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


“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 recalled.

“The snow was melting, and it was too cold to go outside and have fun. I was ready for spring. You want to get outdoors again, and you’re waiting for the sun to shine, and you remember how sometimes just the sun itself can make you feel good.”

To Denver, his visualization of a perfect day, one warm and satisfying and wonderful, brought him feelings of contentment — pure joy, actually — that he wanted to share with the world.

The message of his gentle acoustic-guitar tune focused on the virtues of the love of nature and the love of life itself.

Denver had struggled for years before finding international success. His first three RCA Records albums — Rhymes and Reasons, Take Me to Tomorrow, and Whose Garden Was This? — had failed to catch fire.

Then came Poems, Prayers and Promises. Folk-music lovers became fans, cash registers “ka-chinged,” and he rode a rocket to stardom. As time went by in the early 1970s, he found celebrity with an ever-growing audience who appreciated his heartwarming tunes that often dealt with finding pleasure in the simplest things.

The original 1971 version of “Sunshine on My Shoulders” was a long album track — it ran over five minutes — on Poems, Prayers and Promises. Denver’s ever-growing fan base had focused on the LP’s breakout hit single of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and seemingly paid little attention to what would become Denver’s first No. 1 single two years later.

In late 1973, he and RCA Records decided that “Sunshine on My Shoulders” from his first hit album could make a great 45 if redone right. With RCA’s approval, Denver shaved off two minutes of running time on his rerecording, and adding strings and woodwinds made it more “commercial.”

The changes made paid off, as that release became the first of four No. 1 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.

Denver explained, “It was the true story of Lyn Helton, a courageous 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. 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


Randal C. Hill is a rock ’n’ roll historian who lives at the Oregon coast. He may be reached at

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