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.