Album of the Day — October 1
Gordon Lightfoot — Sundown
Gordon Lightfoot — Sundown
Gordon Lightfoot is to Canada what Bob Dylan is to the United States.
There is a scene in the movie Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese there is a scene where Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, and Roger McGuinn are working on her song “Coyote” at Lightfoot’s house. It’s incredible to see these four lyrical powerhouses together.
ANYWAY, Sundown was Lightfoot’s tenth original album and his only #1 in the United States.
Originally known as a songwriter, he began his career early when Peter, Paul, and Mary covered “Early Mornin’ Rain” and “For Lovin’ Me”; these two songs would go on to be covered by artists like:
The Kingston Trio
Eventually, Lightfoot signed on with uber-manager Albert Grossman, which led to a contract with United Artists. His debut album, Lightfoot!, led to appearances at the Newport Folk Festival and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Lightfoot! blended Canadian and universal themes and helped Lightfoot achieve success in the United States without leaving Canada.
[Fun Fact: Fellow Canadian Robbie Robertson has called Lightfoot “a national treasure.” Canada agrees with Robertson — they’ve bestowed virtually every Canadian accolade on the singer-songwriter.]
Despite having contracted Bell’s Palsey in 1972, Lightfoot maintained a vigorous touring and recording schedule.
Sundown would be the apogee of Lightfoot’s blend of country and folk as he began exploring electric instruments. At the time, those things were anathema to both genres.
The album produced two hit singles, “Sundown” and “Carefree Highway.” Much like the album, the single “Sundown” would be Lightfoot’s only #1 in the United States. “Carefree Highway” would peak at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100. His classic “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” would peak at #2.
As a troubadour, you think of the traveling singer-songwriter as coming into town and stealing a heart now and again and leaving. “Carefree Highway” flips the narrative. It’s the musician who gets left:
Her name was Ann and I’ll be damned if I recall her face
She left me not knowin’ what to do
But this isn’t a “woe is me” type of reflection; the song is a celebration of the independent spirit:
Turnin’ back the pages to the times I love best
I wonder if she’ll ever do the same
Now the thing that I call livin’ is just bein’ satisfied
With knowin’ I got no one left to blame
Sundown was produced by the legendary producer, executive, and artist champion Lenny Waronker. His belief that “music, not money, was still number one” helped him foster relationships with some of the biggest names in music:
Rickie Lee Jones
Gary Clark, Jr.
Robert Christgau wrote this: “If Gordon had dyed his hair and taken a short course at the local car wash — you think he would have lasted a week? — he might have found a new career as Jim Croce II. Instead, he scored one of his periodic hit singles, thus securing his status as a weird new kind of purist: uncompromising proponent of commercial folk music. Two songs about the lure of the sea and one about urban despair go down as easy as the usual plaints about female perfidy. Chad lives?”
Steven Holding in Rolling Stone said: “Sundown is a fine album which weaves conventional folk and pop strands into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. The polish of Lightfoot’s singing has tended in the past to undermine the seriousness of his songs, inviting the listener to appreciate his records mainly as aural artifacts rather than explore their contents. But most of Sundown’s 12 songs are so evocative that they prohibit such easy perusal.”
Gordon Lightfoot is “synonymous with timeless songs about trains and shipwrecks, rivers and highways, lovers and loneliness. His music defined the folk-pop sound of the 1960s and 1970s.”
Bob Dylan had this to say about Lightfoot: “I can’t think of any Gordon Lightfoot song I don’t like. Every time I hear a song of his, it’s like I wish it would last forever.”
This year, at 81, Lightfoot released his 23rd studio album, Solo — more than 54 years after his debut album. Unfortunately, his tour schedule was canceled in support of Solo as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Let that marinate, the 81-year-old was going to tour!
Gordon Lightfoot is a legend in every sense of the word and Sundown is own of the crown jewels in the legends cannon.