Monday’s Music Moves Me: Artist Spotlight on Gordon Lightfoot

This is a freebie week in the Monday’s Music Moves Me blog hop which means we are free to do anything we want with the music post. I decided to shine a spotlight on Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot. 

Following is a bit of background on the man and his music, along with a few of my favorite Gordon Lightfoot songs. They may be your favorites too as they were his biggest hits in the 1970s.

Gordon Meredith Lightfoot Jr. CC OOnt (born November 17, 1938) is a Canadian singer-songwriter who achieved international success in folk, folk-rock, and country music and has been credited for helping define the folk-pop sound of the 1960s and 1970s. He has been referred to as Canada’s greatest songwriter and internationally as a folk-rock legend.

He experienced chart success in Canada with his own recordings, beginning in 1962 with the No. 3 hit “(Remember Me) I’m the One.” Lightfoot’s recordings then made an impact on the international music charts as well in the 1970s, with songs such as “If You Could Read My Mind” (1970) — his first U.S. top 10 hit reaching #5. “Sundown” (1974) a #1 hit, “Carefree Highway” (1974) which followed reaching #10, “Rainy Day People (1975) at #25, and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” (1976) (No. 2, Hot 100).

The 1970s is the decade that I’m most familiar with in terms of Gordon Lightfoot music. His music career has spanned more than five decades, producing more than 200 recordings. Lightfoot band members have displayed loyalty to him, as both musicians and friends, recording and performing with him for as many as 45 years. That speaks volumes about his character as a person, in my opinion. That’s a lot of loyalty in what is often a very fickle industry.

He helped define the folk-pop sound of the 1960s and 1970s, with his songs recorded by artists such as Bob Dylan, Gene Clark, Dan Fogelberg, Jimmy Buffett, and Jim Croce. Robbie Robertson of The Band described Lightfoot as “a national treasure.” Bob Dylan, also a Lightfoot fan, called him one of his favorite songwriters. Lightfoot has acknowledged Bob Dylan as being one of his primary influences and Dylan, besides being a friend of Lightfoot’s, is also a true admirer. In 1985 Dylan wrote in the liner notes to his Biograph box set, ‘Gordon Lightfoot, every time I hear a song of his, it’s like I wish it would last forever.’

Gordon Lightfoot has had an incredible and prolific career, winning an impressive amount of awards and honors, including sixteen Juno Awards (nine for Top Songwriter, five for Top Male Vocalist and two for Composer of the Year), four ASCAP awards for songwriting and he was also nominated for five Grammy Awards, plus so many more awards. You can read about his extensive and illustrious career at his Wikipedia page and at Lightfoot!, the most complete source of Gordon Lightfoot information online and the most up to date new concert listings.

Fun Fact: In February 2010, Gordon Lightfoot was the victim of a death hoax originating from Twitter, when then-CTV journalist David Akin posted on Twitter and Facebook that Lightfoot had died. Lightfoot was at a dental appointment at the time the rumors spread and found out when listening to the radio on his drive home. Lightfoot dispelled those rumors by phoning Charles Adler of CJOB, the DJ and radio station he heard reporting his demise, and did an interview expressing that he was alive and well. That has to be freaky, driving along and hearing a news report stating that you’re dead! Do you remember that happening a few years ago?

The following are my favorite Gordon Lightfoot songs:

If You Could Read My Mind – This song reached number one on Canadian music charts and was Lightfoot’s first recording to appear on the American music charts, reaching number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in February 1971. Later in the year it reached number 30 in the UK. The song also reached number one for one week on the Billboard Easy Listening chart.

Lightfoot has cited his divorce for inspiring the lyrics, saying they came to him as he was sitting in a vacant Toronto house one summer. At the request of his daughter, Ingrid, he performs the lyrics with a slight change now: the line “I’m just trying to understand the feelings that you lack” is altered to “I’m just trying to understand the feelings that we lack.” He has said in an interview that the difficulty with writing songs inspired by personal stories is that there is not always the emotional distance and clarity to make lyrical improvements such as the one his daughter suggested.

In 1987 Lightfoot took a lawsuit out against the writer of “The Greatest Love of All”, alleging plagiarism of 24 bars of “If You Could Read My Mind”. Lightfoot has stated that he dropped the lawsuit when he felt it was having a negative effect on the singer Whitney Houston, as the lawsuit was about the writer and not her.

 

Sundown – “Sundown” is Lightfoot’s one and only #1 hit in the U.S. It was released as a single in March 1974 and reached No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and Easy Listening charts and No. 13 on the Hot Country Singles chart. As well it was No. 1 in Canada on RPM’s national singles chart.

The song’s lyrics describe a troubled romantic relationship, with the narrator recounting an affair with a “hard-loving woman [who’s] got me feeling mean.” There are rumors that “Sundown” was inspired by Lightfoot’s then girlfriend, Cathy Smith, later more infamously known for her involvement in the 1982 drug-related death of actor John Belushi. Lightfoot has commented in interviews that Smith was “the one woman in my life who most hurt me”.

Here’s Gordon on The Midnight Special (probably in the year 1974):

 

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald – a song written, composed, and performed by Gordon Lightfoot to commemorate the sinking of the bulk carrier SS Edmund Fitzgerald during a severe storm on Lake Superior on November 10, 1975, resulting in the loss of all 29 crew members.

Lightfoot stated that in the original newspaper article he saw after the Edmund Fitzgerald sank, the name ‘Edmund’ was spelled incorrectly as ‘Edmond’. He thought at the time that those men deserved a fitting and accurate tribute and if not for that misspelling he may not have felt compelled to write the song.

In late November 1975 Lightfoot read a Newsweek magazine article about the loss of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald. He drew his inspiration from this article, entitled “The Cruelest Month” which was published in Newsweek’s November 24, 1975 issue. Most of the lyrics in his song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” released the following year, were based on facts in the article.

He wrote the song over three days in November 1975, finishing it around noon of the third day. He went straight to the studio that afternoon and recorded it on the first take. Lightfoot considers this song to be his finest work. He continues his practice of meeting privately with the family members of the men who perished in the Edmund Fitzgerald sinking when his touring schedule allows.

Appearing originally on Lightfoot’s 1976 album Summertime Dream, the single version hit number 1 in his native Canada (in the RPM national singles survey) on November 20, 1976, barely a year after the disaster. In the United States, it reached number 1 in Cashbox and number 2 for two weeks in the Billboard Hot 100 (behind Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s The Night”), making it Lightfoot’s second-most-successful single behind “Sundown”. Overseas it was at best a minor hit, peaking at number 40 in the UK Singles Chart.

 

Carefree Highway – “Carefree Highway” is a song written by Gordon Lightfoot and was the second single release from his 1974 album, Sundown. The song peaked at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent one week at #1 on the Easy Listening chart in October 1974.

It’s a song about the freedom of the open road. The song’s name comes from a section of Arizona State Route 74 in north Phoenix. Said Lightfoot, “I thought it would make a good title for a song. I wrote it down, put it in my suitcase and it stayed there for eight months.” The song employs “Carefree Highway” as a metaphor for the state of mind where the singer seeks escape from his ruminations over a long ago failed affair with a woman named Ann. Lightfoot has stated that Ann actually was the name of a woman Lightfoot romanced when he was age 22: “It [was] one of those situations where you meet that one woman who knocks you out and then leaves you standing there and says she’s on her way.”

 

Those are my favorite Gordon Lightfoot songs and are part of the soundtrack of my life. The following two songs I just came across while putting together this artist spotlight. Both are powerful in their message.

Black Day in July – This song is about the 1967 Detroit riot, also known as the Detroit Race Riots (or the 12th Street Rioting) that erupted in July 1967. Forty-three people died in the riots.

The 1967 Detroit riot was a violent public disorder that turned into a civil disturbance in Detroit, Michigan. It began in the early morning hours of Sunday, July 23, 1967. The precipitating event was a police raid of an unlicensed, after-hours bar then known as a blind pig (this is a new term to me; I’ve never heard a speakeasy referred to as a ‘blind pig.’ Have you?), just north of the corner of 12th Street (today Rosa Parks Boulevard) and Clairmount Avenue on the city’s Near West Side. Police confrontations with patrons and observers on the street evolved into one of the deadliest and most destructive riots in the history of the United States, lasting five days and surpassing the violence and property destruction of Detroit’s 1943 race riot.

To help end the disturbance, Governor George W. Romney ordered the Michigan Army National Guard into Detroit, and President Lyndon B. Johnson sent in both the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. The result was 43 dead, 1,189 injured, over 7,200 arrests, and more than 2,000 buildings destroyed. The scale of the riot was surpassed in the United States only by the 1863 New York City draft riots during the American Civil War and the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The riot was prominently featured in the news media, with live television coverage, extensive newspaper reporting, and extensive stories in Time and Life magazines. The staff of the Detroit Free Press won the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for general local reporting for its coverage.

Several songs directly refer to the riot. The most prominent was “Black Day in July”, written and sung by Gordon Lightfoot for his 1968 album Did She Mention My Name? Others include “Motor City Is Burning”, from the MC5’s 1969 album Kick Out the Jams; “Panic in Detroit”, from David Bowie’s 1973 album Aladdin Sane; and the title track from Detroit producer and DJ Moodymann’s 2008 EP Det.riot ’67, which sampled audio recordings from news reels talking about the riot.

Here’s a sobering video with historical footage of that event and its aftermath as a backdrop to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Black Day in July”:

 

Ode to Big Blue – a song about the plight and widespread killing of blue whales. “Ode to Big Blue” tells the legend of a great whale who lost his whole family to hunters, but died a natural death. It also makes a statement about whaling: “They’ve been taken by the men for the money they can spend; and the killing never ends, it just goes on.”

Many whales are near the point of extinction yet many countries still continue to hunt them. Some of the history of the whaling industry is depicted in this video. It’s a haunting song for sure.

 

That’s it for my Artist Spotlight. For a continuous block of Gordon Lightfoot, I’ve put together a 10-song playlist, including the ones presented above plus the following: Beautiful, Early Morning Rain, Rainy Day People and The Pony Man. Enjoy!

 

Monday’s Music Moves Me (4M) is a blog hop hosted by X-Mas Dolly, and co-hosted by JAmerican Spice, Stacy Uncorked and Curious as a Cathy.  Be sure to stop by the hosts and visit the other participants.

 

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26 thoughts on “Monday’s Music Moves Me: Artist Spotlight on Gordon Lightfoot

    • Isn’t living in nostalgia a great space?? I love it. It’s my escapism… 🙂
      So glad that you liked my post today. Hope you put on your headphones and hang out with my Gordon Lightfoot playlist today…
      Have a great week Mary.
      LOVED your Mary post today!

      Like

  1. If Gordon Lightfoot had only sung “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” his place in music history would have been assured. (It’s actually my favorite of all his songs). Thank you for introducing me to Black Day in July. I remember showing my son footage of the Detroit riots on You Tube after events of several years ago in Sanford, FL. I wish I had known of this song then.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Alana. Happy Monday! Thanks so much for stopping by. I’m very happy to have introduced you to Black Day in July. It was a gem of a find for sure. Re: Sanford: do you live near there? What a horrible event in our history. The aftermath is still ongoing. What really infuriates me is how George Zimmerman has found his way into the news MULTIPLE times since killing Trayvon Martin — in related incidents! This man should’ve never been free to re-offend. Makes me sick.

      Anyway, glad that you liked Black Day in July. Gordon Lightfoot is such a great songwriter. I really liked that one and the Ode to Big Blue.

      And I’m sure you’re right on with your hunch that Lightfoot’s place in music history would’ve been a given had he only done that one song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” It is impressive.

      Have a Lightfoot kind of week Alana… 🙂

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  2. Hi, Michele!

    I predict that Debbie the Doglady will have words of praise for the masculine, deep-voiced Canadian singing storyteller Gordon Lightfoot, and so do I. His songs resonate. I am anchored to his major hits of the 70s. His single “If You Could Read My Mind” was on the chart in early 1971 when I was in my senior year of college. It was prime time for singer/songwriters, a period when music for the thinking man (and woman) was “in” and many such recordings were commercially successful. The style gained a foothold in the mid 60s thanks to artists like Lightfoot, Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Carole King and the more intellectual, serious minded, introspective album projects of the Beatles, Stones and Beach Boys. I am anchored to “Sundown” because that 1974 Lightfoot hit played on the P-A system at a cafe where I had lunch every day. I cannot listen to Lightfoot’s account of the famous “Wreck” w/o getting goose bumps. It is one of Mrs. Shady’s favorites and she has been known to spontaneously burst into song on occasion and run through the grim tale. I am anchored to “Carefree Highway” because it reminds me of our cross country trip to California a few years ago when we came across the “Carefree Highway” exit and signpost as we drove through central Arizona. I also enjoyed hearing for the first time the other great Lightfoot songs you posted today.

    There’s nothing funny about a death hoax. I never heard about the one involving Gordon Lightfoot and I am happy to learn that he landed a live radio interview to set the record straight.

    Thank you very much for paying tribute to the outstanding folk artist Gordon Lightfoot, dear friend Michele!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much Tom! So glad that you have such happy connections to Gordon Lightfoot’s songs. How cool that there’s a “Carefree Highway” exit! That’s neat. He sure has made a mark all over this country and certainly his home country Canada.

      One of the things that really struck me is how loyal his band members have been to him over the years. That just struck me for some reason and it just made me realize what an incredible man Gordon Lightfoot must be, in real life, outside of the celebrity.

      And yeah, that was really cool that he was successful in getting through to the radio station right then and there after they reported his “death”! That’s funny. Can you imagine the DJ that day, the one who made the announcement? That had to be one of his most memorable days on air for sure!

      Thanks for stopping by Shady! Have a great week…

      Like

  3. Michele,

    Congrats on being this week’s Spotlight Dancer! I always liked Gordon Lightfoot. In fact, I featured him on my blog last September if you recall. I do not remember the death hoax but I did read about it when I was doing research on him, though. “If You Could Read My Mind” & “Sundown” are my two favorite tunes. Thanks for contiuning to boogie with the 4M gals and have a tunetastic week, my friend!

    Everyone is invited to dance with me at the Birthday Party for DH! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Cathy. Happy Monday! I’m not a Spotlight Dancer, that I know of. Am I?? Anyway, so glad you like Gordon. He has some tremendous music. I don’t remember your Lightfoot feature! I’ll have to go back and check it out. If you have a chance, shoot me a link or let me know where to find it in the archives.
      Have a great week Cath!

      Like

  4. I’ve always liked Lightfoot’s music–he’s written some fine songs. In my show touring days we always used to play Lightfoot’s hometown of Orillia, Ont. and each time there I’d go on a listening binge of my albums by him. Some great memories.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh that’s fun! What’s Orillia like? I would assume it’s not too far from my home town of Niagara Falls (NY): we’re right next to Ontario. Did you see his bronze sculpture while you were there? Can’t remember what year it went up. I meant to put that in the post. I may go back and add it in. It’s a neat sculpture.
      Thanks for stopping by today Lee

      Like

      • I always liked Orillia even though every time I was there it was relatively cold, often overcast, and with snow on the ground. In the eighties it had a small town feel though there was a mall with limited shopping. The town sits on a large lake and in the summer a lot of people are apparently drawn to that, but it was quiet when I would visit. I’m guessing Orillia is around 150 miles from Niagara Falls. The sculpture was not there and I don’t recall a lot of fanfare about Gordon Lightfoot though there was likely something that indicated the town as his birthplace since I knew about that after I got into town the first time.

        Lee
        Tossing It Out

        Liked by 1 person

        • hmm, thanks for sharing that Lee. “Relatively cold, often overcast, and with snow on the ground”: yep, sounds like home to me! 🙂
          I went back and looked for the sculpture date: it was in 2015. If I get a chance over the next few days to add it into the post I’ll let you know to come look at it.

          Like

  5. I didn’t know that is all I kept repeating the whole time I was reading your post! Wow! Didn’t know about the falsified hoax either about his death. He wrote some great listening music though I’d say. Now I remember Sundown, but never knew it made it to No. 1 & I think out of all his songs I really liked the story of The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, and I haven’t heard the “Black Day in July” in forever & I never heard Ode To Big Blue Sung. He really had a knack to putting stories into song. I think “If you could read my mind” is my favorite out of all his songs. Thanks so much for bringing out all his good sides and the story of Gordon Lightfoot! Never heard Hot day in July or I bet my hubby would like to read this I think I’ll send him this link. He’s a musician you know & he’s really into it. Have a rockin’ week my friend. You really did a FAN-TAB-U-LUS JOB!!!! hehehe~

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aw, thanks Marie! I so appreciate your comment! So glad that you liked my post and learning more about Gordon Lightfoot. And I would LOVE it if you shared my post with your husband. Thanks for that!

      Yeah, Gordon is quite the talented songwriter. And he’s still going strong! He sure is beloved in his hometown and the surrounding areas. I think they think of him as a national treasure… The number of awards that he has amassed over the years is stunning!

      Glad I could bring a little light(foot) into your day! 🙂
      Have an awesome week.
      BTW, loved your post today! Was sooo fun!

      Liked by 1 person

    • What??? Your husband and Gordon Lightfoot on stage together?? How very cool is that?!!! Wow, what an awesome experience for your hubby. I bet that’s a definite highlight. What year was that?? How did that come about, him getting to play with Gordon? That’s so cool!
      I never heard of pedal steel and had to look it up. That looks like a fun instrument to play.

      Thanks for stopping by today Stacy! Have a good week.

      Like

  6. I love Gordon Lightfoot! Such a beautiful voice and his songs touch the heart. ♥ I still have all my albums and 45s. “Wreck” is my favourite but every song brings back memories. Thanks for making my day, Michele. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh thanks Debbie! I’m so glad that you enjoyed my Gordon Lightfoot post.
      Wow, you still have your 45s???? Man, that’s some serious gold there! I gave all my albums away back in 2002 which was a STUPID move that I highly regret. But I have no idea what ever happened to my 45s. I had them in these cool carry boxes. Did you too?? That’s so awesome that you still have those. That’s amazing. I’m envious! 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by today. Have a fabulous week!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I kept everything and still have our vintage 1973 stereo, along with another turntable that has a cassette player. The 45s and albums are stored in one of those old, two-tier wire record racks. Vinyl albums are making a comeback, but as collectors’ items and very expensive. Wishing you a great week as well!

        Like

  7. How I love Gordon Lightfoot! He has such a smooth voice, and he’s easy on the eyes. I didn’t know about the death hoax, and I’ve never heard of a blind pig before (not that I know much about that sort of thing). If You Could Read My Mind is my favorite Gordon Lightfoot song. When I was in a junior high speech class, I had to invent a product and make up a commercial for it. My product was a perfume called Sundown, and I played the song on my little Sony tape recorder. The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is a great song. It’s so kind of Lightfoot to meet with the families of the men who died in that tragedy. As usual, you hit all the bases with your thorough coverage of the topic, Michele, and I always learn something from you.

    Love,
    Janie

    Liked by 1 person

    • Janie, thank you so much for the compliment. I really appreciate it. It thrills me that you get something out of my posts. I know some of them are long sometimes and I worry that people might get sick of my lengthy posts but I’ve always justified it to myself that overall, I do my posts for me more than anyone else. I’m just glad that some folks actually like them. So thanks for that. ❤

      So glad that you're a Gordon Lightfoot fan! That's so cool that you used his song Sundown to promote your perfume! I bet your tape recorder looked a lot like mine: big and clunky, right? I still have mine, believe it or not…

      Thanks again for coming by and especially for your comment. It made my day!

      Like

  8. MICHELE ~
    Nice blog bit on Gordon. As I said on my own blog, I’ve always liked his stuffs and I own a CD compilation. Favorite Lightfoot song is probably BEAUTIFUL because of that connection to my Ma which I mentioned (and also because BEAUTIFUL is beautiful).

    That’s followed very, very closely by IF YOU COULD READ MY MIND, which always brings to mind a certain girl I used to know named Ingrid. I remember hearing that song on the radio during a long drive home from her place circa 1983. The melancholy mood of the song fit perfectly and forged a permanent mental connection in my mind to Ingrid from that time until now.

    And another one I love nearly as much is CAREFREE HIGHWAY.
    FUN FACT: Until moving here to Nevada 2.5 years ago, I had lived in Phoenix for 20 years. Countless times I passed the “Carefree Highway” turnoff while driving North on Interstate 17, and every time I did, I would begin to sing or hum Gordon’s song, Carefree Highway. Until reading this post of yours, I never knew that this was the EXACT Carefree Highway that Lightfoot had in mind. I automatically assumed that there were several roads in this country (and maybe Canada) named Carefree Highway, and so it never really occurred to me that he meant this same “nondescript”, “unremarkable” desert road just outside of Phoenix.

    Ha! What a neat thing I learned from you here, Michele.

    ~ D-FensDogG
    (link:] Ferret-Faced Fascist Friends

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Stephen,
      That’s so cool that you learned something from me today! I love when that happens! 🙂

      Beautiful is such a pretty song. I’m listening to it right now in fact. That’s a nice song to connect with your Mom.
      I wonder if Ingrid knows that you always think of her when you hear If You Could Read My Mind? Wouldn’t it be cool if she also connected the memory of YOU to that song as well?? hmm…

      To me, that’s the beauty of music: the connections that the music makes in our minds, hearts and memories. It’s so incredibly powerful.

      Have a great week Stephen. Thanks for stopping by today…

      Like

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