Songs of 74: Sundown / Gordon Lightfoot

Radioinfo will take you back 50 years to the songs that were released and charted in 1974. It was a mighty fine year for music.

Canadian National Treasure Gordon Lightfoot died a year ago. It was Robbie Robertson from The Band who described him as such, with Bob Dylan also saying:

“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”.

Lightfoot is best known in Australia for If You Could Read My Mind, his breakthrough hit from 1971 which, like CYRIL who is currently dominating the Australian airwaves with a remix of Suzi Quatro and Chris Norman’s 70s hit Stumblin’ In, was similarly turned from something languidly folksy to a dance No 1 by Stars on 54 in 1998.

Sundown was his biggest hit here, reaching No 4 and was his only American No 1. Despite being 50 years old it, like much of Lightfoot’s work, still feels fresh and toe tap worthy.

I’ve loved Lightfoot’s smooth baritone sound from the first time I heard it. Hard to believe he was a boy soprano, winning competitions and performing nearly 200 times before his voice broke. He also did one of the earliest recordings of Kris Kristofferson’s classic Me and Bobby McGee a year before Janis Joplin. It was an early hit for him on the Canadian Country Music Charts.

For a man who likes to write and record songs that would leave you feeling good the themes to his biggest hits are quite dark.

Several years after If You Could Read My Mind, which was written about the disintegration of his first marriage, Lightfoot’s daughter Ingrid asked Gord to change the lyrics:

“I’m just trying to understand the feelings that you lack”


“I’m just trying to understand the feelings that we lack”

As Ingrid felt that her father was not sharing any part of the relationship breakdown’s responsibility. Gordon recognised this and never sang those lyrics as they were recorded again.

Sundown is also supposedly about Cathy Smith, who Lightfoot was in a volatile and jealous relationship with, despite still being married to Ingrid’s mother. Smith was later jailed for her involvement in the death of The Blues Brothers actor John Belushi.

It was Smith (and quite possibly this song) that was the catalyst for Lightfoot’s first marriage ending in what was then one of the most expensive divorces in Canadian history.

Lightfoot would keep recording and touring and would end up being awarded virtually every honour that can be given by his homeland including 16 Juno Awards. If you go to Canada, there is a 4 metre tall statue of him in his birth town of Orillia Ontario.

Gord died on May 1, 2023, aged 84.

Jen Seyderhelm is a writer, editor, podcaster and music historian for Radioinfo

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