Music for folks who care – it is poetry with some legend & geography thrown in
Gordon Lightfoot’s twelfth album, Summertime Dream was released in June 1976. By this time Lightfoot was already established as a great songwriter and had achieved success internationally on folk, country & folk-rock music charts. Summertime Dream comprises 10 songs adding to a run time of around 38 minutes. All songs were written & composed by Lightfoot. The songs are folk-based with some influences of country & rock. The album covers a wide range both in terms of themes (romance, nostalgia, contemplation, hope) and music – from slow-paced ballads to fast-tempo rock songs.
The album opens with “Race Among the Ruins”, which has an upbeat tempo, energetic groove, and optimistic lyrics. Lightfoot sings about moving on from the past, accepting the losses (ruined relationships?), and be ready to face tomorrow. Lightfoot does the vocals and plays twelve-string acoustic guitar. The other personnel is Terry Clements on lead electric guitar, Pee Wee Charles on pedal steel guitar, Rick Haynes on bass guitar, and Barry Keane played the drums.
Next is the ballad “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”. The final hours of SS Edmund Fitzgerald which sank in Lake Superior on November 10th, 1975, became one of the most famous maritime incidents on the back of this song. It is lengthy, with a difficult subject but Lightfoot manages to combine Native American Legend, Great Lakes geography, and the personal story of the crew members & their families into a haunting story. There was no conclusion on the cause of the wreck but “all that remains is the faces, the names of the wives, sons & daughters”. Isn’t that true for any tragedy? It reached #1 in Canada, #2 in US Pop charts & is considered a classic today. It is said that the song was “cut on the first take” during the recording – although the musicians were playing it for the first time.
The third song is “I’m Not Supposed to Care”. Lightfoot sings about a relationship that has ended, the emotional seesaw that we are not supposed to care about that person, but we do care and want them to be alright. A love song with melancholy undertones that still packs a punch & which has been covered multiple times by Bob Dylan. Side one concludes with “I’d Do It Again” and “Never Too Close” which are up-tempo numbers with excellent music.
Side two begins with “Protocol”. It is an anti-war, pro-environment song with dense lyrics and stark music. Although it was written & composed during the end of the Vietnam War, it has multiple references to other military incidents, atrocities. There are no answers here but only difficult questions like” Is it wrong for a king to cry?” or “Is duty fulfilled by following a warrior’s will and protocol?”
“The House You Live In” follows. It is beautiful advice from an elder to a younger person. The more I heard, it appeared like a modern reworking of Hamlet Act 1 – Polonius’ advice to Laertes while he departs. Lightfoot suggests, “The house you live in will never fall down if you pity the stranger who stands at your gate”. Will the Haves take heed? The title song “Summertime Dream” comes next. It has a lovely melody with simple folk lyrics. Lightfoot sings with nostalgia and wistfulness in “Spanish Moss”. It is a slow soft number with nice music and excellent singing.
The album ends with “Too Many Clues in this Room”. Lightfoot sings “The space shuttle ends where the subway begins, there is a tear on the face of the moon”. He points out that humanity has the power to send spaceships to the Moon but what about the “tear on the face of the moon” as it looks at the suffering back on Earth?
Summertime dream marked the zenith of Lightfoot’s commercial success. Lightfoot’s baritone voice, excellent lyrics, and great music give us a largely cohesive album. So this summer, please listen to this “Summertime Dream” and if possible, also “try to care”.