens scattered around. Around midnight, I had to get up to pee and stepped out into this open spot. It was dark over by those trees, darker than in the clearing. I looked over there and could see the shadow from the starlight. There was so much light from the stars in the sky that there was a noticeable difference between the clearing and everywhere else. The shadow of the starlight blew me away. Maybe it was the state I was in. 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. 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.

    I worked on the song - and the song worked on me - for a good couple of weeks. I was working one day with Mike Taylor, an acoustic guitarist who had performed with me at the Cellar Door and had moved out to Aspen. Mike sat down and showed me this guitar lick and suddenly the whole thing came together. It was just what the piece needed. When I realized what I had - another anthem, maybe; a true expression of one's self, maybe - we changed the sequencing of the album we'd just completed, and then we changed the album title."
  • Some of the references in the lyrics:

    "He was born in the summer of his 27th year" - John was 27 that summer.

    "Coming home to a place he'd never been before" - He and Annie had just made Aspen home.

    "And he lost a friend but kept his memory" - A good friend from Minnesota had come to visit and was killed riding John's motorcycle.

    "Why they try to tear the mountains down to bring in a couple more" - This referred to the debate at that time about bringing the Olympics to Colorado.
  • On his BBC radio program The John Denver Show, he set the stage for this song by introducing it with this story: "You and I have just broken out of a huge stand of Douglas fir. The trees tower hundreds of feet above us. We've come out of the solemn, cathedral-like darkness of the trees, into the bright, early morning sunshine of a grassy slope. The grass is wet and soft with morning dew beneath our feet. The air is crisp, so crisp it sends little needles of joyful pain through the membranes of your nose. The air is so clear, it seems to purify your lungs. On both sides, above and beyond, stretch the awesome Rockies, their great, snow-capped peaks jutting out of the early morning mist. 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 invoked this song when he testified at a Senate hearing in 1985 where he opposed the labeling of albums proposed by the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC). "As an artist, I am opposed to any kind of a rating system, voluntarily or otherwise," he said. "My song "Rocky Mountain High" was banned from many radio stations as a drug-related song. This was obviously done by people who had never seen or been to the Rocky Mountains and also had never experienced the elation, celebration of life, or the joy in living that one feels when he observes something as wondrous as the Perseides meteor shower on a moonless, cloudless night, when there are so many stars that you have a shadow from the starlight, and you are out camping with your friends, your best friends, and introducing them to one of nature's most spectacular light shows for the very first time. Obviously, a clear case of misinterpretation. Mr. Chairman, what assurance have I that any national panel to review my music would make any better judgment?"

Comments: 27

  • Rusty Russell from Apex NcOnce a singer-songwriter records and song and releases it how it is interpreted is in the hands of the listener. The word "high" could mean anything. I always understood it to mean whatever he was experiencing in nature gave him an euphoric experience. Those whom try to censor things usually finds that their efforts brings more focus to a song and the song becomes popular anyway. Evidently the politicians of Colorado did not think this song had bad influences or they would not have made it a State Song. In 1973 I had the pleasure of riding in a bus in the Colorado Mountains when this song was played through the buses sound system.
  • Mike From Texas from TexasJohn Denver was awesome and his music reflected that. This song is my favorite of all his music. I've been in the Rockies and wasn't smoking pot. You didn't have to to get hi there. The climate and shear beauty there make you high and it's a fantastic high. If you haven't been there go and experience it for yourself.
  • Mark Bryant from Inverness, FlGood backstory except John told concertgoers in 1973 this song took him nine months to write - making it impossible for him to see a meteor shower and then have the song ready for release on his September album (Wikipedia)
  • Chris from AlbuquerqueI remember seeing America at Red Rocks amphitheater just west of Denver in the late '70s. (Yes, THAT Red Rocks.) I grew up in Denver. Anyway, my friend, Kevin told me there was going to be a meteor shower that night. It was truly amazing. We left in a daze. You could clearly see the meteors over the stage with the bright lights of the city behind. The Perseid meteor Shower is so named because it seems to come from the area of the constellation Perseus. Seems to. A meteor shower is bits of comets that are left when a comet passes by, and the Earth later goes thru. I have seen some amazingly bright shooting stars in my life. One at a night-fire range in basic training in Missouri, another when delivering pizza just outside Concord, N.C., and a particularly inspiring one at Canjilon Lakes, S.E. of Chama N.M., while hunting elk. As far as J.D. smoking pot, he casually admitted to it. When he testified before congress against a rating system for song lyrics, he mentioned his own drug usage, and references in his songs. I think I remember reading an interview wherein he said he was high THAT night.
  • Joel from UsaPlease, people. Yes, he did smoke pot. Definitely.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyHere's some obscure trivia:
    On January 26th 1915, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill establishing the 'Rocky Mountain National Park'...
    And exactly fifty-eight years later on January 26th, 1973 John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" was at #22 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; a little over four weeks later on February 25th it would peak at #9 {for 2 weeks} and it stayed on the chart for 19 weeks...
    Also on Jan. 26th, 1973 it was at #5 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Tracks chart, nine days later on Feb. 4th it reached #3 {for 1 week}...
    During the 1970s there were two other charted records with 'Rocky Mountain' in their titles; "Rocky Mountain Way" by Joe Walsh {#23 in 1973} and "Rocky Mountain Music" by Eddie Rabbit {#76 in 1976}.
  • Susan from United StatesI don't know why its hard for people to interpret the lyrics "And everybody's high." Can't someone be high on life and what they're experiencing? They're witnessing an incredible show in nature that most people never see. I think that's enough to make you high on life and nature and I think that's what he really is saying. I hear his love for the Rockies and nature, and how it makes him feel. To experiencing this miracle of nature together. A thing of great beauty, it's a euphoric high. And I feel high listening to the song.
  • Sudip from Salem, IndiaThe line "I know he'd be a poorer man if he
    never saw an eagle fly" is genius and relates to John so well.
  • Howard from St. Louis Park, MnA rebuttal to my post about the line "Friends around the campfire and everybody's high" stating a drug reference, John Denver may have also referred to the area's altitude.
  • Jim from Pleasant Hill, CaI wish he'd expanded on the line "...more people, more scars upon the land" and done a song devoted entirely to that. Population growth remains the biggest threat to a wilderness ethic. Most remaining true wilderness is in mountainous areas because it's harder to build on steep land, but many mountain zones are already overcrowded, with deteriorating air and water quality. Tourism (or being an artist, like J.D.) is often the only way to make a living up there. The human race invariably ruins what it claims to revere in the name of "economic growth" aka overpopulation. No other species uses land so intensively and gives little back.
  • Dalan from Notacityyet, MtFollow up aftet reading posts ... "High" may refer to only something so basic as feeling good about life. I haven't smoked pot in 32 years but I do enjoy the "high" I get about being around friends.
  • Dalan from Notacityyet, MtAlways thouht (growing up in the late 60s and early 70s) this was a song about a soldier coming home from war and searching for peace for his soul.
  • Rob from Seattle, WaJohn smoked pot, he smoked hash, and he experimented with acid. It was the 70's people, and it was Aspen, Colorado; get over it. Snow wasn't the only white powder flying around in Aspen back then. Let's not forget the line from 'Poems Prayers & Promises', "while all my friends, and my old lady sit and pass the pipe around" (which have been hypocritically altered from the original lyrics engraved on the stone in the JD sanctuary in Aspen). They weren't blowing bubbles in that pipe. If JD were here today, he'd most likely be an advocate for marijuana legalization. I'm guessing the inspiration for a LOT of his songs came from being high, one way or another. Good for him
  • Kathy from New Orleans, LaThis song so inspired me to embrace the beauty of God's creation. I wanted to go camping a lot and smell the pines. Carolina in the Pines has the same effect. Both songs are so romantic and inspiring!
  • Howard from St. Louis Park, MnEven though I didn't like the line "Friends around the campfire and everybody's high" since I felt he was referring to drugs, Rocky Mountain High is one of my favorite John Denver songs. It paints a picture of the beautiful mountain scenery and the song is so naturalistic.

    Even better, Denver wrote the song from a personal experience, in part about he and his wife Annie moving to Aspen and enjoying the beauty of the Rockies. As a writer myself, I feel that personal experiences are the best things to write about.

    In 2007, Rocky Mountain High was voted by state government as an official state song.
  • Chris from Salt Lake City, Ut, UtJohn was right about the effects the Winter Olympics would have had on his beautiful Colorado mountains. The ski jump built near Wolf Creek (formely Park West) for the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympics put a horrible scar in the mountain side. I heard two of John's concerts below that mountain a few years prior. I now live in Denver, but when I go home and see that ski jump I always think of the line in Rocky Mountain High, "Why they try to tear the mountains down to bring in a couple more more people, more scars upon the land."

  • Guy from Woodinville, WaAlthough I was already leaning that way, this song definitely helped me take up hiking in the mountains as a pasttime. It came out when I was a senior in high school. This is one of those songs that is such a complete package. The lyrics and the melody complement each other perfectly to portray the thoughts and feelings of the artist.
  • Ron from Farmington, IaAfter graduating high school in Iowa in 1972, in early August myself, John, and Larry decided to go to Colorado for a few weeks camping and consuming 5% Coors beer. We were there a couple of weeks and on August 11, after shopping in Aspen, were camped somewhere near Aspen-Snowmass in a rustic campground in an aspen grove near a lake. That evening we were talking to some college students from UC-Berkeley who told us we needed to look up at about 3am. We had no idea what they were talking about but did look up that night to see the same Perseid shower that John Denver saw...from somewhere in the same vicinity. It truly was as if fireworks were shooting all over the sky, which was of course totally black at 10,000ft before light polution became a problem in the US. Although exact circumstances are of course totally different (our friend Larry died in Sept 72 back in Iowa), the word-memories of this song are somehow very personal.
  • Kd from Crosby, MnWatching TV shortly after John crashed , his companion said his last words were "I'm going to buzz Clint Eastwoods house"
  • Chris from Colorado Springs, CoAs a Christian and a Colorado native, growing up in the 70's I have to say that John had a huge influence on me. His songs were the only songs I ever learned on the guitar. Now when I listen to his music it reminds me of what all we've lost here in Colorado. Ironically, it was John Denver's ballets about "too many people" and "tearing the mountains down" that inspired a gazillion people to move here. Hopefully now that his music is becoming popular again it will inspire people to embrace what it means to be a Coloradan. And yes we Christians have done way too much bashing of things we don't understand. Although I seem to remember in the 80's everyone was kinda down on John Denver. Hey man, climb a mountain, get high.
  • Robert from San Francisco, CaYears ago John Denver sang a song or two on the daytime Merv Griffin show. He sang acapella with a spanish guitar sitting at the edge of the stage, close to the audience. He didn't miss a note!
  • Lilli from Virginia, Mnjohn denver didnt have a PROBLEM with pot, but he did use it, after a concert in `71 he was invited to a governors mansion in MN, my grandpa was pretty big with politics and was there, and they smoked pot together.
  • Neil from Middlesbroughthis song is use in must of the death seen in the movie Final Destination.
  • Maggie from Waynesville, Ohi love this song. ive been to the rockies and this song brings all the memories back clear as day
  • Rob from Albuquerque, NmKen,

    I would point out the last line of the song: "Friends around the campfire, and everybody's high".

    I always envisioned John as being a true "nature boy" and I doubt that he had a problem with smoking pot.
  • Mark from Medicine HatIf you've been to the Rockies, you know what he is singing about. And meteor showers are awesome.
  • Ken from Yorkton, CanadaI once remember reading that some Christian group claimed that the song was about Cocaine use.

    They took the "High" as the snow on top of a mountain that was white meaning cocaine. When John heard this he just shook his head and explained that it was just his own personal feeling that he gets when he was outdoors in the mountains.

    This was back in the late 70's/early 80's when all these Christian groups had nothing better to do than attack popular music.
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