A Six-Pack of Gordon Lightfoot

I slapped some headphones on and listened to some Gordon Lightfoot – I think it was “The Circle is Small” – and what’s left of my tiny brain made an instant connection that I had never made before – James Taylor. They both have a nice, smooth easygoing voice and traffic in folk and soft-rock sounds. Here’s six by Gordo,

Wikipedia: “Gordon Meredith Lightfoot Jr. CC Order of Ontario (born November 17, 1938) is a Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist who achieved international success in folk, folk-rock, and country music.

He is credited with helping to define the folk-pop sound of the 1960s and 1970s. He is often referred to as Canada’s greatest songwriter and is known internationally as a folk-rock legend.” (Hmmm – what would Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, or Robbie Robertson say about who Canada’s greatest songwriter is? – ME)

Gordon was recognized at a young age as a fine singer. He sang in choirs and performed on local radio. He learned to play piano and drums and by his teenage years was sometimes singing for “a couple of beers.” He moved to California in the late 50’s and studied jazz composition and orchestration. His influences included Pete Seeger and the Weavers.

Apparently finding California too warm and preferring to freeze to death, he moved back to the Great White North a few years later. He got a contract and started releasing singles, some of which were local hits. He started to become known as a songwriter with songs like “Early Mornin’ Rain” and ‘For Lovin’ Me.”

In 1966 he released his debut album LIghtfoot! Gordon’s albums at this point had no real impact in the American charts. We were still in thrall to the British Invasion and the era of introspective singer/songwriter with a guitar – ironically popularized off by James Taylor as much as anybody – had not yet arrived.

In 1970, Gordon released what I refer to as the greatest song about heartbreak ever recorded – or at least my favorite – “If You Could Read My Mind.” Has there ever been a better combination of music and lyrics to convey a feeling of sadness and regret? The song was inspired by LIghtfoot’s divorce:

And if you read between the lines
You’ll know that I’m just tryin’ to understand
The feelings that you lack
I never thought I could feel this way
And I’ve got to say that I just don’t get it
I don’t know where we went wrong
But the feeling’s gone and I just can’t get it back

Spotify link

I tend to not necessarily go chronologically in these posts so let’s jump ahead to the year 1976 and one of my wife’s favorite songs, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”

“SS Edmund Fitzgerald was an American Great Lakes freighter that sank in a Lake Superior storm on November 10, 1975, with the loss of the entire crew of 29. When launched on June 7, 1958, she was the largest ship on North America’s Great Lakes, and she remains the largest to have sunk there.”

Lightfoot read about it in a magazine and decided to write about it. Who knows from whence inspiration comes? (Delayed song start on YouTube.)

Spotify link

In 1978, Lightfoot released an album called Endless Wire. This tune – about a cheating partner – is called “The Circle is Small (I Can See it in Your Eyes.)”

The city where we live might be quite large
But the circle is small
Why not tell us all, and then all of us will know

Spotify link

“Carefree Highway” is not just a made-up song title by LIghtfoot but is actually a nickname for a stretch of highway out in Arizona. 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.” (Did Gordo have any good relationships one wonders? – ME)

Spotify link

“Robbie Robertson described Lightfoot as “a national treasure.” Bob Dylan called him one of his favorite songwriters and, in an often-quoted tribute, Dylan observed that when he heard a Lightfoot song he wished “it would last forever.”

From the same album as “Carefree Highway” comes the title track, “Sundown.” “I think my girlfriend was out with her friends one night at a bar while I was at home writing songs,” advises Gordon. “I thought, ‘I wonder what she’s doing with her friends at that bar!’ It’s that kind of a feeling. ‘Where is my true love tonight? What is my true love doing?’ (Jesus, Gordon! Better choices, man – ME).

Spotify link

Lightfoot had some serious health issues including – in 2006 – a minor stroke while performing. Amazingly, the 81-year old Mr. Lightfoot continues to perform and his 2020 tour was only halted by the coronavirus. And I seem to remember a blogger posting a video of him hanging out at a club or somebody’s house listening to some other artist (John Prine?) performing.

Let’s end this excursion to LIghtfoot-town with a 1971 tune that has a Dylan-sounding fingerpicking sound. It’s a beautiful song called “Talking In Your Sleep.”

Spotify link

Dylan made this comment about the him: “I can’t think of any Gordon Lightfoot song I don’t like. Lightfoot became a mentor for a long time. I think he probably still is to this day.”

32 thoughts on “A Six-Pack of Gordon Lightfoot

  1. Great picks! Lightfoot has a special place in our musical psyche. Try Canadian Railroad Trilogy (from The Way I Feel) that I think further cemented that place.

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        1. I just googled the song because I thought it was on Sundown, the album I have on CD. Turns out I was mixed up with Seven Island Suite – but I did learn the trivia about the Queen.

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  2. He went against the grain of what I gravitated to musically. In the end Gord won me over. That first cut you posted is just a good song. It might help that I like the guy. Living in Canada and listening to the radio you got Canadian content and Gord was that. I grew to like him. Just watched a god doc on him recently. ‘Black Day In July’ is a good cut.. The Hip do a good version. That guy that told you about GL in the audience was CB and he was listening to Earle singing ‘Midnight Rider’.
    On a flick note. He was in a movie with Dern ‘Harry Tracy’. I think it got panned but I really liked it.

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    1. I liked Gord from go although I wouldnt’ put myself in the stratosphere of his fans. I should have known it was CB who posted that video. What the fuck was THAT all about? Were they at Earle’s house or something? Anyway you now have competition as My Favorite Canuck in Jeff Baker. You guys ought to get together for some ice hockey, eh?

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        1. Wow, CB hangs out with all the best people. I don’t know anybody famous. Except my brush with fame at the R and R camp. And that one time I saw Nicholson.

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        2. My barber (Hairdresser) in Van had me and Eric Clapton’s aunt as clients. I never met her but I sat in the same chair. The hair dresser said she was a very nice lady. I cant remember if he mentioned her playing the guitar or not. I dont know if Gordon got his hair done there or not. How was Jack?

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        3. The year was 1986 or 1987. Jack was filming ‘Witches of Eastwick’ at a seashore town called Cohasset about 20miles south of Boston. I was interviewing for a job (didn’t get it) near Plymouth and caught wind they were filming there.

          So I drove over and saw all the movie paraphanelia and made my over to where they were shooting. Jack was in scene where he was peeling away in a car. I watched that with a crowd. Nicholson came right by us and when guys cried “Jack, Jack!” he turned and gave us that killer smile. The two guys turned to each other, high-fived and said, ‘The weekend is made.” So, brush with fame and I am pretty sure I remember it better than he does. Although he filmed part of ‘Last Detail’ in Beantown back when it was sleazy. And Scorsese’s ‘Departed.’

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        4. I can still picture the whole thing. Yeah, those dudes made me laugh. I told my wife about it and to this day if, say, we have a nice dinner or see a good show we say, “The weekend is made.”

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        5. I’m not but I can only imagine. I’ll give it a spin. Speaking of CB and Westerns, one wonders if he ever did a piece on ‘Bad Day at Black Rock.’

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  3. The lady who Sundown was supposedly written about died really recently. She also gave John Belushi his fatal overdose.

    I like Lightfoot but only have a couple of his records – there’s a ton of them and I can’t imagine covering all of them. But Carefree Highway is a good pick.

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    1. You know, I had no idea of that till I saw Rich K’s cryptic Belushi comment. So I looked it up and sure enough she died just last month. Pathetic creature. A miracle she lived so long. As to Gord’s songs, these are definitely some of my favorites.

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  4. Gordon Lightfoot is a nice choice. He’s somebody I should explore. Amazing he’s still around!

    While I know “If You Could Read My Mind”, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and “Sundown” and liked these tunes from the first time I heard them, I’m not familiar with his albums.

    I agree with you there’s something soothing about Lightfoot’s voice. That’s definitely one reason I dig James Taylor. I also like Jim Croce’s voice.

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    1. I’m not superfamiliar with his albums either. He’s more of a radio guy for me. He stopped being a hit maker here in the States years ago but still cooking up North. And he has survived some serious health shit.

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  5. “Rainy Day People”, a sympathetic little song about those fellow human beings who are able to gain positive impulses from rainy days, is possibly not at the top of the most striking Gordon Lightfoot works. My sympathy is certain to the melodious song. Relaxed and worth hearing!

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  6. Weirdly enough I was in my local ‘chain’ record store the other week and they were playing ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’ which I’ll admit I had to Shazam to jog that ‘oh, I know this, what is this…?’ into ‘oh yeah, of course’ and I thought three things:

    This is a weird choice for this place
    It’s odd how much I enjoy a good ‘boat’ song
    I need to listen to more Gordon Lightfoot, this and ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ are cracking tunes.

    This cracking post has satisfied the itch of number 3 and prompted me to dive a little further via the big S of streaming. Cheers

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        1. I always get a kick out of guys who say they want to read women’s minds. So they’re assumption is that the woman will NOT think he’s a creep. Better off not knowing I say.

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