Tuesday, June 23, 2015

One Golden Album

I have strong reason to believe that the first album I ever heard was Gordon Lightfoot’s 1975 compilation album, Gord’s Gold. And that makes me very happy. According to my parents, around the time I was born, one of the only cassettes they played regularly was Gord’s Gold. If it was not the first album I ever heard (unlikely), then it is definitely the one I have listened to for the longest.

If I were to rank my favorite Canadian musical artists, I would be hard-pressed to come up with someone higher on my list than Gordon Lightfoot. Although I listen to them from time to time, I’m not the biggest fan of either Arcade Fire or Rush. For me, Gordon even leads Neil Young in the category of prolific Canadian folk artists. I just find Gordon Lightfoot to be incredibly authentic and all-around enjoyable. Unfortunately, he is often underrepresented in folk music discussions.

As with the most talented folk artists, Gordon Lightfoot has the ability to tell incredible stories with his songs. He ranges from heartbreaking to uplifting, but the captivating narratives always feel honest and true. Some of his very best stories are displayed on this collection1. “Song for a Winter’s Night” makes the listener feel like riding through a snow-covered woods. The seven-minute epic “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” chronicles the history and importance of the railroad spreading across the continent. My personal favorite, “Steel Rail Blues,” tells the tragic tale of a person who cannot seem reconnect with his love.

Usually I’m not the biggest proponent of greatest hits albums. They may range from offensive to tolerable, and not worth owning on the whole. I feel that listening to individual tracks takes away from the overall listening experience, and often the so-called “greatest” tracks overshadow some truly great songs tucked away on a lesser-known album. But I thoroughly enjoy Gord’s Gold so much that it still gets fairly often airtime in my CD player. That is not to take anything away from his studio albums, which are very good. I just stick with what I know best, and Gordon’s hits collection is what I’ve grown up knowing.

I have bought this album five times on three different mediums--and every single one has suffered a tragic demise. Two cassettes unspooled, forever ruining one of my stereos. One CD that I purchased (new) has an unexplainable skip during “Minstrel of the Dawn.” The other CD had a staple through the disc that was intended to hold the liner notes together. And a groove on my LP version has an infinite loop on side B. It must be a sign, but it won’t stop me from picking up new copies.

For a greatest hits album, Gord’s Gold is remarkably thorough. The songs function as an album as a whole, rather than a collection of unrelated songs. This is due, in part, to the fact that many of the songs were re-recorded for the new release, so there is a level of consistency throughout the pieces. Released in 1975, the album encapsulates his early career, which is probably his best material. While a second volume of his greatest hits, released over a decade later, was hampered by some forgettable numbers, there is not a bad song on the first volume of Gord’s Gold.

As it is famously proclaimed on the front cover, this was a “2 record set on 1 specially-priced disc.” I think this is a telling description: the album is long without feeling tedious. It is over seventy minutes long, and it is the perfect type of anthology to put on for a stretch of time. I recommend tracking down the song “Affair on Eighth Avenue,” a song missing from the CD release, for the full experience. This is the kind of album where even shuffling for a dozen or so songs is a wonderful time.

One of my favorite memories from college was belting every word to Gord’s Gold late at night with a friend. I certainly don’t do that with many albums. That should be a clue of the power of the Canadian musical genius, Gordon Lightfoot.

1 Perhaps Lightfoot’s best-known tale, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” is absent in this collection. It was released the next year.