He was one of the most distinctive voices in music, and his voice is sadly now laid to rest. We are sad to report the passing of Canadian singer-songwriter, Gordon Lightfoot.
The 84 year-old troubadour was known for a string of hits in the 1970’s that reached beyond his native Canada and into the United States. Among those hits was the chart topper “Sundown” from 1974 and other top 10 entries, “Carefree Highway” and “If You Could Read My Mind.” He will probably forever be best known though for his memorable 1976 epic, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” The six and a half minute song tells the true story of a shipwreck that claimed the lives of 29 crewmen. It was a unusual subject for a song given that at the time, the tragedy was a recent event, happening only a year prior.
The 1970’s was a strong time period for folk singers. This was the decade that also saw James Taylor, John Denver, Joan Baez, and many holdovers from the 60s rise to commercial success. Even in that kind of oversaturated market though, Lightfoot stood out for a few good reasons. His songwriting had strong lyrical narratives, as evidenced from the aforementioned “Edmund Fitzgerald” and other songs like the beloved “Canadian Railroad Trilogy.” He also had a knack for being able to put a bit of an edge into his songs either lyrically or instrumentally as you can hear in the guitar licks from “Sundown.” Perhaps more than anything though, his distinctly deep voice and pronounced Canadian accent set him apart and made him so memorable.
Much to his credit as well, Gord knew how to construct a good hook. Evidence of this can be heard in “If You Could Read My Mind.” Despite the song being a deeply saddening look at a failing relationship and a man’s shortcomings, the hook of the chorus was so strong that it was used by songwriter Michael Masser to form the song, “The Greatest Love of All,” made famous by Whitney Houston. A lawsuit ensued over the copyright infringement only for Lightfoot to end up dropping it. Why? Because despite the lawsuit being against Masser’s songwriting, the public was taking it out on Houston. Lightfoot didn’t want that to continue happening and ended the suit. The song was later covered as a dance mix in 1998 for the soundtrack to the movie “54,” becoming a worldwide hit on both airplay and dance charts.
Lightfoot was actively touring and performing until a few weeks ago when it was announced all of his future concerts would be cancelled until further notice, due to health issues. Those issues were not disclosed at the time and no official cause of death has been released. Our hearts go out to his loved ones and his millions of fans, of whom we count ourselves among. Thank you for the music Gordon.