June 15, 1999, Track
By JOHN SAKAMOTO
Executive Producer, Jam! Showbiz
One of the last of Canada's best-known musicians to resist the box-set treatment has finally consented to the major career retrospective he deserved long ago.
Gordon Lightfoot's four-CD 'Songbook' (Warner Archive/Rhino) features material from all phases of his career, from the 1962 single '(Remember Me) I'm The One', through early classics like 'Early Morning Rain' and 'Go-Go Round' to his remastered versions of his biggest hits ('Sundown', 'The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald') and his most recent album, 'A Painter Passing Through'.
The big draw for fans, however, is the inclusion of no fewer than 16 previously unreleased songs.
Lightfoot has granted JAM! permission to post his track-by-track notes for each of the 16 unreleased songs on "Songbook" (in stores today), as they appear in the set's liner notes.
Here they are:
A MESSAGE TO THE WIND - It was written just shortly after my marriage started. I was working with a chord change, and I was quite surprised when it popped out. It's a song about love lost. It points toward "The Last Time I Saw Her,"
which was written a little later - almost like a trial run for that song. It's a little rough; we might have recorded it only once, but it's still a pretty good song.
(1967 - Disc 1/Track 7)
YOU'LL STILL BE NEEDING ME - Oh, yet another time my chauvinism rears its ugly head. Unrequited love again, and I'm stinging, so I lash out at my love and say that she'll be needing me even though she believes she won't. I look back at it now a bit more philosophically, because it has a nice sound and the message isn't as severe as it seemed at the time. There's a lot of conceit involved; the character has some nerve.
(1967 - Disc 1/Track 12)
MAMA SAID - This one came right around the time I left United Artists. Mother always encouraged me about being in the music business. She was a real inspiration to me, and so was my dad. But she was real serious about helping me along, with piano lessons and singing competitions and the like. She was the one who suggested that I could make my living this way.
(1969 - Disc 1/Track 23)
STATION MASTER - It's a protest song. I wrote a few protest songs, but I felt it was kind of silly for me to write protest songs, being a Canadian. After all, people could say, "What the hell is a Canadian doing protesting against an American problem?" It's tantamount to cashing in on a sensitive American situation, bit I decided to do it in a subtle way. I think this one really worked, though, because I knew what I was talking about. Three-quarters of the way through it, I hit on the core statement: "War is not the answer, and young men should not die." Everything I say before that leads up to that observation. It just works.
(1970 - Disc 1/Track 24)
TOO MUCH TO LOSE - It was up for a Paul Newman movie, Cool Hand Luke, but they didn't want it. I guess after that I didn't want it either. It's one of the coolest songs we got out of the vault.
(1972 - Disc 2/Track 6)
HEAVEN DON'T DESERVE ME - I don't have any idea where this one came from but it's missing a verse that's filled in with an instrumental, which is kind of nice. You can take it two ways. Maybe it's that I would be too much of a pain in the butt and that I
would cause unneeded hassles up there. Or you can take the other tack and say, "Maybe I'm too good for it." Or maybe I'd just prefer to be 6 feet under and forget about the whole thing. If I have an opportunity to believe in heaven, then I choose to believe. It's very philosophical and kind of light.
(1972 - Disc 2/Track 12)
STONE COLD SOBER - Quite personal. There's a feeling of fact about it. It makes me feel good, and a little sad, when I do it. Some losses are more painful than others when it comes to love, and this one is very heartfelt and true. The circumstances of my life at the time matched the song. I think it sounded a little too sad to make it on the record.
(1974 - Disc 2/Track 17)
BORDERSTONE - A knight of the road, going back to a place where it might get warm. Maybe there's family, maybe not. I have a fascination with trains, and this is about hopping a freight, which is something I have never done. It's sort of an old fashioned song, the kind of thing Woody Guthrie might have done. Woody's all over everybody's stuff. He makes an appearance in 'The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald" when the cook says, "It's been good to know you," That's right from a Woody Guthrie lyric, "So long, it's been good to know you."
(1973 - Disc 3/Track 4)
BETTY CALLED ME IN - A song about the birth of a new love affair. I had rented a
House, an empty house, where I wrote a bunch of tunes, including this one.
(1976 - Disc 2/Track 13)
KEEP ON YEARNIN' - A pretty confident song. There have been times when I have
been confident enough to write like that, but they have been few and far between. It was written around the time of Dream Street Rose and got shoved aside. Lenny Waronker and Lee Herschberg came up to Toronto to listen to all the tracks, but we had stuff that we thought was better at that time, so it didn't make the album.
(1981 - Disc 2/Track 20)
CANARY YELLOW CANOE - I actually do have a canary-yellow canoe, an Old Town made out of Royalex. Royalex is a material that returns to its original form after being bent out of shape. I wrapped mine around a rock once on the Nahani River in the Northwest Territories, and it took all day and night to get it loose. As promised, the craft returned to it original form, fortunately for us. Otherwise, we really would have been screwed.
(1981 - Disc 2/Track 21)
NEVER SAY TRUST ME - Written for Kenny Rogers, but he decided not to use it. I was thinking about him when I wrote it. He had asked me to write him a song, but it turned out not to be right for him, and that's that.
(1982 - Disc 4/Track 6)
WHY SHOULD I FEEL BLUE - It's a little ethereal. There's a sort of excitement to it that I can't really describe. This happens with a number of these songs - people ask me where they came from or what they are about, and I can't really say. I'm not trying to hide anything. I just don't really know exactly what brings some of them on. It really frustrates reporters, even though I'm not trying to.
(1982 - Disc 4/Track 7)
ALWAYS ON THE BRIGHT SIDE - I wrote a whole bunch of songs in preparation for East of Midnight. I was alone, on my own, and "uninvolved" for about five years, and as a consequence I was able to write very strongly at that
time. We recorded it a couple of times, it got put away, and I hadn't really thought about it until I dug it out of the storage space back in the fall of '98.
(1982 - Disc 4/Track 11)
FORGIVE ME LORD - I recorded this two or three times, but I like this version best. Lenny Waronker never liked it. Around the time of this
recoding, I got involved with David Foster on the song "Anything For Love," which went off in another Direction, so we decided to leave it off the album. I played it for years in concert, and listening to it now, I'm sort of surprised it never made it onto a record before this.
(1985 - Disc 4/Track 12)
LIFELINE - It takes us in the direction of Boston. I was visiting down in England, and that's where the song's geographical roots are. It's hard to explain where it comes from emotionally, sometimes you sit down and let your imagination run, and all of a sudden you have a song. I guess we can just leave it at that.
(1986 - Disc 4/Track 13)