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Song review: Gordon Lightfoot

Don’t worry — I’m not going into vivid detail on Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. That’s because others have done it for me. (And here’s another analysis, this one more technical.

This song shows the difference between a great storyteller and a hack. Consider the one line: “The lake it is said never gives up her dead when the skies of November turn gloomy.” That sounds like some old wives’ tale, but it’s actually based on fact. (Alert: Mildly gruesome material ahead.) Bodies do not rise to the surface under conditions such as the storm that took the Fitzgerald.

So Lightfoot took one bizarre scientific fact and turned it into poetry. Brilliant. And a perfect example of why I realized sometime in college that I could practice guitar until my hands fell off, but I’d never be a great songwriter.

Of course, I could also practice drums all day and never play the fill from ZZ Top’s LaGrange. Some things require the right mix of talent and alcohol.

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Song review: Big Country

Surprise! I’m not reviewing the song that shares the band’s name (In A Big Country) or even the underrated Fields of Fire. Today’s song was released roughly 12 years after the band’s brief U.S. heyday. It’s called God’s Great Mistake.

The lyrics might not break any new ground here in the genre of socially relevant music that U2 perfected. The band laments the violence that permeates our supposedly free society and tosses in perhaps the most overt Christian reference in its repertoire. (IIRC, Big Country, Simple Minds, Midnight Oil and U2 itself all professed a certain degree of faith. U2 even had to fight off the “Christian Rock” label at one point.)

The funny thing about this song is this: It rocks. Forget the guitars-as-bagpipes sounds you remember. They turned up the guitars to 11 for this one and let drummer Mark Brzezicki (who had been out of the band for a few years) cut loose.

This is one of several good songs I’ve heard from their 1995 album Why The Long Face?, though allmusic.com seems underwhelmed. The others include the sentimental Take You To The Moon and a portrait of drug addiction called You Dreamer. This album is also their penultimate full studio release if I’m counting correctly; 1999’s Driving to Damascus is critically acclaimed but apparently not in Launch.com’s playlist. Stuart Adamson, sadly, took his own life a couple of years later.

I’ll admit to being a little angry that I had to turn to Launch to hear music from the mid-90s that commercial radio abandoned in the mid-80s. Aerosmith has no trouble getting airplay for its tired retreads of the songs that sustained their late 80s comeback, but Big Country and many other 80s bands you could name (The Cure jumps to mind) weren’t played at all.

Their loss. And enough reason to explore Launch, XM, cable radio and any other alternatives.