Song of the Day, February 24: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot

LightfootWreckToday’s song is an unlikely smash. For his wonderful 1976 album Summertime Dream, Gordon Lightfoot left behind railroad odes for a tribute to a ship. Inspired by the storm-tossed sinking of a great lakes freighter, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is a moving tribute. Lightfoot shows off his ballad skills at their best, building a tale of mythic proportions. Clocking in at six-and-a-half minutes, the song’s length and subject didn’t seem likely to catch fire at the start of the disco era. Lightfoot’s stirring delivery and emotional sincerity caught on, however, and the song shot to #2 in the U.S. and #1 in Canada.

Enjoy this great song today.

Song of the Day, January 12: Early Morning Rain by Gordon Lightfoot

gordon-lightfoot-early-morning-rain-1971Today’s song is an early success by a master singer-songwriter. Gordon Lightfoot wrote Early Morning Rain in 1964 as his career was just beginning, inspired by watching a friend fly away. The lyrics are deeply evocative, conjuring up the cold, grey morning flawlessly. Lightfoot connects the airfield and plane to the longstanding folk-blues tradition of riding the rails, emphasizing the down-and-out situation of the narrator. It’s a smart conceit that ties together a magnificent musical package. With a simple, compelling tune, the singer weaves a compact story with great emotional resonance.

This old airport’s got me down – it’s no earthly good to me
‘Cause I’m stuck here on the ground as cold and drunk as I can be
You can’t jump a jet plane like you can a freight train
So, I’d best be on my way in the early morning rain

Working primarily as a writer at that point, Lightfoot had his breakthrough with this song. Ian and Sylvia recorded it in 1965, as did the Grateful Dead and Peter, Paul and Mary — who had a minor chart hit with it. Lightfoot himself included it on his 1966 debut. Since then, a vast array of talents have interpreted the song including Judy Collins, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Jerry Reed, Neil Young, and Paul Weller. Lightfoot himself re-recorded it for his 1975 greatest hits package, Gord’s Gold.

Nothing beats the original, however. Enjoy this brilliant folk-pop gem today.

BONUS: Nearly 50 years after Lightfoot wrote the song, another Canadian folk-pop master recorded the best cover version of the song. Stephen Fearing’s deep, emotive voice is a perfect vehicle for the mournful lyrics, and he used the song as a perfect coda to his 2013 album Between Hurricanes.

Song of the Day, August 29: I’m Not Supposed to Care by Gordon Lightfoot

LightfootCareToday’s song is I’m Not Supposed to Care from Gordon Lightfoot’s strongest album, 1976’s Summertime Dream. It’s one of his insightful broken relationship songs, narrated by someone who can’t quite let go of a love that’s clearly over. In less talented hands, it could be maudlin, but Lightfoot’s vocal skill and poignant narrative give the wistful farewell just the right edge, adding a painful, bittersweet humanity that makes it all work.

I wish you good spaces in
The far away places you go
If it rains or it snows may
You be safe and warm and never grow old
And if you need someone who loves you, why
You know I will always be there
I’ll do it although I’m not supposed to care

Enjoy this wonderful song today.

Album of the Week, May 18: Summertime Dream by Gordon Lightfoot

LightfootSummertimeProtocolBy the time he released his 12th album, Gordon Lightfoot was a well-established presence in the music world. Born in Orilla, Ontario in 1938, he began singing at the age of four and learned piano and drums by his teens. He taught himself folk guitar and began writing songs, moving to California at age 20 to pursue a musical career. Strongly influenced by the acoustic folk of Pete Seeger and Ian and Sylvia, he survived by writing and producing jingles. California wore thin, and he moved back to Canada, slowly building a reputation as a skillful songwriter and sensitive singer. Signing with United Artists in 1965, he spent the balance of that decade releasing acclaimed albums that barely sold outside of Canada while a legion of other artists achieved success with his compositions. He moved to reprise records in 1970 and found his first international success with If You Could Read My Mind, a gold single that established him as an artist in his own right. He released an album every year — including the U.S. chart-topper Sundown — building his commercial and critical success. Not coasting on that success, he created his finest work in 1976, recording his most consistent and powerful album.

Title Summertime Dream
Act Gordon Lightfoot
Label reprise Release Date June 1976
Producer Lenny Waronker and Gordon Lightfoot
U.S. Chart  12 U.K. Chart  n/c
Tracks
[US Hot 100]
  1. Race Among the Ruins [#65]
  2. The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald [#2]
  3. I’m Not Supposed to Care
  4. I’d Do It Again
  5. Never Too Close
  6. Protocol
  7. The House You Live In
  8. Summertime Dream
  9. Spanish Moss
  10. Too Many Clues In This Room

Summertime Dream is classic Lightfoot, a mix of ballads, lightly political folk, and personal/confessional songs all anchored by his matchless songwriting and wonderful voice. A rare album without a trace of filler, it features ten tracks that show off both his consistency and variety in one lovingly crafted package.

Things kick off with the energetic Race Among the Ruins, a beautiful making-the-most-of-life track. It features one of Lightfoot’s nicest vocals and showcases the care with which he picked his musical collaborators. The band is tight and sympathetic, backing his poignant musings with precision and charm. One of his better songs, it clearly fits in the Lightfoot songbook. The second track was an amazing surprise. The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is an unlikely #2 hit about a real life shipping disaster in the Great Lakes. Musically complex and compelling, it features an unforgettable bit of guitar magic that propels the tragic tale flawlessly. Lightfoot mixes the personal, the historical, and the natural in a seamless folk blend, creating what is justifiably one of his best-known songs.

The next three tracks explore more familiar territory with fresh energy. I’m Not Supposed to Care could be a weary song of resignation; instead, Lightfoot imbues it with real emotion, giving it just the right mix of bitterness and nostalgia. I’d Do It Again is a great song of determination, featuring more of his wonderful vocal work over a driving rhythm. Never Too Close mixes hope and caution in a very real, plausibly human way. These three songs demonstrate the talents that made Lightfoot a star songwriter long before he became famous in his own right.

Protocol is a rare political song, with the singer looking at the myriad ways we create heroes out of darker forces. Starkly anti-war, it rose above the anti-Viet Nam songs of the day with its broader, historical look and features another of Lightfoot’s strong vocal performances. The House You Live In adapts the folk tradition of the welcome stranger, brightening the album with a note of hope. Summertime Dream is just that, a fun romp through idyllic days. Sprightly and joyous, it builds on that note of hope, showing the value of simple pleasures.

The singer gets wistful on Spanish Moss, a nice tale of lost days. Although the closest to stock Lightfoot on the disc, it features some nice playing and singing, reminding us that on most albums it would be a standout. Things wrap up nicely with the mysterious Too Many Clues In This Room. A dark view of so-called progress, the song finds Lightfoot pondering what we give up in the race for success. It serves as a perfect counterpoint to Race Among the Ruins, making this musical journey a complete, coherent look at modern life. Gordon Lightfoot recorded a number of fine albums and scores of wonderful songs. With Summertime Dream, he brought all the pieces together in his most fully realized and beautiful accomplishment.

FURTHER LISTENING: Lightfoot’s lengthy, impressive career fits into three basic sections. His United Artists years include some amazing performances and strong songwriting. All four albums are available on the two-disc The United Artists Collection. His hit-making years started as he shifted labels and came to an end shortly after Summertime Dream. Most of those hits are available on the strong reprise best-of Gord’s Gold. Rhino’s Complete Greatest Hits isn’t really quite that, but it bridges those two periods plus a bit, providing a nice overview for the casual fan. Lightfoot’s output since the 70s has been slow but still strong. No single compilation really captures this period. Serious fans who want a good overview without buying every album should check out Songbook, a four-disc set from 1999 that provides a solid look at his career, focusing on more than just the hits. For single albums, the most essential other than Summertime Dream was his best-selling, the strong folk-blues disc Sundown.

Song of the Day, April 29: Don Quixote by Gordon Lightfoot

LightfootQuixoteToday’s song is Don Quixote by Gordon Lightfoot, the title track from his eighth album. Built on his solid folk-pop foundations, it’s a powerful, fundamentally optimistic song about the nature of heroism and the value of standing for one’s beliefs. Lightfoot takes Cervantes’ quirky titular hero and uses him as both a celebration and a thoughtful reflection on what we value as a society and as individuals in that society.

The song features some of his most insightful lyrics, delivered with abandon over a crisp musical backdrop. With just enough irony to keep the song from being a shallow anthem, Lightfoot assures us that doing the best we can despite the pressures around us may just be enough to make the world a little better. Don Quixote is one of Lightfoot’s personal favorites in his own songbook and a standard in all of his live shows.

Through the woodland, through the valley, comes a horseman wild and free.
Tilting at the windmills passing, who can the brave young horseman be?
He is wild but he is mellow, he is strong but he is weak.
He is cruel but he is gentle, he is wise but he is meek.

Enjoy this wonderful song today.

Song of the Day, July 8: Race Among the Ruins by Gordon Lightfoot

LightfootRaceToday’s song is Race Among the Ruins by Gordon Lightfoot. It originally appeared on his 1976 masterpiece Summertime Dream. Lightfoot is in fine voice, delivering a wonderful song of hope in a world of uncertainty. Moving at a fast clip, he looks at the various kinds of support and loss that surround us every day. Our best chance, he notes, is to rise above the wreckage and move forward with determination.

When you wake up to the promise of your dream world coming true,
With one less friend to call on, was it someone that I knew?
Away you will go sailing in a race among the ruins,
If you plan to face tomorrow, do it soon.

Enjoy this beautiful song today.

Song of the Day, January 21: Carefree Highway by Gordon Lightfoot

Lightfoot HwyToday’s song is Carefree Highway by Gordon Lightfoot. It was the second single from his smash album Sundown, following the #1 success of the title track. Riding the early 70s wave of singer-songwriter success, this was one of his biggest hits, making #10 on the Hot 100 and spending one week on top of the Easy Listening chart.

It’s also Lightfoot at his best, weaving a personal narrative with a hint of story into a theme that resonates beyond his own experience. Ostensibly a road song, the title comes from a stretch of road outside of Phoenix with a name that could have easily been Lightfoot’s own creation. The lyrics are wistful without being maudlin, exploring an old, failed relationship with nostalgia but no blame.

Turnin’ back the pages to the times I love best
I wonder if she’ll ever do the same
Now the thing that I call livin’ is just bein’ satisfied
With knowin’ I got no one left to blame

Carefree highway, got ta see you my old flame
Carefree highway, you seen better days
The mornin’ after blues from my head down to my shoes
Carefree highway, let me slip away
Slip away on you

Enjoy this wonderful song of literal and emotional travel today.

Song of the Day, September 13: Protocol by Gordon Lightfoot

Today’s song is Protocol by Gordon Lightfoot. It appears on his finest album, 1976’s Summertime Dream. The album is a folk-pop extravaganza, with songs ranging from upbeat and optimistic to dark meditations on life. It also includes one of his biggest hits, the unlikely #2 ballad about a shipping vessel The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Protocol is a darker song about the military mindset. An anti-war song in the last gasps of Viet Nam, its dense lyric has rich narrative power. Lightfoot is in fine voice and the stark accompaniment is perfect for his serious message.

Who are these ones who would lead us now to the sound of a thousand guns?
Who’d storm the gates of hell itself to the tune of a single drum?
Where are the girls of the neighborhood bars whose loves were lost at sea
in the hills of France and on German soil from Saigon to Wounded Knee,
who come from long lines of soldiers, whose duty was fulfilled
In the words of a warrior’s will and protocol?

Enjoy this powerful song today.

Song of the Day, April 8: The Circle Is Small by Gordon Lightfoot

Today’s song is The Circle Is Small (I Can See It In Your Eyes) by Gordon Lightfoot. Taken from his 1978 album Endless Wire, it’s a song of loss and betrayal.

It’s alright for some, but not alright to be
Where the one that I’m lovin’ can’t be found
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

I can see it in your eyes and feel it in the way you kiss my lips
I can hear it in your voice whenever we are talking like this
I can see what you believe in when his name is mentioned and I die
I can watch the way you walk, the way you talk, the way you close your eyes

This was Lightfoot’s final Top 40 hit, peaking at #33 on this date in 1978. Enjoy this great song today.

Song of the Day, February 20: If You Could Read My Mind by Gordon Lightfoot

Today’s song is If You Could Read My Mind by Gordon Lightfoot. This was his first big hit, peaking at #5 on this date in 1970. It is a brilliant analysis of a dissolving relationship, somewhat inspired by Lightfoot’s impending divorce. He delivers it with his trademark quiet passion, making it one of his strongest songs

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

Enjoy this beautiful song today.

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