Singer Gordon Lightfoot's Heartbreaking 1979 Performance Of His Hit 'The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald'
Originally released in 1976, Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” is one of the most somber examples of 70s folk rock.
The song commemorates the sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, which took place on a cold night in November of 1975. All 29 of the Edmund Fitzgerald’s crew died in the accident, which is one of the most infamous maritime tragedies in our history.
Unlike most major accidents involving a sinking ship, the Edmund Fitzgerald sank on Lake Superior. Although only a lake, Lake Superior is as big as many seas and has its own towering waves and harsh winds.
Carrying a load of 26,116 tons of taconite plates, the Edmund Fitzgerald was hammered by winds as harsh 50 knots and waves as high as 16 feet according to the Shipwreck Museum. Overcome by the severe weather, the Edmund Fitzgerald split in two and sank to the bottom of the lake.
Although the tragedy of the Edmund Fitzgerald did contribute to the adoption of new safety regulations for ships in the Great Lakes, it was largely ignored by the media until Lightfoot’s song.
Released on the album Summertime Dream, the single topped the charts in Lightfoot’s home country of Canada. The song did well in the United States as well, reaching number one on Cashbox’s charts and number two on Billboard’s Hot 100.
Lightfoot considers “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” as his best song. In a chat with fans on Reddit Ask Me Anything, or AMA, Lightfoot talked about how he wrote the piece. The legendary singer recalled how he wanted to expand upon the story of the ship’s 29 crewmembers because every piece of news he saw on the tragedy was very brief.
Finding as many newspaper and magazine articles as he could on the sinking, Lightfoot placed them in chronological order and began telling the story of the doomed ship in lyrical form. In choosing the song’s melody, Lightfoot harkened back to an old Irish dirge. Lightfoot felt a strong connection to this melody as he recalled hearing it when he was only three and a half years old, his very first memory of music.
Since its debut, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” has become a mainstay at most of Lightfoot’s concerts, as seen in the 1979 video below.
What do you think of Lightfoot’s performance? What are your favorite Gordon Lightfoot songs?