HomeMusicHow ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’ Defied Top 40 Logic

How ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’ Defied Top 40 Logic


Gordon Lightfoot, the Canadian people singer who died on Monday at 84, had one hit particularly that famously defied Top 40 logic.

“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” his 1976 people ballad, was uncommon partly as a result of, at greater than six minutes lengthy, it was about twice so long as most pop hits. It additionally retold a real-life tragedy — the 1975 sinking on Lake Superior of a freighter with 29 crewmen aboard — with meticulous consideration to element.

“It’s a documentarian’s track, when you consider it,” mentioned Eric Greenberg, a longtime good friend of the singer who interviewed Mr. Lightfoot as a scholar journalist within the late Seventies and later co-wrote a song with him.

The plotline of a typical Top 40 hit often consists of “boy meets lady, boy breaks up with lady, or come again, otherwise you left me, or no matter,” Mr. Greenberg mentioned, talking by telephone from New York City. “Not a five-, six-, seven-minute story — a factual story, in Gordon’s case, painstakingly checked to make it possible for all of the details are proper.”

Here’s the true story that impressed “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” and a have a look at the track that stored its reminiscence alive.

The Edmund Fitzgerald was a 729-foot ore provider and one of many largest freighters on the Great Lakes when it left Superior, Wis., on Nov. 9, 1975, carrying iron pellets certain for Detroit.

The subsequent day, the ship was caught in a storm with winds that averaged 60 to 65 miles an hour. Its captain reported 20- to 25-foot waves washing over the decks and water pouring in beneath deck by way of two damaged air vents.

That evening, the Edmund Fitzgerald sank near the coasts of Ontario and Michigan, in water that was solely about 50 levels. A close-by ship reported seeing its lights disappear within the driving snow.

The Coast Guard later discovered lifeboats, life rings and different particles from the ship. But the lifeboats had been self-inflatable, so their discovery didn’t essentially point out that that they had been used. None of the 29 crew members survived.

The morning after the Fitzgerald went down, the rector of Mariners’ Church of Detroit tolled its bell 29 times, as soon as for every man misplaced. An Associated Press reporter knocked on the church’s door, interviewed the rector and filed an account that was printed in newspapers.

Mr. Lightfoot learn the article. Soon afterward, he began singing a track in regards to the wreck throughout a beforehand scheduled recording session. His band joined in, and the primary model of the track that they recorded was later launched, in line with “Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind,” a 2020 documentary.

There was no expectation that the track would change into successful single, as a result of its size made it too lengthy for airplay on the radio. But it could spend 21 weeks on the Billboard charts and peak at No. 2, one notch behind Mr. Lightfoot’s solely No. 1 hit, “Sundown.” It additionally turned the story of the sinking into a contemporary legend.

Yet in contrast to songs that use a real-life story as the idea for embellishment, Mr. Lightfoot’s ballad hewed exactly to the real-life particulars. The weight of the ore, for instance — “26,000 tons greater than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty” — was correct. So was the variety of times that the church bell chimed in Detroit.

Decades later, Mr. Lightfoot changed the lyrics barely after investigations into the accident revealed that waves, not crew error, had led to the shipwreck. In the brand new lyrics, he sang that it obtained darkish at 7 that November evening on Lake Superior — not {that a} important hatchway caved in.

“That’s the sort of meticulous, looking-for-the-truth sort of man that he was,” Mr. Greenberg mentioned.

“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” like its creator, endured as a Canadian basic lengthy after slipping off the Top 40 charts. The bluegrass guitarist Tony Rice (who additionally launched a whole album of Lightfoot cowl songs) and the rock bands Rheostatics and the Dandy Warhols had been amongst those that sang covers through the years.

“The melodies are so highly effective and he’s such a superb storyteller and such a good looking lyricist,” the Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan mentioned within the 2020 documentary. “And the mix of these issues simply actually makes for an excellent track.”

Mr. Lightfoot remained happy with it for many years, and he stored newspaper clippings and objects given to him by the crew members’ surviving households in his dwelling, Mr. Greenberg mentioned.

The track’s success had one draw back: It turned the wreck, which lies in Canadian territory at a depth of about 500 ft, into a trophy for divers, upsetting the misplaced sailors’ households. In 2006, the federal government of Ontario adopted a law defending the positioning.

Content Source: www.nytimes.com


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