Our Top 10 John Stewart Songs looks at the songs of a legendary songwriter who has written songs that have deeply resonated with mass culture. Born and raised in a Catholic household in California, John Stewart spent the majority of his youth living in the Pasadena area as the son of a horse trainer. After graduating from high school in 1957, he spent a year in college, spending much of his time in music and theater programs while there. Since the earliest days of his childhood, Stewart’s love and talent for music saw him learn how to play the banjo and guitar, as well as honing in on his songwriting skills. John Stewart is best known for his American folk music that became so popular during the 1960s.
The Kingston Trio Years
From 1961 until 1967, John Stewart was a member of the popular group, the Kingston Trio, joining them after briefly teaming with Gil Robbins and John Montgomery as the Cumberland Three. John Stewart was the man who replaced Kingston Trio’s Dave Guard. Guard was one of the founding members of the Kingston Trio when they first came together as a band in 1957. The Kingston Trio were best known for popularizing folk music, using a mix of calypso, comedy, and pop in their musical acts that were so appealing to the audience.
When Guard left, fellow founders Nick Reynolds and Bob Shane chose Stewart as a suitable replacement, the chemistry between these three men served as the ideal recipe for the group’s popularity to be regarded as one of the key influencers of 1960s American pop culture. With Stewart’s style different from Guard’s, the Kingston Trio embarked on musical material that saw more unique content stemming from the group. During this time span, songs were performed by a series of new faces on the music scene at the time. However, 1967 marked the year the Kingston Trio would disband as the musical taste of the fan base began to shift, favoring the British Invasion’s influence in American pop music culture and the beach-pop favorites stemming from the likes of the Beach Boys.
When the Kingston Trio disbanded in 1967, John Stewart continued as a solo artist. Just before the breakup, he wrote “Daydream Believer,” which became a big hit for the Monkees as a pop classic while Canada’s Anne Murray turned it into a fan favorite in the genre of country music. While Robert F. Kennedy ran for president in 1968, Stewart accompanied him as part of his entourage, perhaps hoping the popularity of these two would be enough to secure RFK the win. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen when he was fatally shot on June 5, 1968, by a young Palestinian who carried out his political opposition against RFK in such a violent manner.
As a solo artist, John Stewart was moderately successful since the disbandment of the Kingston Trio. Of the sixty-four records released by Stewart, 1969’s California Bloodlines remains his signature album, followed by 1970’s Willard, 1973’s Cannons in the Rain, 1975’s Wingless Angels, and 1979’s Bombs Away Dream Babies. Although California Bloodlines was deemed as his signature album, it was Bombs Away Dream Babies that earned him the greatest commercial success, mainly because of its hit single, “Gold.” It was this 1979-released album that also featured the collaborative works of Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks.
After the commercial success of Bombs Away Dream Babies, John Stewart would not realize any further US Billboard Hot 100 hits throughout the rest of his recording career. However, the music critics still favored his style of music, as did his most loyal fan base. However, the surge of disco and a new musical British Invasion wave had a heavier influence on music fans that are known to shift loyalties whenever new sounds win over their attention. Regardless, John Stewart kept recording and performing, even after he was diagnosed in 2007 with Alzheimer’s Disease. On January 19, 2008, Stewart passed away, ten days before he was scheduled to perform at a concert in Arizona.
John Stewart Legacy
In addition to enjoying a solid career as a recording artist and performer, John Stewart also has a legacy of incredible songwriting. This was first made evident with the Monkees and Anne Murray, as well as his time with the Kingston Trio. In 2001, he was a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award by the World Folk Music Association. The album, California Bloodlines, was regarded by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the one hundred most influential albums in rock history.
Top 10 John Stewart Songs
#10 – Belly Full of Tennessee
The album, Willard, was a 1973 release that saw more of a rock country flair to John Stewart’s music. “Belly Full of Tennessee” certainly fits the bill as a classic between the fiddle, bass, and banjo making this an easy listening number as the romantic in Stewart shares his lyrical tale of a special woman who has won over his heart.
#9 – Back in Pomona
From the album, Willard, “Back in Pomona” came across as a highly spirited number that beautifully mixed rock and country together in a manner only the raw talent of John Stewart could pull off. During an era where classic American rock featured folk-style creativity at its finest, Stewart’s nostalgic flair to preserve what made America so great was heartfelt. That didn’t just exist in this memory-lane style song but the entire album for its romantic embrace of what felt like a much simpler time than what we’re experiencing now. Stewart’s beautiful vocal delivery was matched with his great guitar-picking as he sang about Poloma and its county fair. The mix of fondness and playfulness made “Back in Ponoma” such a fun folk favorite, along with it’s little pops that make it hard not to get caught up in the musical moment.
#8 – July, You’re a Woman
From the album, California Bloodlines, “July, You’re a Woman” served as one of many fantastic songs featuring the baritone vocals of John Stewart. The beauty behind this song was seeing a piece of Johnny Cash perhaps influencing Stewart’s delivery of this beautiful composition of a woman whom he sang about with such admiration. Clearly, a John Stewart classic, “July, You’re a Woman” displayed this romantic’s talent at its best as he looked back on a part of himself that made up who John Stewart became as an artist and as a man.
#7 – Lost Her in the Sun
From the album, Bombs Away Dream Babies, “Lost Her in the Sun” became one of John Stewart’s favored songs among the fans who simply fell in love with his voice as he sang about a woman who simply left without so much as saying goodbye. Just the instruments alone made “Lost Her in the Sun” nothing short of fantastic. Stewart’s vocals simply add to the appeal of a song that makes a great tune to listen to, especially when behind the wheel and the sun is on the verge of setting itself to make way for the moonlight.
#6 – Midnight Wind (featuring Stevie Nicks)
“Midnight Wind” was a single released from the 1979 album, Bombs Away Dream Babies. Performed as a duet with Stevie Nicks, John Stewart’s baritone contrasted with her raspy vocals, serving as a beautiful invite to simply get caught up in the fun of romance in the “Midnight Wind.”
#5 – Runaway Train (featuring Rosanne Cash)
“Runaway Train” started with the pick of his guitar before John Stewart lyrically used the iron horse as a metaphor to describe his relationship with his love interest. This song was written by John Stewart and was recorded by Rosanne Cash for her album, King’s Record Shop, in 1988. For her, it became a number one hit on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. Stewart was, however, the first to perform this song as it was featured on his 1987 album, Punch the Big Guy.
#4 – Never Goin’ Back
“Never Goin’ Back” was one of the many awesome songs featured on the album, California Bloodlines. Like the rest of the songs, the romantic in John Stewart came shining through with this fantastic number. This plucky number revolved around the bus line known as the Greyhound as he reminisced about a relationship he had with a love interest. As a traveler passing through cities like Nashville and Oklahoma City, as impressive as they were, for as long as his love interest is not there, he’s not going back to them. This is a great tune to listen to, regardless if you’re traveling by bus, in a car, or in your own home.
#3 – Mother Country
On the Apollo 11 spacecraft, “Mother Country” was the song the astronauts played when they were returning home from their mission to the moon. When CNN held its 2019 documentary on the Apollo 11 mission, “Mother Country” was also used as a touching means to pay homage to one of the most significant events in American history. For John Stewart, “Mother Country” revolved around the story of an owner of horses named E.A. Stuart. His personal favorite was The Old Campaigner, a horse whom he knew was losing his eyesight, and wanted to ride her one last time. “Mother Country” came from the album, California Bloodlines, and served as one of Stewart’s signature songs, and how it was among one of the reasons why the album became such a critical favorite.
#2 – Gold (featuring Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks)
On the US Billboard Hot 100, “Gold” became a number five hit for John Stewart in 1979. For a time, it became his signature song until he decided to stop performing it. For him, the song had no meaning as he admitted he only recorded it as a means to please the record label he was with at the time. This was the lead track from his 1979 album, Bombs Away Dream Babies. Considering John Stewart’s comedic-style personality, “Gold” served as a contrast with its lyrical content. He, along with Lindsey Buckingham, and Stevie Nicks definitely delivered a great performance to “Gold,” a song the fans enjoyed enough to call it a personal favorite.
#1 – Daydream Believer
Granted, John Stewart did not perform “Daydream Believer” but it was he who wrote and composed it. Originally recorded by the Monkees in 1967, it became this group’s most beloved and final number-one hit and has since remained a classic pop standard. For Anne Murray, “Daydream Believer” served as a 1979 number three hit on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, a number one hit on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart and in Canada, as well as even peaking as high as number twelve on the US Billboard Hot 100.
For Stewart, “Daydream Believer” was the final track to a trilogy of songs he wrote about suburban life. At the time, this song was written while in an angry state, feeling he wasted his day away by simply dreaming it away. For the Monkees, they wanted a John Stewart song to record, and “Daydream Believer” was it. When Stewart took it upon himself to record this song for his 1971 album, The Lonesome Picker Rides Again. Unlike the versions performed by the Monkees and Anne Murray, his vocal version did not appear on any of the US Billboard charts. Nevertheless, “Daydream Believer” remains the best John Stewart song ever written.