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Music / Gordon Lightfoot

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"I'm a little nuts. I'm a lot nuts. All I know is that in the midst of the madness of this world it's my therapy. The music touches my heartstrings."

Gordon Meredith Lightfoot Jr. CC OOnt (November 17, 1938 – May 1, 2023) was one of the best, and best-known, folk-rock singer-songwriters to come out of Canada.

An Orillia, Ontario native, Lightfoot first emerged in the early '60s as a composer of hit songs for other artists such as Peter, Paul and Mary ("Early Mornin' Rain", "For Lovin' Me") and Marty Robbins ("Ribbon of Darkness"). He released his own debut single in 1962 and his debut album in 1966, and was pretty much immediately a star in his native Canada, but internationally most of his best-known hits came during the '70s, including "If You Could Read My Mind" (1970), "Beautiful" (1972), "Sundown" (1974), "Carefree Highway" (1974), "Rainy Day People" (1975), and "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" (1976).

Studio discography:

  • Lightfoot! (1966) note 
  • The Way I Feel (1967)
  • Did She Mention My Name? (1968)
  • Back Here on Earth (1968)
  • Sit Down Young Stranger (1970) note 
  • Summer Side of Life (1971)
  • Don Quixote (1972)
  • Old Dan's Records (1972)
  • Sundown (1974)
  • Cold on the Shoulder (1975)
  • Summertime Dream (1976)
  • Endless Wire (1978)
  • Dream Street Rose (1980)
  • Shadows (1982)
  • Salute (1983)
  • East of Midnight (1986)
  • Waiting for You (1993)
  • A Painter Passing Through (1998)
  • Harmony (2004)
  • Solo (2020)

"What a tale my Tropes could tell":

  • Canada, Eh?: He threw many Canadian references into his songs, and did several songs about Canadian history, most famously "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" (which was commissioned by the CBC for a TV special celebrating Canada's centennial in 1967). He also sometimes pronounced words with a Canadian accent; one example is in "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" where he pronounces Michigan's largest city as "De-troy-et" instead of the typical American pronunciation "Deh-troyt".
  • Christmas Songs:
    • "Song for a Winter's Night" wasn't specifically written as one of these (it makes no mention of the holiday), but has come to be embraced as such regardless and is covered on a few other artists' Christmas albums.
    • "Circle of Steel" is more of an Anti-Christmas Song, depicting as it does a poor welfare mother whose husband or boyfriend is in prison, and who spends her Christmas sitting alone in a rat-infested tenement, drinking gin and waiting for the authorities to take custody of her newborn child.
  • Distinct Double Album: Gord's Gold, with the first LP containing re-recorded versions of songs he'd first recorded for United Artists and the second featuring original Reprise recordings including the hits "If You Could Read My Mind," "Sundown," "Carefree Highway," and "Rainy Day People" among others.
  • Due to the Dead: "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" mentions how the Mariners' Church in Detroit (called the "maritime sailors' cathedral" in the song) tolled its bell 29 times to memorialize the shipwrecked sailors. On the day after Lightfoot's death, the church tolled the bell 30 times, 29 for the Edmund Fitzgerald crew and one for Lightfoot himself.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: His first singles for Chateau Records were standard early-'60s pop, with Lightfoot later confessing that they sounded like they could've been done by Pat Boone.
  • Epic Rocking: "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" and "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" both extend past the six-minute mark (and the Gord's Gold version of "Trilogy" runs over seven minutes).
  • Gender-Blender Name: His middle name was Meredith. However, that wasn't really considered a feminine name in the earlier part of the 20th century when both he and his father Gordon Meredith Lightfoot Sr. were born.
  • Genre Roulette: Did She Mention My Name? was easily his most eclectic album, with detours from his usual sound like "Black Day in July" (a strident Protest Song with the most Rock-oriented backing he'd done up to that point, including thunderous drums), "May I?" (a Vaudeville-style song with Ironic Nursery Tune lyrics), "Pussywillows, Cat-Tails" (a medieval-sounding ballad) and "Something Very Special" (an impressionistic ballad with some psychedelic touches). He apparently wasn't all that comfortable with it, since for his next album he not only went back to a more straightforward acoustic folk sound, but pointedly titled the album Back Here on Earth.
  • A Good Name for a Rock Band: "Go-Go Round"
    He's playing up in Michigan with a group they call The Intended.
  • Greatest Hits Album: Several, most notably Gord's Gold (1975).
  • Grief Song: Defied with "Old Dan's Records", which is about remembering a passed friend by dancing to his record collection.
  • Heavy Meta: "Minstrel of the Dawn" is about a guitar-playing folksinger.
  • I Will Wait for You: "Bitter Green" is about a woman who pines away waiting for her lover. He gets there after she dies.
  • Let Me Tell You a Story: A staple of his concerts, which always included entertaining tales about fellow musicians, life on the road, or describing his style of guitar tuning.
  • Live Album: Sunday Concert (1969), All Live (2012)
  • Location Song:
    • Played with in "Carefree Highway". He saw a freeway exit sign for Carefree Highway, which goes to the town of Carefree, Arizona, and realized it would be a great title for a Wanderlust Song.
    • Played straight with "Alberta Bound", "Christian Island (Georgia Bay)", "Ghosts of Cape Horn". Also with "Couchiching", about Lake Couchiching in central Ontario.
    • "Long Thin Dawn" opens with the narrator reading off a list of towns he's visited/makes a point of visiting repeatedly.
  • Long-Runners: Lightfoot had a career so lengthy that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was pleased to point out that Lightfoot performed at both the national Canadian centennial celebratory concert in 1967 and the nation's sesquicentennial in 2017.
  • Lyrical Dissonance:
    • "Ribbon of Darkness", a jolly-sounding song, complete with whistling, about how the singer's lover left him.
    • "Bitter Green", a very pretty tune about a woman who pines away waiting for her lover to return. He arrives soon after she dies.
    • "Go-Go Round" is a peppy, energetic pop song about a lonely go-go dancer pining for the musician she fell in love with who either has moved on or is touring with a band and isn't thinking about her.
  • Nice Guy: "Rainy Day People" is about friends there for ya no matter what.
  • Non-Actor Vehicle: Had a major role as a US Marshal in the 1982 Western Harry Tracy, starring Bruce Dern.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Bitter Green took her nickname from the forest she took her walks in, not from her attitude.
  • Odd Friendship: Fellow Canadian Alan Thicke was a close friend.
  • Protest Song: "Black Day In July" about racial equality. "Ode to Big Blue" for the environment and whaling. "Boss Man" is a tribute to striking songs from earlier in the century. "Lost Children" and "Sit Down Young Stranger" are softer examples speaking on war and the generation gap.
  • The Perfectionist: Gord was notorious among session musicians for demanding several takes as he refined the arrangements for his songs. Even before he got to the studio, he agonized over the music and lyrics.
  • Public Domain Character: "Don Quixote", which imagines him doing battle against various modern social ills.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: "Black Day in July" (about the 1967 Detroit riots) and "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" (about a 1975 shipwreck on Lake Superior), both written and recorded shortly after the actual events happened. In the latter case, he literally drew most of song's details from a Newsweek article about the shipwreck. Also applies to his other shipwreck song, "Ballad of Yarmouth Castle" (about a deadly 1965 fire on a cruise steamship).
  • Self-Backing Vocalist: Many of his recordings employ this technique. The chorus of "Sundown" is a good example.
  • Shaped Like Itself: In "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald":
    As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most.
  • Snowy Sleigh Bells: Heard in "Song for a Winter's Night".
  • Three Chords and the Truth: Renowned for his uncluttered music (he didn't even add a drummer to his band until after he became famous) and his sincere, direct lyrics.
  • Title Track: Many of his albums have one of these.
  • Train Song: "Canadian Railroad Trilogy", which was commissioned by the CBC for Canada's centennial in 1967. "Steel Rail Blues" also counts.
  • Uncle Tomfoolery: Alluded to in "Minstrel of the Dawn", with its line about the eponymous figure being "just like a Stepin Fetchit here".
  • Wanderlust Song: "Carefree Highway", which even uses the word "wanderlust". Many others also fit the trope, including "Early Mornin' Rain", "The Mountains and Maryann", "Long Thin Dawn", and "Alberta Bound".