Hearing Andrea Bocelli on the radio the other day, I was reminded of his somewhat incongruous appearance on the Britain’s Got Talent Final a year or two ago.
Amongst the performing dogs, a dance group dressed as gladiators for no apparent reason, a Welsh choir and a whole panoply of acts straddling the spectrum from bizarre to brilliant…classical music superstar Andrea Bocelli definitely brought a touch of class to the proceedings, even if it wasn’t at all clear why his agent booked him that gig.
Or indeed why the talent booker on Britain’s Got Talent thought what the final needed more than anything else was a performance by a classical music superstar.
I can only assume it paid well.
But every time I think of Andrea Bocelli in those slightly incongruous circumstances, in almost the same breath I think of another classical music superstar who paired up with a very different artist to record one of the most tender love songs of all time.
That time it was Placido Domingo playing the role of classical music superstar. And he probably got a better break than Andrea Bocelli on the people he chose to work with when he recorded “Perhaps Love” with John Denver.
Back in the day, I was a big John Denver fan. He wrote some beautiful songs with delightful lyrics, including “Annie’s Song”. This has just about the most heart-warming expression of love for another person ever committed to a song lyric…who wouldn’t be flattered to have this lyric written about them and sung for them?
You fill up my senses
Like a night in the forest
Like a mountain in springtime
Like a flower in the rain
Like a storm in the desert
Like a sleepy blue ocean
You fill up my senses
Come fill me again
I didn’t even need to double-check the lyrics on this one, as I usually do in the interests of journalistic integrity — I’ve been able to recite these lyrics from memory since about 1975.
“Annie’s Song” was the first song I learned to play off by heart on the piano. I felt the song nicely described how I felt about someone and I hoped she might magically realise the feelings I had for her every time I played the song within her hearing.
Sadly, my romantic interest was studiously ignored…and who could blame her…but on the plus side it did mean I practised this song so often as a teenager I can still remember every word of the lyrics after all these years.
(If you need a reminder of just how gorgeous “Annie’s Song” is, you can check it out here… https://youtu.be/RNOTF-znQyw )
But, astoundingly beautiful though “Annie’s Song” is, incredibly it isn’t the most beautiful love song John Denver ever wrote.
He wrote another song, unbelievably to the same woman, which I think is even more beautiful. That song is called “Perhaps Love”.
“Annie’s Song” was written for John Denver’s first wife, Annie Martell who, despite being incredibly flattered…as anyone would be…about having “Annie’s Song” written for her, reportedly preferred the song I’m writing about today.
Today’s song was written when John and Annie were heading for divorce and times were tough for them both, I’m sure. Thankfully for the rest of us, though, that unfortunate situation gave rise to a truly wonderful song in “Perhaps Love”.
Falling in love with someone, the first time you meet someone you want to spend the rest of your life with, your first kiss with someone special…and sadly also the heartbreak, the pain of losing someone you care deeply about and the feeling of being utterly bereft at finding yourself on your own again…are life-changing events, and all fertile sources of inspiration for lyric writers.
So I can understand why, even at a time of great personal challenge, John Denver wrote a song as beautiful as “Perhaps Love” for his soon-to-be ex-wife.
John Denver was an unusual act in many ways. He operated at the crossover point between folk, country and pop. His hits included “Take Me Home Country Roads” — a big hit for him in the US, although in the UK people are more likely to remember Olivia Newton-John’s chart-topping cover version.
Before he was selling out stadiums himself, John Denver’s big breakthrough came when one of the biggest groups of the hippy-folk era, Peter, Paul and Mary, recorded his song “Leaving On A Jet Plane” and took it to Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1970.
John Denver went on to become one of the biggest selling acts of the 1970s in the US with a raft of other, mostly self-penned, hits.
He was an undoubtedly talented songwriter, and one of my favourite artists growing up. But despite his extensive back catalogue of chart hits, I don’t think John Denver ever wrote a better song than “Perhaps Love”. In fact I’m not sure anybody has.
Not only was “Perhaps Love” a beautiful song, it somehow became even more beautiful because of the unlikely double act who performed it. I don’t know who had the idea of putting a hippy/country/folk/pop star John Denver together with Placido Domingo, one of the leading classical tenors of his generation, but I’m glad they did.
You might not immediately think the two vocal styles would work well together, but they complemented each other so perfectly it was like all the angels in heaven had been working the desk in the recording studio that day. Whilst I have no way of proving this, I’ve long felt that John Denver and Placido Domingo’s recording of “Perhaps Love” was so good, some higher power must have been at work in the studio that day.
The lyrics are tremendous. Here’s a brief sample…
Perhaps love is like a resting place, a shelter from the storm
It exists to give you comfort, it is there to keep you warm
And in those times of trouble when you are most alone
The memory of love will bring you home
After some delightful lyrics, which do a great job of describing in just a few words what it must feel like to love someone completely and absolutely, the final lines sum everything up perfectly…
If I should live forever and all my dreams come true
My memories of love will be of you
I must admit I shed a tear or two every time John Denver and Placido Domingo’s voices sing those lines together.
Not tears of sadness…well not usually, anyway…rather, the sort of tears that you shed when someone’s lyrics express a sentiment so beautifully that they unlock emotions you never knew were there.
Beyond the evident quality of the lyrics themselves, what makes “Perhaps Love” such a perfect song is the amount of tenderness two such big stars bring to their performance.
The mutual respect John Denver and Placido Domingo clearly have for one another as artists shines through in their performance, as does their shared respect for the depth of feeling the lyrics of “Perhaps Love” were trying to convey.
I hope you enjoy this song as much as I do…but make sure you have the Kleenex handy before pressing “play” on the link below… (Pro tip: watch out when those strings start to swell…)
Here’s John Denver and Placido Domingo, with John Denver’s composition… “Perhaps Love”…
If you’ve read this far, thank you for your time and attention. I know you could have spent your time doing something else, so I’m very grateful that you’ve spent it in the company of one of my favourite songs.
The video is below, but if you prefer to listen to your music on Spotify, you can find today’s track here… https://open.spotify.com/track/7vRLVWAYjnrPEhZf5IeDOm