Five For Friday: RIP, Gordon Lightfoot

Gordon Lightfoot in concert at Interlochen, Michigan. Wikimedia Commons/Amieleee, CC BY-SA 3.0

The other day, when I noted the passing of Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, I was not surprised that there were so many comments that expressed sadness. Whether you were a huge fan of his (and believe me, I know a few of you) or, like me, a casual listener who enjoyed the songs you heard on the radio, he made an impact on you. I don’t know anyone who felt the need to change the station when "Sundown" or "If You Could Read My Mind" started playing. Here’s what some of you said…

  • Gordon Lightfoot had a great sense of melody, and his soft baritone voice was pretty distinct. (Christian)
  • Being from Michigan and hanging on Lake Superior, he was always one of my favorites. Our camp was four miles from Gitchee Gumee. He had too many great songs… Every time I hit the camp (where I lived off the grid) it was my habit to put on a Lightfoot CD and pour a glass of wine… (Lynn)
  • …he was not only an excellent singer and songwriter but a Canadian icon. (Birgit)
  • He was a wonderful musician and had a beautiful voice. I always enjoyed listening to him. (The Sicilian Storyteller)
  • … Such an engaging voice. (Barbara)
  • He was an amazing musician and will be missed. His music will live on. (Eugi)
  • [H]e was such an amazing musician and his wonderful music is his legacy. (Beth)
  • One of the absolute greats! His music will live on. (Paula)
  • Heart-broken. I listen to his music almost every day. May he be swept away in waves of love and carried into a place filled with music. (Gypsie)
  • Beautiful lyrics and voice, he will be missed… his music will live on. (Willow)
Gordon at Msssey Hall, Toronto, 2008, playing his 12-string. Piedmontstyle at en.wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The problem I always run into when doing one of these Five For Friday posts is choosing which five I should feature. I mean, it’d be easy enough to pick all his US #1’s, but many of his really good songs (at least for me) are ones that were minor hits in the US but pretty big in Canada. One such song is "Talking In Your Sleep," from his 1971 album Summer Side Of Life. It reached #2 on the Canadian Adult Contemporary (AC) chart and #19 on the Canadian RPM Top 100, and got to #11 on the US AC chart, but only got to #64 on the Hot 100. Here, he sings it in a BBC concert from 1972.

Here’s another beauty: "Beautiful," from his 1972 album Don Quixote. It was a #1 hit on the Canadian AC chart and #13 on the Canadian Top 100, but only reached #30 on the US AC chart and failed to reach the Top 40 (#58). This is a great song: interesting chord changes, with a pedal steel that gives it a country feel, and that voice

Speaking of country, "You Are What I Am," also from Don Quixote, is a fun country tune complete with banjo, pedal steel, and some pretty hot country guitar pickin’. Canada loved this one, all the way to #1 on the AC and Country charts and #3 on the Top 100. In the US, in contrast, it reached #102 on the "Bubbling Under" chart and only #32 on the AC chart.

"Rainy Day People," from 1975’s Cold On The Shoulder, is a song that reached #1 on the US and Canadian AC charts. On the pop charts, it got to #10 in Canada and #26 in the US.

I have to include this, because it’s proof of something I always say: the really great songs tell a story. In this case, the story of one of the worst disasters in shipping history. Having been in the oblivion that college undergraduates tend to be in, I was unaware that the disaster of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald happened in November 1975 and assumed that it was a terrible thing that happened in the 19th Century. I’ve heard several other people say the same thing, which makes me feel less like the big idiot I was back then. "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" might have been Gordon’s greatest hit. From his 1976 album Summertime Dream, this topped the Canadian Pop, AC and Country charts. In the US, it reached #2 on the Hot 100, #9 on the AC chart, and #50 on the Country chart. This is from the PBS program Soundstage, made at WTTW in Chicago in 1979.

Wikipedia has a list of Gordon Lightfoot’s recorded music. You can find most of it on YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, and all the other streaming services. Spend some time listening to his music and appreciating a fantastic singer and songwriter. He was a once-in-a-lifetime talent. May he rest in peace.

38 thoughts on “Five For Friday: RIP, Gordon Lightfoot

  1. I left a comment here..back on Friday. Bummer. Anyhoo, so great to showcase this Supreme talent


  2. Thanks for sharing John. I love his songs and am so impressed by his guitar playing! He will be missed. Aunt Jinx


  3. Hard to imagine him singing soprano in the choir. I hadn’t heard Talking in Your Sleep or You are What I am– so nice. I just rebought his Greatest Hits CD since mine is scratched and at camp, it’s hard to play things on the internet. Spotty Hughesnet slow service. Maybe it will show up before we head up there mid-May for five or six days. I think he could have written more water/boating songs with his heredity and how much he loved river trips through the Canadian wild. Imagine he loved the big water, too. I found this website that listed all the songs he’s written–SO many and many I’ve never heard. Will have to gather more of his work. Rainy Day People is so amazing. I watched him sing For Lovin’ Me live (he talked about his fault of being a woman-izer) and I thought it was so interesting how there was no twinkle in his eye as he sang it, but just sadness. Even at the end with the lyric that just when she gets over him “he might just pass this way again.” Just sadness. Also interesting is that one of his crazy girlfriends was the one who gave John Belushi those drugs that killed him. Oh my, I think I know that song “Song for a Winter Night.” It’s AMAZING. Gonna see if it is–it was covered by 54 artists. I didn’t know he wrote that. Ok, I wrote a tome here.


      1. Very pretty. But it’s kinda weird cuz they seem to imply Jim Croce wrote Song for a Winter’s Night since they talk about him writing Bad Bad Leroy Brown. I forget what Jim died of. Very early, though.


  4. Wonderful tribute, John! 👌 Gordon Lightfoot was a Canadian icon and, unlike many of his peers, remained in the Toronto area most of his life. He was a kind and humble man with a beautiful voice. R.I.P. 💖


You can use Markdown in your comments. Thanks for your comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s