Tony Greenstein | 06 May 2023 | Post Views:

 Lightfoot was a Modern Day Troubadour Who Held Up a Mirror to the World Around Him

36.                        The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

There was no one, bar Dylan, who had such a prodigious output and consistently high quality of songs as Lightfoot for such a concentrated period of time. Between 1966 and 1982 Lightfoot recorded 14 albums of the highest quality, yet in the 40 years since he recorded only 6 albums, the quality of which paled in comparison with his earlier output.

It is in those first 16 years that Lightfoot established his reputation with songs such as If I Could Read Your Mind and the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

First COVID took John Prine and now ill health and old age have taken the life of Gordon Lightfoot 84, one of the greatest singer songwriters there has ever been.

There were many minor talents who wrote and sang songs in the 60s and 70s,  the heyday of popular music – Donovan, Don McLean, Cat Stevens, Al Stewart – but there were very few who could put out album after album with such a consistently high quality as Gordon Lightfoot, Canada’s national folk singer.

There are of course others like Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Kris Kristofferson but no one so accurately reflected the society around them and Canada in particular as did Lightfoot. Lightfoot’s most famous song was also his first hit in Britain If You Could Read My Mind, a wistful song reflecting on the breakdown of his marriage to Brita Ingegerd Olaisson. The lines

I don’t know where we went wrong
But the feeling’s gone
And I just can’t get it back

Put into words the experience of a relationship that went wrong for reasons which many of us find difficult to explain or even understand. Yet the song also contained a barbed dig at his wife:

And if you read between the lines
You’ll know that I’m just trying to understand
The feelings that you lack

His daughter reputedly got Lightfoot to change the last line to ‘The feelings that we lack’ but by then the song had been issued.

The obituaries will concentrate on his most famous songs such as the catchy pop hit Sundown, which topped the US charts and the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald about an iron-ore ship carrying 29,000 tons and more, which sank on November 10 1975 in Lake Superior after encountering a fierce storm. It went down with all 29 hands. Lightfoot changed the wording to reflect the fact that it wasn’t error by the crew but the overwhelming of the ship by nature that had led to the catastrophe.

Dylan said that his fellow singer died “without ever having made a bad song”, and every time he listened to one of them, he “wished it would last forever”. I disagree. Every singer-song writer has made a bad song and Gordon Lightfoot was no exception.  But what was remarkable about him was how many good songs he wrote.

Dylan also said that “I can’t think of any Gordon Lightfoot song I don’t like. Every time I hear a song of his, it’s like I wish it would last forever.” Opinion widely varies on his top 10 songs so I have taken the Americana  top 10 Lightfoot songs and compared it to Billboard’s 10 Best Songs before choosing my own top 10!

Americana                      Billboard                      Tony Greenstein

Top 10                             Top 10                          Top 10

1        Oh So Sweet                               Sundown                         A Long Way Back Home

2   If You Could Read My Mind  The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald  10 Degrees & Getting  Colder

3        Beautiful                                If You Could Read My Mind    If You Could Read My                Mind

4        Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald  The Circle is Small         Christian Island

5        Ode to Big Blue           Carefree Highway       It’s Worth Believing

6        10 Degrees & Getting  Colder    Anything for Love                 Sit Down Young Stranger

7        Old Dan’s Records          Rainy Day People                   The Way I Feel

8        Minstrel of the Dawn                 Ribbon of Darkness                Early Morning Rain

9        Summer Side of Life             Talking in Your Sleep             That Same Old Obsession

10      Early Morning Rain          Dream Street Rose        Did She Mention My Name/Walls Wreck of the Edmund  Fitzgerald

As you can see there is very little agreement! It is a luck dip as to which song one prefers. Eight of the songs I have chosen don’t figure in either Billboard or Americana’s choices and that is because there is such a wide range to choose from.

I have therefore chosen a wider 40 songs below that are my favourites. You will notice that my last song Triangle is from the last great Lightfoot album, Shadows in 1982. I am afraid that like Dylan and Paul Simon, Gordon Lightfoot lost the genius of his younger years as he grew old. However that does not detract from the high quality of his earlier songs. The decision of Americana to name Oh So Sweet from the 2020 album Solo as Lightfoot’s No. 1 is absurd. It is an attempt to pretend that Lightfoot’s output hadn’t deteriorated in quality when it clearly had. The song wouldn’t make the top 100, let alone number 1.

I hope you enjoy my choice. I would welcome your comments on my selection!

Tony Greenstein

List of  Gordon Lightfoot Songs and Links

1.      Early Morning Rain

2.     For Lovin’ Me

3.     I’m Not Saying

4.      Steel Rail Blues

5.     Ribbon of Darkness

6.     The Way I Feel

7.     Walls

8.     Home from the Forest

9.      Canadian Railroad Trilogy

10.                        Did She Mention My Name?

11.                        Long Way Back Home

12.                        Poor Little Allison

13.                        Sit Down Young Stranger

14.                        If You Could Read My Mind

15.                        The Pony Man

16.                        10 Degrees and Getting Colder

17.                        Go My Way

18.                        Summer Side of Life

19.                        Cotton Jenny

20.                        Talking in Your Sleep

21.                        Don Quixote

22.                        Christian Island

23.                        Alberta Bound

24.                        Ordinary Man

25.                        On Susan’s Floor

26.                        Farewell to Annabel

27.                        That Same Old Obsession

28.                        Old Dan’s Records

29.  It’s Worth Believing

30.  High and Dry

31.                        The Watchman’s Gone

32.  Sundown

33.                        Bells of the Evening

34.                        Rainbow Trout

35.                        Race Among the Ruins

37.                        Summertime Dream

38.                        Dream Street Rose

39.  The Circle is Small

40.                        Triangle
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Tony Greenstein

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