Top 10 Gordon Lightfoot Songs

Gordon Lightfoot Songs

Photo: Arnielee [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

Our top 10 Gordon Lightfoot songs list looks at one of Canada’s greatest musical treasures. Gordon Lightfoot’s career has been defined as one of the most influential singer-songwriters of the 1960s to come out of Canada and succeed worldwide. His success has crossed the genres of folk music, country, western, and pop. He has had number-one singles in various countries as a songwriter for other artists and his recordings.

Gordon Lightfoot’s career began in the early 1960s as a songwriter. His songs were recorded by many of the legends of Classic Rock History. Artists who recorded his music in the 1960s included Elvis Presley, Peter Paul & Mary, Judy Collins, Marty Robbins, Richie Havens, and many others.

In the mid-1960s, Gordon Lightfoot signed a contract with United Artists Records. His first solo album, entitled Lightfoot!, was released in 1966. Over the next five years, Gordon Lightfoot would become one of the most well-known artists in Canada. He had not yet become a household name in the U.S., but that would change at the dawn of the seventies.

In 1970, Gordon Lightfoot signed a new recording contract with Warner Brothers Records. The signing would prove to be very successful for both parties. Gordon Lightfoot would finally reach beyond his Canadian stardom as an artist with a huge hit single in 1970 entitled “If You Could Read My Mind.” Gordon Lightfoot would celebrate the most successful period of his career in the 1970s. Gordon Lightfoot released eight albums during his 1970s stretch. He also celebrated many top 10 singles on the Canadian and United States Music Charts.

From 1966 to 2012, Gordon Lightfoot released over twenty albums. With many hit singles recorded by himself and other artists, Gordon Lightfoot is one of the legends of Classic Rock History. Our top 10 Gordon Lightfoot songs are just a sneak peek into the man’s fabulous career.

Editors Note: Gordon Lightfoot died at 84 on May 1, 2023. We thank him for the beautiful songs and stories he gave the world. He will be missed, but his soul will live on forever.

# 10 – Daylight Katy

One of our favorite Gordon Lightfoot songs was released on Gordon Lightfoot’s last album of the 1970s. “Daylight Katy” was the opening track to Gordon Lightfoot’s Endless Wire album. Not to be confused with the Who album of the same name. “Daylight Katy” was released as a single and did reasonably well on the Adult Contemporary music charts, reaching number 14.

# 9 – Early Morning Rain

We could not compose a Gordon Lightfoot songs list and not include the classic Gordon Lightfoot song “Early Morning Rain.” The song stands as one of his most covered songs. The song was first recorded by fellow Canadians Ian & Silvia in 1965. That same year, the very successful folk group Peter, Paul, and Mary released the song and enjoyed more success with it than any other artist would have with it. The song “Early Morning Rain” would also be covered by legendary artists Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis, who are the most noted.

# 8 – Black Day In July

It was challenging to be a singer-songwriter in the 1960s and not be pulled into the turmoil of the decade, especially in the United States. Even across the Canadian border, the events that resonated in the U.S. impacted all songwriters. Gordon Lightfoot addresses the events of the Detroit Riots of the Summer of 1967 in his song “Black Day In July.” The song was released on the album Did She Mention My Name. The record was released in 1968.

# 7 – Rainy Day People

Continuing with our Top 10 Gordon Lightfoot song list, we turn to the midpoint of the nineteen seventies. In 1975, Gordon Lightfoot released the album Cold Shoulder. The fabulous album contained one of Gordon Lightfoot’s greatest grooving songs in the track “Rainy Day People.” The song was released as a single from the album and successfully reached the top 30 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1975.

# 6 – Ribbon Of Darkness / I’m Not Saying

The great song “Ribbon of Darkness” was a number one hit for Gordon Lightfoot in 1965, However, the song had achieved that number one status in it’s cover version performed by Marty Robbins. The song has been recorded by Gordon Lightfoot and mixed with the track “I’m Not Saying,” which pretty much shares the same melody but different lyrics.

# 5 – Song For A Winter’s Night

If this one does not define great folk music then I am at a loss for words. This brilliant Gordon Lightfoot song entitled “Song For A Winter Night,” was released in 1967 on the album The  Way I Feel. It’s interesting to compare the original version released in 1967 to the one Gordon Lightfoot recorded for his greatest hits package entitled Gold in 1975. Only eight years later and Gordon’s voice seems much deeper than he had sounded in the 1960s.

# 4 – The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

The last three songs to appear on this top 10 Gordon Lightfoot songs list were by far the most successful songs he released in the United States. Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” was released in 1975. The song would become the second biggest hit of his career, peaking at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. The song hit number one on the Canadian music charts.

Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” is a poignant tribute to the tragic sinking of the cargo ship SS Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior on November 10, 1975. Lightfoot, who considers this song his most significant work, released it as part of his 1976 album Summertime Dream and later re-recorded it for Gord’s Gold, Vol. 2 in 1988.

The song narrates the ship’s doomed final journey, overwhelmed by a severe storm, leading to the loss of 29 crew members. Lightfoot crafted the lyrics after closely following news coverage of the disaster, notably influenced by a Newsweek article titled “The Cruelest Month” from November 24, 1975. His deep connection to the Great Lakes and sailing experiences enriched the storytelling in the song.

# 3 – Carefree Highway

“Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘Carefree Highway’ was released on his 1974 album, Sundown. There is just something extraordinary about this one. It makes you feel good but also leaves a bit of a sense of regret which is precisely the point of the song, The melody, chord changes and smooth vocals fits the topic so perfectly.

The song’s title was inspired by a stretch of Arizona State Route 74 in north Phoenix, which Lightfoot encountered and thought would serve as an evocative title for a song. The song, ‘Carefree Highway,’ symbolizes a mental escape route from the lingering thoughts of a past love affair with a woman named Ann. This relationship left a lasting impression on Lightfoot when he was just 22. He recalls Ann as the kind of person who leaves an indelible mark on your heart and then casually walks away, leaving you to ponder what might have been.

The song No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the Easy Listening chart for a week in October 1974.

# 2 – If You Could Read My Mind

If you have to choose one Gordon Lightfoot song you remember from the Classic Rock era, chances are it’s probably the classic song “If You Could Read My Mind.” The song was initially released on the album Sit Down Stranger. That album was released in 1970. The record company eventually changed the album’s name to If You Could Read My Mind based on the incredible success of the single.

Lightfoot attributed the inspiration behind the song’s lyrics to his own divorce, which came to him while he was in an empty house in Toronto during the summer. The song draws parallels between his relationship’s downturn and scenarios typical of ghost films and romance novels, with lines like “I don’t know where we went wrong. But the feeling’s gone and I just can’t get it back.”Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” was his first big success in the United States. It remains one of his most well-known songs.

# 1 – Sundown

We close out our list of top 10 Gordon Lightfoot songs with our favorite Gordon Lightfoot song, “Sundown.” The song “Sundown” is Gordon Lightfoot’s most successful recording. The song hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States in 1975. At a time when artists like Elton John and Paul McCartney were releasing big-time songs and dominating the pop charts, hitting number one was no easy feat.

Gordon Lightfoot provided the lead and backing vocals and played the 12-string guitar. Red Shea contributed lead electric guitar work, while Terry Clements handled the lead acoustic guitar. John Stockfish played the bass, and Jim Gordon was on the drums.


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