If you’re a big fan of acoustic music, you’re likely familiar with at least a few of the songs Gordon Lightfoot has released over the years. Some of his classics, like The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald are still legendary listens to this day.
However (and perhaps this is because Lightfoot is a Canadian artist) many of his best songs are extremely underrated. In addition to being an incredibly talented acoustic guitarist and musician, Lightfoot is one of my favorite lyricists ever.
That’s why I decided to make this list of some of his top-notch, best songs that are perfect for any aspiring acoustic guitarist or fan of acoustic music. If you want to learn to play these songs yourself, I’ve also included chords for each song.
One final note before we get started: don’t forget to tune your guitar! These songs won’t sound right if your guitar is out of tune… If you need a great tuner, here’s my favorite clip-on guitar tuner (on Amazon).
Also: you will need a capo to play some of these songs. If you don’t have a capo (or want to upgrade to a better one) here’s my favorite capo (on Amazon).
With that out of the way, let’s jump into this list of Gordon Lightfoot’s 15 best songs for acoustic guitar:
Lightfoot released Sundown on his album of the same name. This song was released as a single in March 1974. “Sundown” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and easy listening charts in the United States, No. 13 on the Hot Country singles chart, and No. 1 on RPM’s national singles chart in Canada.
It was Lightfoot’s solo No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100.
In the song, the narrator recounts an affair with a “hard-loving woman [who’s] got me feeling cruel” in the song lyrics, which seem to represent a problematic romantic connection (commonly interpreted to be Cathy Smith).
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Lightfoot’s 1976 hit song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” was written, recorded, and sung to memorialize the sinking of the bulk ship SS Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior on November 10, 1975.
The single version of the song, which first appeared on Lightfoot’s 1976 album Summertime Dream, reached number one in Canada (in the RPM national singles survey) on November 20, 1976, just a year after the accident.
The guitar strumming in this song is deep and solemn, giving the whole piece a brooding feel, which is precisely what Gordon was after when he composed this tribute song.
Canadian Railroad Trilogy
The construction of the trans-Canada Canadian Pacific Railway, which was finished in 1886, is described in the “Canadian Railroad Trilogy.” The CPR was established in 1881.
Lightfoot’s ode to the construction of the railroad, which he refers to as the “lifeblood” of the country, was requested by the CBC in 1967 to commemorate the country’s centennial, and it has since become one of his signature songs.
Due to the more profound message hidden beneath it and the story it tells, this song has become one of Gordon’s most popular, with deep themes of colonialism, industrialism, and more alluded to in the profound lyrics.
Lightfoot has always had a knack for beautiful lyrics, and it’s evident in his song “Walls.” He expresses his willingness to be friends with someone who exploited him for their popularity. The song is about him being saddened by his friend/lover’s betrayal, but he’s okay with crying about it and being open about it.
The song features a beautiful melody complimented by Lightfoot’s flawless guitar strumming. Gordon Lightfoot is one of the few lyricists who can write an optimistic song about a bitter-sweet or sad experience.
Second Cup of Coffee
Gordon Lightfoot’s ninth original album, recorded in North Hollywood in 1972, featured the song Second Cup of Coffee.
The song details the narrator’s struggle with narcotics, primarily alcohol, and his infidelity and partying, which cost him his wife and his children’s bond.
Minstrel of the Dawn
This song, I believe, is about the realization that individuals have lost their childhood and innocence and that they must face a challenging future without protection. Gordon is said to be the minstrel.
The song has a sweet and melodic feel that transports you to a bygone era while still making you feel alive. There is a medieval quality to it, produced by the masterful lyrics (it’s evident in the title itself – “minstrel” being a medieval word). Gordon’s excellent fingerstyle acoustic guitar playing in this masterpiece tugs at your heartstrings.
Early Morning Rain
Gordon wrote this song in 1964, and in it he tells the story of a lonely man’s struggles to return to a faraway home. While the song was written and composed by Lightfoot in 1964, its seeds were planted during his 1960 stay in Westlake, Los Angeles.
During this time, Lightfoot would get homesick and go out to the Airport on wet days to watch the planes approach. When he was caring for his 5-month-old baby son in 1964, the visual of the aircraft flying off into the gloomy sky was still with him, and he thought to himself, “I’ll put him over here in his crib, and I’ll write myself a melody.” The outcome was “Early Morning Rain.”
Gordon Lightfoot’s song “Carefree Highway” was released as the second single from his Sundown album in 1974. The theme uses “Carefree Highway” as a metaphor for the singer’s state of mind as he tries to forget about a long-ago failed affair with a woman named Ann.
According to Lightfoot, Ann was the name of a woman Lightfoot dated when he was 22 years old. It was one of those occasions where you meet a woman who does something to knock you out, and you end up standing there while she leaves with the message that she’s on her way.
For Loving Me / Did She Mention My Name
The song For Lovin’ Me / Did She Mention My Name was included in Gordon’s album Gord’s Gold.
“Though a tad more chaotic than his early efforts, his composition remained impressively steady,” critic Richie Unterberger wrote.
Steel Rail Blues
Lightfoot recorded and released this song for the first time in 1966. People related to the lyrics of a lonely boy who ran away from home only to find himself in a foreign town with no friends, no job, and no way out because his car died in his quest for adventure.
His sole hope was a train ticket from a lover back home, but he gambled it away the night before departing, leaving him stuck. I believe we all desire to return to a place of comfort and familiarity. Lightfoot recounts some of this story in the video embedded above.
Mother of a Miner’s Child
Mother of a Miner’s Child’s lyrics are about a miner whose wife supports him and inspires him everyday while he works in the depressing and back-breaking labor of the mines.
The lyrics speak volumes and the acoustic guitar supports it all with a beautiful rhythm.
It’s not your ordinary pride that keeps drivin’ me on
It’s that lonesome, restless feelin’ that you feel under the gun
And it leads me to the highways but it keeps my body warm
Do you see what I’m getting at? Like most Gordon’s tracks, this song has a reoccurring theme of a blue and melancholy vibe.
At the end of his life, he wants to return to the safety of someone’s affection. The most potent vision comes at the end:
You go with me everywhere
Like a shadow in the gloom
I remember all the good times
There’s a ghost in every room
You Are What I Am
Gordon Lightfoot’s song “You Are What I Am” was released on his album Old Dan’s Records in 1972.
A genuinely lively piece that stands out from the rest of his previous work, this is one of those songs that makes you feel genuinely in love, given that the song is about a man in love with a woman he sees himself in and how he is always happy when he is around her.
The House You Live In
The House You Live In adopts the welcome stranger folk tradition, adding a hopeful feel to the record.
One theme seems to be being open to having a rational discourse with anyone, regardless of what you’ve heard about them. The renowned troubadour tells us that love is the answer in this nearly sacred, exquisite song.
Hail, Hero! was Michael Douglas’ first film, and Gordon wrote the film’s title song. Gordon attended the Boston premiere of the film, which was a colossal flop.
However, the song has survived, and it appears that Mr. Douglas’ career has as well (he’s one of my favorite actors, by the way). The song eventually became more popular than the movie, earning Gordon even more fame.