Remember When John Denver Topped the ‘Billboard’ 200 and Hot 100 Charts for the First Time 50 Years Ago

Fifty years ago, John Denver was having himself quite a week. On March 30, 1974, the John Denver’s Greatest Hits collection became the late country-folk artist’s first album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart.

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That same day, Denver’s updated version of his 1971 tune “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” became his first single ever to top the Billboard Hot 100 tally.

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John Denver’s Greatest Hits wound up spending three non-consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. The 11-track compilation featured seven re-recorded versions of previously released songs by Denver, including “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” “Follow Me,” “Rhymes and Reasons,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” and “Poems, Prayers and Promises.”

In the Greatest Hits liner notes, Denver explained why he decided to record new versions of many of the tunes.

“I felt that some of these songs had grown a bit, that I am singing better than I was four or five years ago,” he explained, “and that I would like to treat some of the songs a little differently than I had in the original recordings.”

He also noted that the track list mainly includes the songs that were “most often requested in my concerts.”

The album also boasted the original recordings of his earlier hits “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “Rocky Mountain High.”

More About “Sunshine on My Shoulders”

The original version of “Sunshine on My Shoulders” appeared as an album track on Denver’s 1971 studio effort Poems, Prayers & Promises. Denver co-wrote the song with two members of his band—lead guitarist Mike Taylor and bassist Richard Kniss. Taylor also co-wrote “Rocky Mountain High” with Denver.

An edited mix of the re-recorded version was released as a single in October of 1973. It featured a verse was cut from the song. The full-length version was included on Greatest Hits.

The single got a boost in popularity after “Sunshine on My Shoulders” was used in the made-for-TV movie Sunshine, which aired in November 1973. The melodramatic film starred Cristina Raines as a young woman with cancer who recorded messages for her family as she approached her death.

Denver Enjoyed More Chart-Topping Success Later in 1974

Denver also scored his second No. 1 album and single in 1974. His 1974 studio album Back Home Again topped the Billboard 200 in August of that year, while “Annie’s Song,” a track from that record, spent two weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100 in July and August.

Denver died in a plane crash in October 1997 at age 53.

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