Gordon Meredith Lightfoot (born 1938) is most often remembered for his improbable 1976 US #2 hit “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” even though the bad-romance song “Sundown” was his only US #1-charting single.
“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” was inspired by a Newsweek item Lightfoot saw by chance while on tour about the loss of an iron-ore freighter in a severe storm on Lake Superior, with the loss of 29 lives. “Sundown” was about a bad-news girlfriend Lightfoot had the good luck to break up with: she later administered the fatal overdose to John Belushi.
However, neither of the above songs is among the best representations of Lightfoot’s skill as a songwriter. His US #5 hit “If You Could Read My Mind” is a better representation of his broad musical culture (he had been a boy soprano with an affinity for the art songs of Schubert), his attention to the craft of songwriting, and his having been inspired by historical examples.
Lightfoot’s song catalog includes his Schubert tribute “Rainbow Trout,” the Stephen Foster tribute “Your Love’s Return,” and the Madrigal-ish “Affair on 8th Avenue.” Singers and singer-songwriters who covered Lightfoot songs started with Peter, Paul and Mary and went on with Bob Dylan*, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Eric Clapton, Judy Collins, Sarah McLachlan, Barbra Streisand, Hank Williams Jr., Neil Young, and many others.
*Gordon Lightfoot has created some of the most beautiful and lasting music of our time. He is Bob Dylan’s
favorite singer/songwriter—high praise from the best of us, applauded by the rest of us. Kris Kristofferson
I think that “Talking In Your Sleep” is on the same level of quality as “If You Could Read My Mind” but that it has the advantages of being less familiar, and of lacking the slightly self-pitying tone of the latter song… “If you could only understand me… .”
So here is “Talking In Your Sleep,” from a live British Broadcasting Corporation program from Lightfoot’s banner year of 1972. For reasons known only to himself, Lightfoot repetitively murmurs “Take a potato, take a potato” during the instrumental break. Is that a vocal warm-up on the order of “Red leather, yellow leather”?
In any event, here’s a great live performance of an unjustly neglected Gordon Lightfoot song.
# # #