It’s no secret Denver has become an “it” place to live over recent years. But the fact is, it’s always been cool to us locals. Throughout the decades, our great city (and state) has inspired all kinds of pop culture classics including movies, television shows, books, and of course, music.
One of my favorite Denver-related websites is called Urbanist, and they recently published an article covering the best ballads inspired by Denver and Colorado in general. (Full disclosure: I contribute real estate-related articles to that site from time to time, so I may be a bit biased!). The list includes songs about altitude, mountains, “ganja babes”, things to do in Denver, and some pretty great topical lyrics from some big name rock stars.
Their list got me thinking about my own personal favorites, and it inspired me to do a lighthearted post on some great tunes. So as a tribute to my favorite city/state, here are my 4 personal favorite songs relating to Denver and Colorado! Oh and just a fair warning – not a single one of them is by John Denver.
1) Joe Walsh – “Rocky Mountain Way”
A bona fide rock classic, Rocky Mountain Way is a true ode to Colorado. Take a stroll through any tailgate party and you’ll definitely hear this about 100 times.
How did the song come about though? In Walsh’s own words:
“I’m living in Colorado and I’m mowing the lawn. I look up and there’s the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains and there’s snow on them in the summer. And it knocked me back because it was just beautiful. And I thought, ‘Well I have committed. I’m already in Colorado and it’s too late to regret the James Gang. The Rocky Mountain way is better than the way I had, because the music was better.’ I got the words. Bam!“
I actually saw Joe Walsh when he came to the Hudson Gardens in Littleton a few years back, and he absolutely rocked it.
Fun fact: Back when John Elway was dominating the field with the Broncos, ABC actually asked Walsh to rewrite the lyrics for a video they wanted to play on Monday Night Football. The result was “Rocky Mountain Elway”, with Walsh appearing in the video.
2) Bob Seger – “Get Out Of Denver”
Simply put, Bob Seger is the man. His songs are best listened to on full blast whether you’re on a long road trip or in a gritty dive bar. “Get Out Of Denver” is a prime example of pure, unadulterated driving rock. And hey, it talks about Denver too so that gives it even more bonus points.
Turns out, the tune was really inspired after a bad gig up in Aspen, and the song’s story of a drug deal gone wrong was largely made up. Try replacing the “Denver” lyric with “Aspen”, and you’ll see why the scene was changed.
Regardless of the backstory, this nod to Johnny B. Goode remains a staple of any Denver playlist.
“Well, red lights are flashin’ and the sirens were a screamin’,
We had to pinch each other just to see if we was dreamin’,
Made it to Loveland Pass in under less than half an hour,
Lord, it started drizzlin’ and it turned into a thunder shower.“
The next time you find yourself screamin’ up I-70, crank up the volume on this one, roll down the window, and do as much car karaoke as your passenger’s eardrums can tolerate.
3) Canned Heat – “My Crime”
If you love the “classics” as much I do, you’ll know all about Canned Heat. They’ve had a troubled past, plagued by death and misfortune, but still managed to churn out some timeless jams.
One of these misfortunes occurred when the band visited the old Family Dog music venue in Denver back in 1967. The venue is actually now a strip club, and no I won’t judge you if you knew that. The ensuing event would end up imposing a financial burden upon the band that would be felt for decades.
Now depending on who is telling the story, it seems the Denver police didn’t want these “long hairs” coming in to overrun the city. So, they hatched a plan to frame the band and get them locked up. The plan included using a stool-pigeon, whom the band actually knew, to hang out backstage and plant a little weed on them. An offense that would be comparable to jaywalking today. It went off like clockwork, and the band was arrested backstage for possession.
The band’s manager was forced to find a way to pay the $10,000 bail money, which he accomplished by selling off publishing rights. It was a move that would end up costing the band millions later on.
Luckily for the rest of us, the event was memorialized in song, and “My Crime” became an ode to corrupt cops across the country.
4) REO Speedwagon – “Ridin’ The Storm Out”
Once upon a time, there was a venue in Boulder called The Tulagi (or simply “Tulagi’s”). REO Speedwagon came through here during their tour in the early 70’s, because it’s Colorado… duh.
They came into town loaded up with equipment and personnel, and as fate would have it, a blizzard also came into town loaded with snow. Needless to say they got stuck, and guitarist/songwriter Gary Richrath (now deceased) wrote this tune about the whole experience.
I personally prefer the live version that’s been made popular through decades of constant radio air play, but the lesser-known studio version above is still a true gem worth many listens.
“Ridin’ the storm out, waitin’ for the thaw out
On a full moon night in the rocky mountain winter
Wine bottle’s are low, watching for the snow
Thinking about what have I’ve been missing in the city.“
Fun Fact: Joe Walsh’s notorious slide guitar expertise is showcased on a few other tracks of the Riding The Storm Out album, on which the song of the same name appears.
(Tying the above list items #1 and #4 together? How’s that for list continuity?)
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