And then there's "Please Daddy (Don't Get Drunk This Christmas)," written
by Bill and Taffy Danoff - who earlier had cowritten Denver's 1971 blockbuster, "Take
Me Home Country Roads," and who later perpetrated the Starland Vocal Band
("Afternoon Delight"). Thanks to Denver's straight-faced reading, "Please
Daddy (Don't Get Drunk This Christmas)" stops just shy of outright parody.
Really, it's a hoot - a bona fide country weeper - but it does stick out like
a sore thumb amidst the general tone of reverence.
all the tracks on Rocky
Mountain Christmas were newly recorded, but two had some history. "Aspenglow" was
recycled from Denver's second album, Take
Me To Tomorrow (1970), while "Please Daddy (Don't Get Drunk This Christmas)
was originally included on Farewell
Andromeda (1973) - a western-themed album where its bawdy lyrics were more
appropriate. In fact, "Please Daddy" was released as a single that year,
denting the Top 100 while reaching #7 on the Christmas charts. "Christmas
For Cowboys," by the way, was the pick-to-click from Rocky
Mountain Christmas, but it stalled at #58 - Denver's first single in three
years to miss the Top 40 and a harbinger of things to come.
CD reissue of Rocky
Mountain Christmas is nicely done. In addition to crisp sound and informative
liner notes, it appends two seasonal songs - a solid "White Christmas" (an
outtake from the original sessions) and a brief "Jingle Bells" (from
Denver's third album, Whose
Garden Was This, 1970). Then, for reasons barely explained, the label also
tosses in three altogether non-seasonal, previously-released tracks. More is
better than less, I suppose, but I have to think that the repackaged
2005 reissue (sans the three superfluous tracks) will make for a better listen
- plus they've restored the original, gatefold LP artwork!
1979, John Denver had been rendered all but irrelevant by tumultuous changes in
the music business. Very nearly banished from the Top 40, his next holiday album
Christmas Together with the Muppets - reflected his growing stature as a mainstream
entertainer more than his waning rank as a rock star. At the time, in fact, the
Muppets were hotter than Denver! Consequently, though it peaked at #26, A
Christmas Together was one of the singer's best-performing albums since Spirit (1976),
and it marked his last Top 30 album chart entry.
Like Charles Schultz's Peanuts, Jim Henson's Muppets were once an edgy,
hip force in children's entertainment that, as the franchise expanded, grew maudlin
and stodgy. Before that happened, however, the Muppets hosted one of the best comedy
shows ever on television. A
Christmas Together was simply the soundtrack from one episode of their syndicated
series. Split fairly evenly between Muppet hijinks and drippy Denver balladry, A
Christmas Together will appeal primarily to fans of either artist - but probably
not both. On "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," Denver acquits
himself nicely in a duet with Rowlf the Dog, while the Muppets contribute a variety
of amusing yuletide burlesques - especially their all-hands-on-deck deconstruction
of "Twelve Days Of Christmas." Three songs from A
Christmas Together were bound up on a picture sleeve, red vinyl, 7-inch single,
but it failed to chart.
his tragic death in 1997, Denver recorded two more Christmas albums, neither of
which added much to his legacy. Christmas
Like A Lullaby (1990)
prominently features a group composed, in part, of Elvis Presley alumni - pianist
Glen D. Hardin, bassist Jerry Scheff, and guitarist extraordinaire James Burton.
But, the band sounds bored, and Denver's seasoned voice - deeper, more resonant
- reinforces the fact that the wide-eyed idealism of youth doesn't suit a man pushing
50. Take the title song, Denver's sole original composition on the album; it's
a lovely song, but the utopia it lays out simply doesn't exist - and never will
- outside of John Denver's rarified fantasy world. On Rocky
Mountain Christmas - 15 years prior - that hopeful brand of naiveté sounded
charming. On Christmas
Like A Lullaby, it sounds unsophisticated at best, simple-minded at worst.
The rest of the album does little alleviate the situation, consisting mainly of
predictable carols burdened with innocuous, middle-of-the-road arrangements. Even
worse, far too many of the songs are yoked with that most heinous of Christmas
clichés - the children's chorus. And, no less than two tracks (and portions
of a third) were appropriated from Tom Paxton's 1988 album, A
Child's Christmas. No crime there, but certainly it signaled that Denver was
less than fully engaged in his career by this point.
In Concert was recorded in 1996 but released in 2001 - four years after Denver
had shuffled off this mortal coil - and it reveals a man reaching a happy rapprochement
with his legacy. After a spirited romp through Tom Paxon's "Marvelous Toy,"
John wonders if kid's these days could relate to such a humble plaything - "they
want Super Nintendo or Tickle Me Elmo." But despite the looming presence
of the National Symphony Orchestra, the World Children's Choir, and a large audience,
the album maintains a humble conviviality. Musically speaking, Christmas
In Concert adds nothing to Denver's Christmas canon, but it's a sentimentally
satisfying listen all the same. Plus, it's fun to hear Denver reminisce about
such favorites as "A Baby Just Like You" (written to order for Frank
Sinatra) and "Please Daddy (Don't Get Drunk This Christmas)," conceived
as a lark, now imbued with deeper meaning. (Much later, Denver's estate released Christmas EP Live in Hershey, PA, December 6, 1990.)
Finally, we have The Classic Christmas Album (2012), which compiles highlights from almost everything mentioned above, including several rare cuts. For Christmas music enthusiasts, it won't be quite enough. But, i you're only getting one, it is absolutely the one to get.
Consumer Notes. John Denver's first three Christmas
albums have been issued and reissued numerous times. Rocky
Mountain Christmas was
originally reissued in 1990 by RCA in its original format as a 12-song
RCA reissued it with 5
bonus tracks (1998), then reissued again with 3
bonus tracks (2005) and amended cover art following the Sony/BMG merger.
Until 2006, the readily
available version of A
Christmas Together (on budget label Laserlight) was missing three songs from
CD version (on Denver's label, Windstar), which might have cost you roughly ten times
as much thanks to its scarcity. Since then, it's been reissued several times - just look for a version with the full 13-track contingent.
Much the same can be said for Christmas
Like A Lullaby, which has been reissued in full on CD by Windstar (original
brown cover) and English label Music Club (amended
green cover), and was later trimmed to 10 songs by Laserlight (new
But, Laserlight reissued both Windstar albums in 2006 as "limited collectors
with all tracks restored. How special - giving us all the songs that should have
been there in the first place... Anyway, both A
Christmas Together and Christmas
Like A Lullaby are strongly recommended for any Denver fan, so get 'em while
Finally, do not confuse Rocky
Mountain Christmas or A
Christmas Together with Rocky
Mountain Holiday (a 1982 TV special starring Denver and the Muppets), or A
Muppet Christmas Carol (soundtrack to the Muppets' 1992 movie sans Denver), or Montana Christmas Skies (a 1991 TV special with guests Clint Black, Kathy Mattea, and Patty Loveless). [top of page]