I just heard that the Canadian singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot passed away yesterday, and before I continue, I should mention that Rick Beato live streamed a great retrospective about Lightfoot at Gordon Lightfoot 1938-2023 R.I.P. Having said that, I am sure few people who were born after 1980 have ever heard of Lightfoot, which is because his type of songwriting has long-since passed from popularity. By way of explanation, way back in the 1970s, there was a style of songwriting that was more of storytelling, and several artists - like modern-day troubadours - made this genre very popular. Here are a few artists to illustrate what I mean:
I recognize that this singer/songwriter style is no longer in vogue, nor has been for several decades. Listening to songs from that time period illustrates how much the styles of instrumentation and production have not aged gracefully through the years.
Returning to Gordon Lightfoot, he had a unique style of storytelling that I believe set him apart from his peers. He will often be remembered for his story-based songs like Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald, though I'd like to suggest that he should be better remembered for songs like If You Could Read My Mind, which is a love song from Lightfoot to his wife as he tries to put his emotions into words as their marriage crumbles. Rick Beato recorded an excellent analysis of If You Could Read My Mind three years ago, in which he delves into the sheer musical brilliance that underpinned the arrangement. Lightfoot's use of 7th, 9th, and 11th chords - both on the vocals and instrumentation - added to the overall melancholy of the piece. Sadly, I cannot recall a recent musical offering with so many rich musical textures and lyrics within a single song.
Of course, I realize that all art is subjective; I like Renoir and my wife likes Van Gogh, while my oldest daughter likes Jackson Pollack and I think his artwork looks like something a four-year-old would do. Nevertheless, when it comes to music, people can fret and fume and think that I sound like some old guy who is pining for the past, but these days I often think that just about anyone with a rhyming dictionary could put together what passes for song lyrics. The singer/storyteller has faded into the sunset, much like the protagonists in the songs they once wrote.
Another honorable mention in the singer/songwriter/storyteller genre that I'd like to make is Michael Martin Murphey, who wrote 1975 hit Wildfire. That song has an odd personal association for me, because that song was still popular around the time that I was getting ready to graduate from high school in the early 1980s. I often played guitar with a drummer who had already graduated; he had auditioned to play the drums for Murphey, who needed a guitarist for some shows. My friend had suggested my name, but I passed on the audition/gig since I didn't think that my dad would have let me ditch parts of my senior year to go on tour. (My dad later said that he wouldn't have cared.)
UPDATE: This post is one of several that I had written that I later discovered had never been set to "public."