Sunday, January 7, 2018

Sunday morning music

For my first Sunday Morning Music post of 2018, I thought it was time to pay tribute to someone with whom I'm sure most of my readers are familiar.  He's had a more dramatic impact on folk, folk-rock and some styles of country music than almost anyone else in the past century.  I refer, of course, to Canadian singer and songwriter Gordon Lightfoot.

Gordon Meredith Lightfoot Jr. (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.

. . .

Some of Lightfoot's albums have achieved gold and multi-platinum status internationally. His songs have been recorded by some of the world's most renowned recording artists, including Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Jr., The Kingston Trio, Marty Robbins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Barbra Streisand, Johnny Mathis, Herb Alpert, Harry Belafonte, Scott Walker, Sarah McLachlan, Eric Clapton, John Mellencamp, Jack Jones, Bobby Vee, Roger Whittaker, Peter, Paul and Mary, Glen Campbell, The Irish Rovers, Nico, Olivia Newton-John, Paul Weller, Nine Pound Hammer, and Ultra Naté.

Robbie Robertson of the Band described Lightfoot as "a national treasure". Bob Dylan, also a Lightfoot fan, 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".

There's much more at the link.  Mr. Lightfoot's impact on the musical scene over the last fifty to sixty years, particularly in North America, is so vast it's hard to define it.  To help understand it, if you're interested, here's a very recent (and relatively rare) extended interview he gave to Canadian public television.

With "19 studio albums, three live albums, 16 greatest hits albums and 46 singles" to his credit, it's impossible to pay tribute to Mr. Lightfoot's musical genius in just one short blog post.  Accordingly, I'll return to his music at intervals during this year, trying to select songs that fit a particular theme.  This morning, I'd like to select a few that reflect the sea and ships.  Mr. Lightfoot was an enthusiastic amateur sailor for many years, particularly on the Great Lakes, so it's logical that many of his songs would reflect that.  I haven't tried to list all of his songs on that theme;  just a few of my favorites.

Most of you probably know Mr. Lightfoot's song "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald".  It's probably his best-known work, and tells the story of a nautical tragedy on Lake Superior in 1975.  Since it's so well-known, I suppose it makes sense to begin with it.  First, here he talks about the song.

And here's the song itself, in its original version.  Having endured some pretty spectacular storms at sea in the South Atlantic Ocean aboard small South African patrol craft, this song has always had a visceral impact on me.  I don't know a more powerful way of describing death by drowning than his famous lines:

Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?

They can still send chills down my spine.

A lot of people aren't aware that "Fitzgerald" wasn't Mr. Lightfoot's first song about a maritime disaster.  A decade earlier, in 1965, the passenger ship SS Yarmouth Castle burned and sank off the Bahamas.  The tragedy led to revisions in maritime safety standards for US-registered ships.  Gordon Lightfoot commemorated it in a hard-to-find early album, "Sunday Concert".  Here's his "Ballad of Yarmouth Castle".

Gordon Lightfoot has campaigned for the conservation of natural resources.  For a time he was prominent in the anti-whaling community with his "Ode to Big Blue".

Mr. Lightfoot was invited to compose a theme to a nautical TV show at one time.  Here's what he came up with.

So, there you have it:  a small selection of songs from a truly vast output.  I'll have more of Gordon Lightfoot's music later in the year.



Jim said...

Another Canadian artist worth listening to is Ian Tyson. Not as well known as Lightfoot, but he is a skilled songwriter whose songs such as Four Strong Winds, Summer Wages, and Someday Soon have been covered by a number of others.

libertyman said...

A remarkable talent. I saw him in Portland Maine about 30 years ago -- and he is still going.

Another Canadian who was amazing as a singer and songwriter would be Stan Rogers. What a voice! Sadly and tragically gone.

Plus one on Ian Tyson, I remember my first Ian and Sylvia record, we played it over and over.

If you want perspective on how dumb some awards can be, note that "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" lost out to "Afternoon Delight" as I recall back in the 70s.

Nice post.

Anonymous said...

Gordon Lightfoot is one of my favorites, and is truly one of the greats. I grew up on the shores of Lake Superior and my father was a seaman on the ore freighters for several years.
Water so cold hypothermia set in quickly summer or winter.
If you like Gordon Lightfoot, you may want to check out John Gary on you tube. Good balladeer.
Paul in Texas

paladin3001 said...

Used to live in his hometown and there were many interesting stories told to my class by one of my public school teachers. She used to live next to his mother before he went and became famous. Let me put it this way, he wasn't well liked in his younger years.

That being said, he is a phenomenal singer and songwriter. He's going to be missed when he finally passes.

Andrew said...

I knew a guy who styled himself quite the talent with voice and guitar.

Unfortunately, everything came out sounding like it was sung to the tune of "Edmund Fitzgerald." Now, think of the words to the "Star Spangled Banner" but sung to the tune of "Edmund." Yep. That was what it was like.

On the other hand, "Edmund Fitzgerald" is one of the most haunting songs about maritime loss, and I love the original. Makes me cold and melancholy, but I love it.

John Peddie (Toronto) said...

My privilege to have been in his Toronto audiences, going back to the Riverboat Tavern in the 1960s.

If you don't know them, try

Don Quixote and

Go Go Round (it's hard to find on the Net)

Anonymous said...

I grew up listening to Gordon Lightfoot and Ian and Sylvia, then Ian Tyson (on his own), Odetta, ahd others.

"Edmund Fitzgerald," "Canadian Railroad Trilogy," "Cape Horn," "The Pony Man," "Pussywillows, Cattails," (for the description in the lyrics) and oddly enough "Circle of Steel" were all songs I memorized as a kid/teen and sang a lot. It helps that Lightfoot is a baritone, making him easy for a mezzo-soprano to sing along with.


John Cunningham said...

I was living in Detroit in 1975, so the loss of the Fitzgerald was huge news. Plus, a guy I knew lost his uncle on the ship. Always a huge Lightfoot and Stan Rogers fan--Northwest Passage is an all-time classic.

Roy said...

I have been a Gordon Lightfoot fan since 1970. "If You Could Read My Mind" and "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" have been long time favorites.

Speaking of "...Edmund Fitzgerald", if you've ever been at sea in rough weather, that song will put you right back there. The tempo, the cadence, the instrumental choreography, all combine to where you can actually feel the wind picking up, the waves starting to crash over the bow, and the increasing roll of the decks. It's uncanny.

Anonymous said...

I was on the Yarmouth Castle a few weeks before tragedy struck. It was at the Port of Palm Beach for some minor work and they held an open house. My grandfather who was a seasoned world cruiser took me up to see it. He was outraged by what he saw and pointed out to me numerous deficiencies. It was an awful ship. Gordon Lightfoots haunting song about the disaster that befell the ship shortly after my tour of it haunts me to this day. He is an amazing performer even at his advanced age.

Paul, Dammit! said...

We spent a lot of time discussing or listening to The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald on night watch on my ship, and it might have been the most listened to song on there. Truth be told, we were all more Stan Rogers fans, which was a nod to one of the engineers, who went in the water when the MARINE ELCTRIC went down and had gotten all of us into his music.

Gordon Lightfoot really got the feeling right in his lyrics, the frisson, the 'impervious horror' that Patrick O'Brien also captured in his books, when things get life-threatening.

TheOtherSean said...

If he was caught speeding, would he become known as Gordon Leadfoot?