Gordon Lightfoot Sings “Carefree Highway”

Gordon_Lightfoot_SundownListen to this track by beloved Canadian singer-songwriter and Orillia Ontario favourite son, Gordon Lightfoot. It’s “Carefree Highway”, an international hit as taken from his 1974 album Sundown. This song was one of several in his catalogue that scored a top ten placement on the US Billboard Hot 100. Otherwise, this song made the easy listening charts and the country charts in his home country of Canada, where he’d become rightly held as a national treasure.

Like Bob Dylan, Lightfoot was managed by Albert Grossman during the 1960s, and was on many of the same scenes. During that time his material was covered by many, including Elvis Presley, Marty Robbins, Judy Collins, and Peter, Paul, and Mary, among others. By the early 1970s and after defecting from United Artists to Warner Brothers, Gordon Lightfoot settled into a sound of his own that mixed acoustic folk-rock with a smooth country feel, along with a dash of sorrowful strings for good measure that gave his output a heavy shot of melancholy. The period between 1970 and 1978 is looked upon by many as his golden period that had him enjoying massive exposure on Canadian radio across the dial. For all of his ubiquity, it was easy to take him for granted.

On “Carefree Highway”, it was also easy to miss what lay beneath his gentle, made for radio play, and easy on the ears sound, to wit; an ocean of bittersweetness, much of that fueled by what seemed to be personal regret, not to mention the songwriting savvy it took to deliver it so poignantly to listeners.  Read more

Who Is The Next Bob Dylan?: 10 Songwriters Once Voted Most Likely

Bob Dylan
photo: Simon Murphy

From the mid-60s and into the 1970s especially, a new trend in music journalism ramped up into high gear. It was the only one that would rival the whole “will the Beatles get back together?” question that helped to mark those times. That question was: who is the next Bob Dylan?

During the course of his career Bob Dylan took a lot of risks; going electric, changing his voice from time to time, quitting the touring treadmill for almost a decade, and making records that people didn’t expect him to make. And he’s still doing it today – Christmas In The Heart, anyone? That most of these risks tended to pay off was beside the point.

But, during the eighteen months that everyone had to wait as Bob recovered from his motorcycle accident in late 1966, maybe the label, the fans, and the press perhaps realized that putting all their eggs in one basket was the riskiest move of all. As a result, a lot of performers would be tagged with the whole “Next Dylan” or “New Bob Dylan” labels, despite the fact that Dylan himself was still very much in his prime.

Maybe this was because it was just a safer bet to hang one’s hopes on a new artist just starting out, than on one who continually made himself a moving target. In some respects, the comparisons were meant to be complimentary to these new artists. But, as some of these artists evolved, audiences began to see that they weren’t the next anyone, other than themselves – original voices. This is how it should be.

But, who were these artists? Well,  here’s a selection of 10 who are standouts for me in the Who Is The Next Bob Dylan? stakes. Some are big names, as big as Dylan is by now. Others can be called ‘cult artists’, albeit ones with respectable back catalogues of their own. So, judge for yourself to see whether or not the Next Dylan tag applies to any or all of them. And decide too whether or not the passage of time makes the comparison a fair one, or completely absurd. Read more

Gordon Lightfoot: the Canadian Railroad Trilogy

In honour of the Election today here in Canada (we’ve got Stephen Harper in with a minority government, if you care), I thought I’d offer a clip of Gordon Lightfoot’s Canadian Railroad Trilogy, as Canadian a song as there ever was, be you Conservative, Liberal (capital ‘L”, American readers…), The NDP, the Greens, or which ever.

I would have liked to have shown you the Rheostatics‘ “These Days Are Good For the Canadian Conservative Youth Party Alliance”, but I can’t find the clip.

And I’ll be watching the American elections with great interest next month.

Enjoy, eh.

Gordon Lightfoot Sings “Restless”

waiting_for_you_gordon_lightfoot_album_-_cover_artHere’s a clip featuring the song “Restless” from singer-songwriter and Canadian icon Gordon Lightfoot. The song is taken from one of his more recent albums, Waiting for You, released in 1993.

It took me a while to really come to appreciate Lightfoot, being as he was a ubiquitous part of my childhood soundtrack on easy listening radio. But, what a lot of people didn’t know was that he was connected to the same folk scene as Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary were. His “Early Morning Rain” was a hit for the latter in the 60s. And Dylan would be an admirer, with Lightfoot joining him for the Toronto Rolling Thunder Revue shows. By then, Lightfoot had amassed an incredible body of work, with hit albums and songs all over radio, and his name assured in the Canadian icon stakes. Heck, even Elvis recorded “Early Morning Rain” and another of his hits, “For Lovin’ Me”.

I’d heard “If You Could Read My Mind” thousands of times as a kid among his other songs thanks to Canadian content regulations assuring heavy rotation on Canadian radio. I placed him in the category of “grown-up music”; that is; not really for me. But, while living in England many years later, I’d heard it again used as a part of the soundtrack of some TV show. Hearing it out of cultural context seemed to make a difference somehow. All of the beauty and fragility in the lyrics, the gentle melodic lines of the tune, and the acoustic guitar with strings arrangement, all opened up for me. The feel of the song was not a million miles away from Fairport Convention or Nick Drake, British folk music which I had also discovered around that time, that seemed to have the same ineffable, mystical quality. Then, I knew that Lightfoot was a rare treasure from my own country, an artist to be celebrated.

This song “Restless” harkens back to his early-to-mid 1970s heyday, after a long trek in the musical wilderness in the 1980s. In that decade, Lightfoot battled bland production and a personal fight with alcoholism too. But, by the time this album was made in the early 90s, he was focused again. And this song is evidence of that.

The song hits a certain melancholic and contemplative chord which I’m always a sucker for. To me, it’s like the soundtrack to one of those nights when you wake up, turn on a single light, and reflect on thoughts that seem to seep partially from a dream, and partially from memories past. It contains hints of regret, yet I wouldn’t say it’s a dark song. This is a song which describes a basic need to draw the threads of one’s life together, and the moments when the need is so strong, your own brain wakes you up and makes you do the work.

Lightfoot’s influence on Canadian music, and on songwriters like Ron Sexsmith, K.D Lang, and the Rheostatics among many others is incalcuable. Take a look at this interview with Gordon Lightfoot from CBC’s the Hour. Lightfoot recently released an album after making a miraculous recovery from internal hemmoraging and a resulting coma in 2002, and the resulting album released in 2005 – Harmony – is of similar quality to the one off of which “Restless” comes. The interview touches on this, along with a brief career overview.

For more music, check out the official Gordon Lightfoot Facebook page, which features performances of some of his most popular songs, including “If You Could Read My Mind”, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, and “The Canadian Railroad Trilogy”, along with links to interviews and historical information.