by Kevin Burton
The things we don’t say, can’t say, the things we won’t see and refuse to feel, these are the ghosts that inhabit a great 1971 song.
I speak of “If You Could Read My Mind” by Gordon Lightfoot. The orchestration is good but it never gets in the way of the lyrics, the story, our story.
If we could read minds the way we read the label on a can of vegetable soup, we would know what ingredients make up the ones we love. We would know what mixture of memories and motivations sends them and us, pinballing through life, our feelings tucked safely inside.
“If You Could Read My Mind” is number 7 on a list of the 50 best Canadian singles, published by the Penticton Herald, a newspaper in British Columbia Canada.
Their list and now three Page 7 posts were printed in honor of Canada Day, which is July 1.
“The lyrics were inspired by Lightfoot’s divorce. On the urging of his daughter, he later changed pronouns so that it didn’t seem as sexist. Released in 1971, it reached No. 5 on Billboard,” The Herald wrote.
Try to view this song as a picture and you’ll find it’s really a mirror, and you’ll see yourself blinking back.
Lightfoot, born in Orillia, Ontario, had six top-40 hits between 1970 and 1977 including “Sundown” a chart topper in 1974.
“Canada has a long tradition of singer-songwriters and that’s partly in thanks to its own ‘folksong laureate,’ Gordon Lightfoot,” wrote udiscovermusic.com, as the website compiled its own list of notable Canadian artists.
“Coming out of the Toronto 60s folk music scene, Lightfoot’s native country would become his lifelong muse, penning such classics as “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” and “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and yet universal enough to appeal worldwide, turning him into Canada’s most successful contemporary folk artist.”
“A beloved cultural icon, he’s been the beneficiary of countless awards and honors including the Companion of the Order of Canada – Canada’s highest civilian honor,” the website wrote.
Toronto native Neil Young sang about searching for a “Heart of Gold” and getting old, at the grand old age of 26 in 1972. His only number one song has aged well. Young has too, despite numerous bumps along the way.
Young’s music is back on Spotify in case you hadn’t noticed. That protest seems to have ended quietly.
Young was the top Canadian Artist on the udiscovermusic list. His “Heart of Gold” was number two on The Herald’s list. Number five is “Life Is A highway” by Tom Cochrane.
“Cochrane has written superior songs, but he never sounded better than this song which reached No. 6 on the U.S. pop charts. It gets you from the opening hook,” The Herald wrote.
Sudbury, Ontario native Rich Dodson wrote and played the distinctive banjo part on “Sweet City Woman,” a number 8 hit in 1971 for The Stampeders.
“Sweet City Woman was the only top 30 hit for the Stampeders, however they were far more successful in Canada,” according to Songfacts. “The song hit number one on the Canadian RPM, Canadian Country and Canadian Adult Contemporary charts.”
“This song gets considerable airplay in the US to this day. It is one of the few top 10 hits to have a banjo as the primary instrument.”
Surely I’ve left some great songs and great artists out of this tribute. But there is just so much ground to cover.
I’m going to finish with a top 40 spoken word hit by Canadian journalist, writer and commentator Gordon Sinclair. It was called “The Americans.” Remember that one?
“On June 5, 1973, following news that the American Red Cross had run out of money as a result of aid efforts for recent natural disasters, Sinclair recorded what would become his most famous radio editorial, ‘The Americans,’” Reads Sinclair’s Wikipedia page.
“While paying tribute to American success, ingenuity, and generosity to people in need abroad, Sinclair decried that when America faced crisis itself, it often seemed to face that crisis alone.”
“At the time, Sinclair considered the piece to be nothing more than one of his usual items. But when U.S. News & World Report published a full transcript, the magazine was flooded with requests for copies. Radio station WWDC-AM in Washington, D.C., started playing a recording of Sinclair’s commentary with ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ playing in the background. Sinclair told the Star in November 1973 that he had received 8,000 letters about his commentary,” reads Wikipedia.
“With the strong response generated by the editorial, a recording of Sinclair’s commentary was sold as a single with all profits going to the American Red Cross. “The Americans (A Canadian’s Opinion)” went to No. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100, making the 73-year-old Sinclair the second-oldest living person ever to have a Billboard U.S. Top 40 hit (75-year-old Moms Mabley had a Top 40 hit in 1969 with “Abraham, Martin & John“).