Music Flashback: “Sunshine on My Shoulders” 

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sunshine on my shoulders

By Randal C. Hill 

“I had written the song in a fit of melancholy one dismal late-winter/early-spring day in Minnesota – the kind of day that makes every Minnesotan think about going down to Mexico,” John Denver once recalled. “It was too cold to go outside and have fun. I was ready for spring…The sun itself can make you feel good.”  

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy
Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry 
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely
Sunshine almost always makes me high 

The original 1971 version of “Sunshine on My Shoulders” was a long album track—it ran over five minutes—on John’s album “Poems, Prayers and Promises.” Denver’s ever-growing fan base, who had focused on the LP’s breakout hit single “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” seemed to pay little attention to what would become John’s first number one single two years later.  

In late 1973, he and RCA Records decided that “Sunshine on My Shoulders” from his 1971 album would make a great 45 if redone right. With RCA’s approval, John shaved off two minutes of the running time and added strings and woodwinds to make the tune more “commercial.”  

Related: Music Flashback: “A Horse with No Name”

The changes paid off, as the release became the first of four number one John Denver singles released during the 1970s. 

The song received a boost when it was used in a 1973 made-for-TV movie called “Sunshine,” a true story of Lyn Helton, a lady who chose to live her short life to the fullest even though she knew she would die of a rare bone cancer in a matter of months. “It seems that in the last year of her life, she found some happiness in my music,” said Denver. “I was most honored to have my song used as part of that television show.” 

If I had a day that I could give you
I’d give to you a day just like today
If I had a song that I could sing you
I’d sing a song to make you feel this way 

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