Showing posts with label gordon lightfoot. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gordon lightfoot. Show all posts

Friday, May 5, 2023

Gordon Lightfoot


I was a country fan; I'd barely even heard the name Gordon Lightfoot before 1974. I'd heard some of his songs, but I didn't know they were his. Then in '74 I was working my first office job and our little three-desk closet contained, besides three people, an AM radio. For eight hours that radio yelped out the pop hits of the day. A lot of them were just dumb ~ The Streak, Seasons In The Sun, (You're) Having My Baby (one of the worst singles of all time). But there were a few standouts, none more than Sundown. I fell in love with the voice; I fell in love with the song.

Even many years later, when I wrote a song about that first work experience, I referenced Sundown:

As Lightfoot sings, he offers his dire warning

Tells me that I'd better take care

Sometimes we're drawn to voices that are different; an unfamiliar accent, perhaps, suggesting a far-off land. But often we cling to voices that sound like home. Lightfoot was Canadian and I grew up not far from the border, so the way he pronounced words was familiar. Someone told me once, "I can tell you're from North Dakota, because you sound Canadian." A weird juxtaposition, but regions don't simply break in two at some imaginary line. Thus, Gordon's voice warmed me, like listening to my dad speak.

Growing up with country music, I was familiar with songs like this:

And this:

I had no clue who wrote them and I didn't actually care. Teenagers can be rather cavalier. I only cared whether I liked the song or not. Later, it all made sense. Gordon Lightfoot, aside from being a master lyricist, wrote songs that had a haunting air, a keening loneliness. Lots of rain and whispering winds. Even living in Los Angeles, far away from Orillia, Ontario, he brought the ghosts with him. Melancholy rests in the bones of those borne of the cold prairie. Ian Tyson, also from Canada, shared that disposition. Just listen to Four Strong Winds.

More than a lyricist and a composer, though, Lightfoot was a painter ~ a painter of stories, scenes, settings:

There is a technique that songwriters use, a simple one, to capture a mood. Lightfoot used it a lot ~ minor chords. I like minor chords because they convey sadness, despair. When one is a lyrical genius, a minor chord melody provides the glacé. Notice that Cotton Jenny, one of his few upbeat compositions, was written in the key of G major. 

As much as I treasure Sundown, there is another of Lightfoot's compositions that kicks me in the gut every time I hear it. When my kids were little, we vacationed many summers in Duluth, Minnesota, on the shore of Lake Superior. The town itself is old, rather threadbare, unless one motors up the big hill, far away from the water, to the staid residential neighborhoods with their split levels and four-wheelers parked in driveways. We preferred to keep to Highway 61, with its quaint fish cafes and road pullouts where one could breathe in the roaring waves and watch ominous clouds gather and screeching seagulls glide below them. 

The harbor in Duluth is called Canal Park, where the iron ore ships maneuver through the channel on their mission to take on a new load or drop one off. The ships are magnificent, all rusty red and black and invariably emblazoned with the shipping owner's name. Across the harbor stretches the Aerial Lift Bridge, which must be raised in order for the ships to slip past. At Canal Park, one is immersed in history, heightened by a stroll through the maritime museum plopped down right beside the harbor and stuffed with ancient black and white photos alongside a giant steam engine and replica crew cabins. Every time, every single time I stepped inside the museum, a certain song wedged itself in my brain and didn't let go until we waved goodbye to Duluth in our rear view mirror.

It's an epic poem. Just read the lyrics.


The legend lives on from the Chippewa on downOf the big lake they called Gitche GumeeSuperior, they said, never gives up her deadWhen the gales of November come early


Some say Lightfoot considered this his masterpiece. It was. 


I got to see Gordon Lightfoot in concert in 2001 at an old historic theater in downtown Minneapolis. He was in his sixties then and his performance was legendary. He wasn't the virile young man of Sundown; he was seasoned and not the least bit melancholy. Writers can write mournful songs but that doesn't make them hopelessly depressed. As much as a painter isn't his painting, a songwriter isn't his song.

I think it was all just the prairie winds.


Rest in peace, Gordon Lightfoot. Thank you for more than I can ever say.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Were The Seventies Really Cheesy...Or Were We?

To anyone who wasn't around in the nineteen seventies, the pop hits of the day most likely sound cringeworthy. It's like my dad trying to describe the majesty of a tube radio to me. "Oh, for God's sake, Dad, get with the times!" How naive!

In hindsight, however, the old days were actually kind of good. I give my dad props for The Big Band era -- I love listening to the Glenn Miller Orchestra -- not every day, mind you, but I'm humble enough to admit those recordings were sublime.

Of course, the seventies were an entirely different vibe. I don't know what happened to music then; maybe it was a backlash against the seminal sixties decade of timeless songs. Maybe the seventies had no choice but to go a different way, to distinguish themselves.

When I think back to that time, I see myself as a young woman navigating the unknown. I, frankly, knew next to nothing about life, and every day was a brand new experience. I, a newly married woman in 1974, was pitifully poor, but I didn't know it. We lived in a mortgaged mobile home, the first ever home I could call my own. I shopped for decorating essentials at Woolworth's and at a bargain warehouse called Tempo. If I was ever forced to put a purchase on a credit card, my balance never exceeded a hundred dollars. But mostly I just paid in cash -- yes, actual paper money -- though sometimes I would fill out a check and hand it over to the cashier, who demanded two forms of ID.

As for musical sustenance, my main source of music was AM radio. I had a portable radio at my bedside, I had one in the kitchen, and most importantly, I had AM in the car. I don't think my '74 Chevy Vega even had a FM option. Besides, AM was where it was happenin'. My mom and dad had upgraded their musical experience, so they bequeathed their console stereo/radio/eight-track player to me, and that plank of pine dominated my living room. I rarely invested in albums unless they were K-Tel compilations advertised on TV. Of course, I still had my old collection of LP's and singles, but the few new albums I remember purchasing at the time were The Eagles Greatest Hits and Emmylou Harris's Elite Hotel.  

But those albums were for days off or weekends. During the week, it was all AM radio, all the time. And yes, there were plenty of cheesy songs. Some were so awful they inspired ridicule; like Havin' My Baby or You Light Up My Life or Muskrat Love. But there was also Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Dave Loggins' Please Come To Boston. And everything ABBA. 

And there were lots and lots of one-hit wonders. The seventies ruled the one-hit realm. It was a time of feeling one's way as an artist. Maybe something would hit; maybe it wouldn't; and if it didn't, you'd go back to your day job at the Tastee Freez. I'm willing to bet that the original members of Paper Lace are swirling up soft-serve cones right now. And Blue Swede's players are traversing the Norwegian fjords in their kayaks. Andy Kim could be a successful Hollywood hairdresser, for all I know.

Seventies radio was a pure arbiter of what was good, what was putrid, and what was so cheesy it attached itself to your brain.


                                                         Starland Vocal Band


Barry Manilow


The Captain and Tenille
Terry Jacks

Many of these singles weren't necessarily bad, taken in context. Right now today I can open up Spotify and spin practically any song that strikes my mood. But in the pre-digital days of the seventies, if you weren't flush with disposable income, your radio and your TV were your sources of musical entertainment. The decade was big on variety shows -- Donny and Marie, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, Tony Orlando and Dawn, even Dean Martin and Jim Nabors (seventies network television pretty much reeked). And all the shows needed musical guests. So, whoever had the hottest Top 40 single at the time showed up over and over. That's how we learned what these artist looked like. The Captain and Tenille were so pervasive, even they eventually were awarded with a show of their own.

And with the networks' delicate sensibilities, only "safe" artists were allowed to appear. Thus, we saw The Carpenters, balladeers like Jim Croce and the benign songstress Roberta Flack. Old-even-then Paul Anka. If we wanted to catch anyone people our age actually liked, well, we had The Midnight Special. That's where Elton popped up, along with Gordon Lightfoot (although no one could actually call him "dangerous"), Grand Funk Railroad, The Guess Who.

That was it. Except for the radio.

There isn't an artist anywhere who hasn't been influenced by those surrounding him. In the sixties Brian Wilson was in a de facto competition with The Beatles. Even Bob Dylan's early songs were influenced by Woody Guthrie. Who were seventies artists surrounded by? Other seventies acts. So we had a few categories of hits:

Junior High Girls

  • Playground In My Mind ~ Clint Holmes
  • Seasons In The Sun ~ Terry Jacks
  • Me And You And A Dog Named Boo ~ Lobo

Junior High Boys

  • Smokin' In The Boy's Room ~ Brownsville Station
  • Takin' Care Of Business ~ Bachman-Turner Overdrive
  • Kung Fu Fighting ~ Carl Douglas

Young Single Women

  • Please Come To Boston ~ Dave Loggins
  • I'd Really Love To See You Tonight ~ England Dan and John Ford Coley
  • Star Baby ~ The Guess Who

Young Single Men

  • The Loco-Motion ~ Grand Funk Railroad
  • The Joker ~ Steve Miller Band
  • I Shot The Sheriff ~ Eric Clapton

Middle-Aged Couples

  • After The Lovin' ~ Engelbert Humperdinck
  • Midnight At The Oasis ~ Maria Muldaur
  • Tie A Yellow Ribbon 'Round The Old Oak Tree ~ Tony Orlando and Dawn

People With Zero Musical Taste

  • You Light Up My Life ~ Debby Boone
  • (You're) Havin' My Baby ~ Paul Anka
  • Muskrat Love ~ The Captain and Tenille

Disco Pseudo-Hipsters

  • Le Freak ~ Chic
  • I Love The Night Life ~ Alicia Bridges
  • Love's Theme ~ The Love Unlimited Orchestra

25-Year-Old Guys

  • Radar Love ~ Golden Earring
  • Black Water ~ The Doobie Brothers
  • Smoke On The Water ~ Deep Purple

25-Year-Old Women

  • It's A Heartache ~ Bonnie Tyler
  • Midnight Blue ~ Melissa Manchester
  • Get Closer ~ Seals and Crofts

Those With Excellent Musical Taste

  • Goodbye Yellow Brick Road ~ Elton John
  • Fooled Around And Fell In Love ~ Elvin Bishop
  • Sister Golden Hair ~ America
  • Stuck In The Middle With You ~ Stealer's Wheel
  • Sundown ~ Gordon Lightfoot
  • Please Come To Boston ~ Dave Loggins (cross-referenced with Young Single Women)
  • Star Baby ~ The Guess Who (cross-referenced with Young Single Women)
  • I'll Have To Say I Love You In A Song ~ Jim Croce
  • Without You ~ Nilssen
  • Rock The Boat ~ Hues Corporation
  • How Can You Mend A Broken Heart ~ The Bee Gees
  • Waterloo ~ ABBA
  • You're Only Lonely ~ JD Souther
  • Drift Away ~ Dobie Gray
The 1970's offered something for everyone. It was probably the most schizophrenic decade in popular music.
Maybe that's why I rather like it.
















Thursday, September 29, 2022

Me And The Seventies


I'm not sure why I have a love/hate relationship with the decade of the 1970's. Truthfully, it was the most impactful decade of my life. I was young enough to experience every moment; not yet so old that the years ran together like a muddy river.

I came of age in the seventies. I was still a high school girl from '70 to '73; I got married for the first time in 1974, and I became a mother twice over between 1976 and 1978. I also landed my first "real" job and quickly learned that work was something to endure rather than enjoy. It wasn't fulfilling; it was a slog ~ a slog of menial tasks and a morass of neurotic coworkers.

Maybe I've dismissed the 1970's because I didn't particularly like the person I was then. 

If "clueless" was an actual term back then, clueless was my middle name. I was painfully naive about life. Not that it was necessarily my fault. My family wasn't exactly The Cleavers. In fact, my dad, if he worked at all, played at being a part-time bartender. But truth be told, he spent most of his time planted on a stool on the other side of the bar he owned. Thus my mother was perpetually angry. She'd carefully mapped out a way to better their lot in life by abandoning farming and purchasing a business, a motel/bar combo, but she ended up doing all the work while my dad played. Everybody always knew my dad was an alcoholic, but he kept the demons at bay simply by the responsibilities of planting and harvesting the wheat and potato fields. Give him a bar right next door, however, and a woman who could be relied on to shoulder all the work, and he was lured to whiskey like a child offered candy from a pervert in a van. 

Thus my home life consisted of pots and pans slamming and a cold shoulder. I escaped to the quiet of my room and fashioned my own sanctuary. I had one actual friend and a handful of acquaintances I only interacted with in the school hallway or in whatever classes we happened to share. 

My inner life was consumed by the music I let wash over me. I collected albums and cheap electronics, like a JC Penney reel-to-reel tape recorder and a "stereo component set", which set me back an outrageous hundred dollars, which I'd amassed from my many summer hours of cleaning motel rooms. I stayed up 'til three or four in the morning during summer vacations, my ear glued to the radio, the third component of my new stereo setup. I tuned the dial to WHO and WBAP and if the heavens allowed, WSM. I fancied myself a singer and recorded three-part harmonies on my reel-to-reel. (I actually wasn't as bad as I thought at the time.) I typed up music "newsletters" on the manual typewriter I'd somehow claimed from my mom, who'd bought it with the intent of producing motel invoices.

My life was insular.

So, I never learned much of anything except how to swish out a toilet and make hospital corners. I could fry up a grilled cheese sandwich and stir together some Kraft macaroni and cheese, which I did whenever my mom was busy manning the motel desk and Dad was, naturally, indisposed. Nobody at home ever talked to anyone else. I had a little brother and sister, who I think I must have conversed with at some point, but they were little kids, after all. How much could we have in common?

I was on my own, a strange amalgam of independence and naivete. Anything I learned, I discovered through experimentation and failure. My mom never went clothes shopping with me or taught me about makeup. I employed my talent for observation to simulate what the other girls my age were doing and I mimicked them. 

I did learn how to smoke, however, all on my own. Smoking wasn't so much cool, per se, as it was another means of escape. 

The music that dominated my senior year in high school was an incongruent mix of country at home and rock blaring from the car radio of my best friend's beige Buick (No, I hadn't yet learned how to drive, either). Alice and I dragged Main Street on Friday and sometimes Saturday nights, singing along to Stuck In The Middle With You and Drift Away and The Joker.


Our tastes in country singles matched, too ~ Ride Me Down Easy, Southern Lovin', Here Comes The World Again. 


I met my first husband on one of those Main Street runs. I thought the friend he was with was better looking, but the four of us matched up more or less according to height.

My future husband was older and had lived on his own, so he knew how to cook, whereas I did not. I could man a mean vacuum cleaner, though. We married in 1974 and since no one we knew actually rented an apartment, the thought never even crossed our minds. Instead we trudged down the highway from my parents' motel to a mobile home lot and were bamboozled into paying far too much money for a 12 by 66-foot tin box. I was thrilled. Finally something of my own that didn't require proximity to two crazed ultimate fighters.

We furnished our home with a Sears green and white flowered sofa and a set of K-Mart tables, among other cheap amenities. K-Mart and Woolworth's were my go-to's for curtains and bedspreads and collapsible nightstands. I brought my bed and my TV from my motel hideaway. That first Christmas I plopped a two-foot plastic tree atop a table and decorated it with home-crafted ornaments (it didn't require many). We inherited a console stereo, which claimed one wall of the living room and after work I spun Emmylou Harris's Elite Hotel (loved that album) and one by someone named LaCosta, who it turned out was Tanya Tucker's sister. 

The communal radio at work was tuned to rock, so I still had one foot in that world. Sundown, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and Mockingbird were the order of the day.

(Not to state the obvious, James, but those drugs seem to really be kicking in.)

My first son was born in November of 1976. I worked up until his birth, albeit not at that soul-sucking job I'd landed right out of high school. Truly, that place was yet one more dysfunctional family, but I wasn't tied to them by blood, so I bailed. Where did I go? Well, shoot, back to Mom and Dad. In my defense, however, Dad was newly sober and had become an actual human being, and thus my mom was ninety per cent less frenzied. 

Once I delivered my son, however, I retired. I loved it. Achingly poor, yet happy. I knew it couldn't last, but I was willing to forego a Country Kitchen breakfast and a couple of new LP's if it meant watching my baby grow. Anyway, I still had the radio:

And I hadn't abandoned country completely.

(although this is kind of skirting the country line)


                                           (whereas this is definitely country)

In March of '78 when I became pregnant for the second time, we traded up to a fourteen by seventy-eight-foot mobile home with three bedrooms. Those extra two feet wide, boy, felt like a palace, Still a tin palace that sounded like Armageddon during a hailstorm

In December I gave birth to my second son and I knew my mom-time was fast waning.

In rock, nothing much struck me. This track was considered "rock", but come on. It's Roy Orbison dressed up in a new package:

 I dipped my toe back into country music, kind of as a farewell to the decade.


In essence, despite all signs to the contrary, I grew up in the seventies. And yes, I did eventually learn how to cook. I also learned how real life works, how to stop apologizing for my talents; how to wrangle two toddlers into a car and motor over to the mall and come out the exit doors sane. How to soothe colic. How to fall in love with an unlovable dog who loved no one but me. How a clothes dryer works so much better if one occasionally cleans the lint filter. How linens dried on a fresh-air clothesline smell so delectable. How to coax houseplants to flourish. 

How a baby's giggle is manna from heaven. 

In ten short years I went from a self-involved, self-pitying victim to an actual grown-up human. 

I was the last person to see that coming.


Saturday, September 24, 2022

Seventies Pop

My husband I have a difference of opinion. He loves classic rock; I hate, hate it. I hate Aerosmith, and to me, Rolling Stones tracks sound tinny and weak. Led Zeppelin is okay, but I never bought any of their records. The Who is a complete mystery. Forget any of the heavy metal bands. I'm not a fan of angry music.

I think the disconnect is as simple as AM radio versus FM. In the seventies my spouse was an album guy. I bought no rock records, but I binged on AM radio, mostly because I was surrounded by it, either at work or on my portable transistor. In my small town, FM radio was a niche. Nobody actually tuned into it, probably because the lone classic rock station was lazy and didn't even try. Anybody who was anybody glued their car radio dial to 550, KFYR. KFYR played the hits; not deep album tracks.

Thus, my husband's and my musical experiences were completely divergent.

Like I once denigrated seventies country music until decades later when I learned better, I scoffed at seventies pop ~ cheesy, manufactured, trivial. 

Turns out I was wrong. 

Oh, there were plenty of cheesy hits throughout the decade, including possibly the worst single of all time, "You're Havin' My Baby"; and there were others. You Light Up My Life, My Girl Bill, Muskrat Love, Afternoon Delight, American Pie (😉 ~ maybe that's just me).

And tons of one-hit wonders. But that's what makes the seventies so singular. One top ten hit and never heard from again. Come on, Brownsville Station? Paper Lace? Yet, if you were around then, you've never forgotten those singles.

I currently have 310 tracks on my seventies Spotify playlist, but never fear ~ I'm not going to inundate you with 310 music videos. I'll choose six or seven, tops, ranging from "fun" to "classic" (yes, there were classics!)



1973 ~ The Hues Corporation ~ Rock The Boat

 1974 ~ ABBA ~ Waterloo

Also 1974 ~ The Guess Who ~ Star Baby

1975 ~ America ~ Sister Golden Hair


1974~ Dave Loggins ~ Please Come To Boston

1973 ~ Elton John ~ Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

1971 ~ Nilsson ~ Without You (sorry for the fake "live" video)

1974 ~ Gordon Lightfoot ~ Sundown

1977 ~ The Bee Gees ~ How Deep Is Your Love

I could go on and on (obviously), but one must know when to stop. Suffice it to say, I now love the seventies. It could be nostalgia, but I believe it's a case of not recognizing the good while it was happening.

By the way, I like cheesy songs as long as they're deliberately corny and not a steaming mound of cow patties masquerading as "super serious" ditties. (I'm lookin' at you, Paul Anka and Debbie Boone.)



I think I just may come back to this topic at a later time.

I like having fun.



Friday, June 14, 2019

Sixty-Four Years of Music ~ The Seventies

The decade of the seventies was a strange time. It was garish. Color TV was still relatively new and televisions either couldn't quite get the colors right or that's how everything actually looked, which is actually worse. Reds were REALLY RED; orange was flamboyant and pervasive; lime green was somehow a desirable color. It was a visual assault. No wonder everyone was so uptight.

Early seventies TV shows tried to straddle the line between budding social consciousness and corny catch-phrases (Dy-no-MITE!) Hit sitcoms included Sanford and Son ("It's the big one, Elizabeth!") and Alice ("Kiss my grits!"), and everyone was in the doldrums because they couldn't fill up their gas tanks and the usurers were lending money at eighteen per cent interest.

Living room rugs were a thick shag that had to be raked (with an actual rake) and was either burnt orange or avocado green (to match the kitchen appliances). A hit song was all about some dude talking over his CB radio, which no one but long-haul truckers actually owned. My little brother taunted me with his Rubik's cube, which I could never solve nor never cared to; but twisting its sides around acted much like a stress ball, until I got sick of it and tossed it into the dense carpet, never to be unearthed again.

Everyone who was anyone, and those who were no ones had a variety show ~ Tony Orlando and Dawn, Sonny and Cher, Donny and Marie, Flip Wilson; and they all featured the same rotating cast of musical guests ~ Jim Stafford was a mainstay. Ray Stevens showed up a lot. Mac Davis was a pain in the ass, because he was everywhere on TV and never had one song that wasn't boring as a dead fish.

AM radio was the tether that cloistered us.

I was in high school in the early seventies, and I separate the decade into two parts. Because the first half actually yielded some classic tracks. Or maybe I was just seventeen.

Songs that Alice and I sang along to in the car:

It wasn't so much that we liked this one, but we couldn't ignore it. After all, it spoke of the "pompatus of love":

Johnny Rivers was still making hits:

This was pure gospel:

A new guy who seemed to have two first names pierced my soul with this song:


If this man had never written another song, he'd be legion with this alone:

But he also had this one:

In the second half of the seventies, music got away from...I guess, trying. Pop culture was curious. Sitcoms apparently longed for the distant past ~ Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley were set in the fifties. And almost all TV comedies were written at a sixth-grade level, which is why it was a revelation on the rare occasion when a smart one came along.* On Three's Company, poor John Ritter spent the half hour leering, while the dumb one (which is relative), Chrissy naively uttered double entendres. A smash hit when it debuted, Welcome Back, Kotter became famous for stupid lines that became cultural touchstones, like "Ooh ooh, ooh, Mister Kot-TEER!" and, of course for that new guy, John Trav...something. And not content with two hit series, Garry Marshall created another idiotic one about an alien, launching the career of a hairy guy named Robin.

*The smart one was Barney Miller.

In fashion news, polyester reigned! And not today's polyester-cotton blends, but a springy extraterrestrial fabric that could withstand a Chernobyl-like meltdown and still look "pretty". Culottes were also a thing. Sort of shorts, but you could wear them to work. The worst fashions were actually worn by men, who were somehow talked into dressing like a Times Square pimp ~ leisure suits (polyester, of course), gold chains, gaudy flowered (polyester) shirts with butterfly collars. And don't forget the long sideburns.

Voters elected a peanut as president; and not just any old peanut, but a truly hapless legume. Never fear, however; everything he failed at he simply blamed on us (and by the by, I didn't vote for him).

No wonder the music became outlandish. Here is a sampling of hit songs from the last half of the decade. You be the judge:


(And I didn't even know that the late political commentator Alan Colmes had a seventies gig as a soft rock singer!) 


1978 (Hey! There's that guy from Welcome Back, Kotter!):


It's a giant leap from Gordon Lightfoot to the Village People, but there was a lot happenin' in the seventies. Musically, one could say that the seventies saw the biggest transformation of any decade; not necessarily for the better. Personally, changes proliferated. I went from a high school girl to a mom twice over. I accepted that I had to grow up, although my quest wasn't entirely successful.

I'm still working on it.