Looking back on Gordon Lightfoot’s legendary songs


(Sean Kilpatrick | AP Newsroom)

Gordon Lightfoot performs during the evening ceremonies of Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation. Lightfoot died on Monday at age 84. (Sean Kilpatrick | AP Newsroom)

By Nick Glover, Lifestyle Editor

Every young boy has a moment when they become a man, that conversation where you know everything changes afterward, that split second when their father sits them down and says, “son, it’s time you listen to Gordon Lightfoot.” 

One day, when I was old enough to read, maybe six or seven, my dad sat me down in front of the computer and played the lyric video of Lightooft’s classic “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” 

As I sat listening to the song and reading Lightfoot’s poetic lyrics, I remember looking over to my dad every minute or so to see what he was doing when I was listening. He was always smiling, pushing me back towards the music. 

At the end of the six-and-a-half minute classic, I, at six, knew the whole true story of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald and its sinking in Lake Superior. It was that day that I fell in love with the way that songs can tell stories, a love that is still strong in my life. 

Lightfoot died on Monday. In memory of all of the glorious and enthralling stories he wrote, here are a few songs to celebrate and remember him by. 

“Is There Anyone Home”

From his 1974 album “Sundown,” “Is There Anyone Home” is a groovy ‘70s pop song. The arpeggiated bass intro pairs well with the rhythmic acoustic guitar and constant percussion that includes a very prominent shaker. The song has creepy lyrics with standout lines like, “There’s a man behind you with a gun” and “I think I heard / Someone stirred.” These lines contrast the aggressively happy instrumentation in a way that makes the song almost off-putting. This is both purposeful and genius; It gives the song a way to be upbeat while also highlighting the dark parts of the natural wilderness that Lightfoot writes about consistently.  

“Long River”

“Long River” shows off Lightfoot’s folk roots perfectly. With lyrics talking about the beauty of nature, the acoustic guitar part is full of finger-picking that sounds reminiscent of folk icons like John Prine and Bob Dylan. The strongest part of the song is after Lightfoot sings about a bird outside his window. Immediately following a verse that starts, “There’s a tiny bird that calls / And he calls by my window,” Lightfoot whistles during the short guitar break in between verses, mimicking the song of the bird. 

“If You Could Read My Mind”

Off his 1970 record of the same name, “If You Could Read My Mind” is a folk-pop jam. Featuring his strong and crooning voice, the song details the problems that Lightfoot was having in his marriage. Feeling like he’s stuck to his wife but lacking the feelings he wants to have, Lightfoot is begging listeners to help him find hope for the future. The song has acoustic guitar lines floating throughout the production, and orchestral strings line the choruses with a cinematic drama.

I am eternally in debt to Gordan Lightfoot. Lightfoot is the reason I found out music could contain stories so full of life that it feels like the song is talking across a campfire or jumping out from the spine of a book. 

Lightfoot’s soul lives on through his music. His soul will be there, telling stories, crooning for generations to come. I hope that the next listener, the next person inspired by Lightfoot’s storytelling prowess, hears his soul. I hope they see his ghost too, because as he sings in “If You Could Read My Mind,” “I will never be set free / As long as I’m a ghost you can’t see.”