About the song

John Denver’s The Chosen Ones. Released in 1991 on his album Different Directions, this song marks a bit of a departure from Denver’s usual folksy optimism. Now, Denver was known for his sunny disposition and odes to nature, becoming a soundtrack for countless camping trips and road journeys.

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Songs like “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “Sunshine on My Shoulders” captured the spirit of wide-open spaces and simple pleasures. But The Chosen Ones takes a more critical look at society, hinting at a disillusionment with the times.

To understand this shift, let’s delve a bit deeper into Denver’s career. By the late 1980s, the folk revival movement that Denver rode to fame had begun to wane. Pop music had taken a more electronic turn, and Denver’s brand of acoustic guitar and folksy storytelling seemed a touch outdated. There were also personal struggles. Denver’s divorce from his wife Annie brought a period of introspection, and this is reflected in the moodier tones of Different Directions.

The Chosen Ones opens with a striking image: “I heard how all the lights went out in Memphis / On the death night anniversary of the king.” This is a clear reference to Elvis Presley, who passed away in 1977. Memphis, of course, is synonymous with Graceland, Elvis’s iconic estate. The “death night anniversary” adds a layer of melancholy, suggesting a time of reflection and a dimming of a once-bright star.

The lyrics that follow paint a picture of a society in flux. “The pretenders talking dirty in the palace / But it doesn’t have that old familiar ring” speaks of a loss of innocence and a sense that traditional values are eroding. The “palace” could be a metaphor for institutions of power, and the “pretenders” those who now hold sway, their words lacking the sincerity of the past.

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The imagery continues with “I see there’s been some changes in the valley / All the renegades have finally settled down / Now they worship in the temples of their rivals / And desecrate the holy heart of town.” This verse is open to interpretation.

The “valley” could be a specific place or a symbolic representation of a community. The “renegades” were once outsiders, challenging the status quo. Now, they’ve seemingly conformed, worshipping at the “temples” of their former adversaries. This suggests a loss of idealism and a cynical view of those who once fought for change.

The Chosen Ones is a fascinating song in Denver’s catalog. It’s a departure from his usual themes, offering a glimpse of a more critical and introspective side to the singer-songwriter. The song remains somewhat enigmatic, leaving space for the listener to ponder its meaning. Is it a lament for a bygone era? A commentary on societal hypocrisy?

Perhaps it’s a bit of both. But one thing is certain: The Chosen Ones shows us a John Denver grappling with complex issues, a man not afraid to challenge the status quo, even if it meant departing from his signature sound.

Video

Lyrics

“The Chosen Ones”

I heard how all the lights went out in memphis
On the death night anniversary of the king
The pretenders talking dirty in the palace
But it doesn’t have that old familiar ring

I see there’s been some changes in the valley
All the renegades have finally settled down
Now they worship in the temples of their rivals
And desecrate the holy heart of town

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Can’t you hear all those sweet voices singing
Takin’ care of the chosen ones
Can’t you hear all those mission bells ringin’
Say a prayer for the chosen ones

I read they’re pourin’ oil on troubled waters
Yet they cast a giant shadow on the land
Let’s spend another night across the border
And bury all our secrets in the sand

Now they claim there is a message in the bible
They swear there is no master and his slave
But the future’s lookin’ dim for the lonesome cowboy
When the hand that rocks that cradle digs the grave