By Randal C. Hill
John Denver and his wife Annie moved to Aspen, Colorado, in December 1970, hoping to purchase a home in the couple’s favorite part of their favorite state. What they discovered was that everything cost much more they could afford. The two thus bought land in a nearby scenic valley, with plans to build a house there the next year—if John’s career star continued its ascent.
The success of “Rocky Mountain High” would put their minds at ease.
In his autobiography, Take Me Home, Denver stated, “I remember, almost to the moment, when that song started to take shape in my head.” He recalled how he and Annie and some friends had hiked up to Lake Williams to camp below the stars and watch the Perseid (per-SEE-id) meteor showers. (They are called the Perseids because the point from which they appear to hail lies in the constellation Perseus.)
“Imagine a moonless night in the Rockies in the dead of summer and you have it…We were right below the tree line, just about 10,000 feet. Around midnight, I got up and could see the shadow from the starlight, there was so much light from the stars. I went back and lay down in front of our tent, thinking about how in nature all things, large and small, were interwoven, when swoosh, a meteor went smoking by. It got bigger and bigger until the tail stretched out all the way across the sky and burned itself out. It was raining fire in the sky.”
He began work on a folk tune about the experience with friend Mike Taylor, an acoustic guitarist who had performed with John and had also moved to Aspen. The result was Denver’s autobiographical “Rocky Mountain High.” After John tweaked it for several months, the resulting RCA Records single became a Top 10 classic.
The Colorado Rocky Mountain high
I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky
The shadow from the starlight is softer than a lullaby
Rocky Mountain high
However, his creation became controversial when some listeners thought the word “high” referred to drug use. (Nine times we hear high in Colorado in the background whenever the line Rocky Mountain high is sung.) This led John to testify before a Senate hearing. “My song ‘Rocky Mountain High’ was banned from many radio stations as a drug-related song,” he said. “This was obviously done by people who had never seen or been to the Rocky Mountains and also had never experienced the elation or the joy that one feels when observing something as wondrous as the Perseid meteor shower.”
End of discussion.
In 1915, “Where the Columbines Grow” became Colorado’s state song. In 1973, “Rocky Mountain High” was added as the official second one.