About the song

John Denver’s American Child. Now that’s a song that evokes a very specific time and place in American music history. Released in 1980 on Denver’s album Earth Songs, it arrived at a crossroads for the singer-songwriter.

---> Scroll down for the VIDEO

Denver, by then, was already a household name. Nicknamed “the Sunshine Boy” for his folksy charm and optimistic outlook, he’d dominated the charts throughout the 1970s with hits like “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “Rocky Mountain High.” His music celebrated the natural beauty of America, its open spaces, and the pioneering spirit of its people.

Earth Songs, however, marked a bit of a shift. While the environmental themes remained central, there was a newfound introspection in Denver’s songwriting. The album was a response to a changing America. The Vietnam War had left a deep scar, the Watergate scandal had shaken public trust, and the energy crisis of the 1970s cast a shadow of uncertainty.

American Child sits squarely within this context. It’s a song addressed directly to the next generation, a generation inheriting a complex and sometimes troubled world. The melody, a gentle ballad with a touch of country twang, is unmistakably Denver. But the lyrics hold a bittersweet quality.

Denver opens the song with a vivid image: a journey “up to Alaska, up to the land of the midnight sun.” It’s a place of untamed beauty, a frontier ripe with possibility. Yet, this frontier spirit is quickly juxtaposed with the realities of the modern world. The “whale and polar bear run” becomes a stark reminder of the environmental challenges facing the planet.

The chorus, with its soaring refrain of “American child, does the call of the wild still echo in you?” is both a question and a plea. Does the spirit of exploration, the love for wide-open spaces, still resonate with the younger generation?

Read more:  John Denver - Johnny B. Goode

The verses explore different aspects of the American experience. Denver sings of the courage and resilience of pioneers, the vastness of the open plains, and the hustle and bustle of city life. Each image evokes a different facet of the American identity, a rich tapestry woven with triumphs and struggles.

But there’s also a sense of unease. Denver acknowledges the “battle scars” of the past and the “concrete canyons” that threaten to stifle the spirit of adventure. He worries that the next generation might be too consumed by the modern world to appreciate the natural beauty and unfettered spirit that have always been hallmarks of America.

American Child is not a nostalgic anthem. It’s a call to action, a plea for the younger generation to embrace the best of what America has to offer – its spirit of exploration, its connection to the land, and its unwavering optimism – while also acknowledging the challenges that lie ahead. It’s a song that reflects a turning point in John Denver’s career, and a fascinating snapshot of American society at a pivotal moment in history.

Video

Lyrics

“American Child”

Going up to Alaska, up to the land of the midnight sun,
where the whale and polar bear run over the icy blue sea.
Going up to Alaska, up to the north and the pioneer life,
where courage and strength still survive and a man can be free.

American child, does the call of the wild ever sing through the mist of your dreams?
Does it fly with the wind when you waken again?
When it’s gone do you know what it means?

Read more:  John Denver – How Can I Leave You Again

Can you picture the time when a man
had to find his own way through an unbroken land?
Before the machine changed the blue and the green
to something you can’t understand?

American child there’s a burning inside you that calls you away through the cold.
To come back again to all that you’ve been,
can’t you see that it’s time to come home?

To the flowers and the trees and the rivers and the seas
and the earth who’s the mother of all?
A promise once made will it shine, will it fade, will we rise with the vision or fall?

Going up to Alaska, up to the land of the midnight sun,
where the whale and polar bear run over the icy blue sea.
Going up to Alaska, up to the north and the pioneer life
where courage and strength still survive and a man can be free, men can be free.

Going up to Alaska, going up to Alaska, going up to Alaska.