Once Upon a Time at the Top Spot: Peter, Paul and Mary, “Leaving on a Jet Plane”

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Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Peter Paul and Mary
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Once Upon a Time at the Top Spot: Peter, Paul and Mary, “Leaving on a Jet Plane”

47 years ago today, Peter, Paul and Mary flew to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for the first and only time, doing so with a song written by a gentleman who went on to score a few number-one hits himself.

Written in 1966 by John Denver, “Leaving on a Jet Plane” actually had another title when it was first composed, and it’s one that will be familiar to anyone who remembers the lyrics to the song: “Babe, I Hate to Go.” Denver’s producer, Milt Okun, talked him into changing it, and if Denver had any regrets about that decision, it’s doubtful that they survived beyond the day the song went to #1. As it happens, Denver also recorded a version of the song himself in 1969, which can be found on his RHYMES & REASONS album, but the Denver version most listeners know is the re-recording that he did for 1973’s JOHN DENVER’S GREATEST HITS, which hit #1 and earned far more spins as a result.

As for Peter, Paul and Mary’s version, it saw a sizable resurgence in popularity in the late ‘70s when it was utilized in commercials for United Airlines, but its greatest claim to fame for the trio was that, as noted, it was their only chart-topper. While it’s unfortunate that they never ascended to those heights again, to be fair, at least they did it with a song wherein they admitted, “Don’t know when I’ll be back again…”