Well Written Rock Songs: Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (Gordon Lightfoot)

Song Name: Wreck of Edmund Fitzgerald

Artist: Gordon Lightfoot

Writer: Gordon Lightfoot

Album: Summertime Dream

Released: August 1976

Genre: Folk Rock and Soft Rock




I wanted to continue this series as it has been a long time since I did one of these. The first list, I put a number to them, which was a bad idea. These songs are good in their own right and should not be numbered. So for the continuation of this series, I will not number the songs but just review them.




Gordon Lightfoot is a legend of the Canadian folk and soft rock scene. He was born on November 17th, 1938 in Orillia, Ontario, Canada. He has been making music since about 1958. So he has been in the game for a while. Although he seems to have slowed down due to illness, his legacy is still very strong. 


He is known for such songs as Sundown, If You Could Read My Mind, and Carefree Highway. I could have picked any song from his repertoire but for this instalment, I wanted to look at the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.


The song is about the real life wreck of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald. The ship was one of the more popular ones that was known for transporting iron ore. It would normally travel over the great lakes and was known for blasting music over the ship's intercoms. This made it very popular with the boat watchers of the day. 


Then one day there were hurricane type winds and rain that hit the ship during one of its transports. We cannot be certain but it would seem that the ship was swamped and was hit hard and the structure would have weakened. As a result all 29 members of the ship perished and drowned in the wreckage. 


"The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald" - Lyrics

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty
[Former version:] That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
[Latter version:] That good ship and crew was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early

The ship was the pride of the American side
Coming back from some mill in Wisconsin
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
With a crew and good captain well seasoned
Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
Then later that night when the ship's bell rang
Could it be the north wind they'd been feelin'?

The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
When the wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the captain did too
'Twas the witch of November come stealin'
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the gales of November came slashin'
When afternoon came it was freezing rain
In the face of a hurricane west wind

When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck
Saying, "Fellas, it's too rough to feed ya."
[Former version:] At seven PM a main hatchway caved in
[Latter version:] At seven PM it grew dark, it was then
He said, "Fellas, it's been good to know ya."
The captain wired in he had water comin' in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when his lights went out of sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay
If they'd put fifteen more miles behind her
They might have split up or they might have capsized
They may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
In the rooms of her ice-water mansion
Old Michigan steams like a young man's dreams
The islands and bays are for sportsmen
And farther below, Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
With the gales of November remembered

[Former version:] In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed
[Latter version:] In a rustic old hall in Detroit they prayed
In the Maritime Sailors' Cathedral
The church bell chimed 'til it rang twenty-nine times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early




What makes this song great in my eyes? It is a great piece of storytelling. Gordon Lightfoot wrote this song shortly after reading an article about the wreck in a newspaper. 


The song itself is not written in the traditional pop way of a chorus with a hook. The music is pretty much the same throughout and you are listening to someone tell the story of the ship. It feels like your dad or uncle telling a story over the campfire. 


In addition to the storytelling aspect, you can feel the emotion in the song when Gordon recounts what happened on the ship. The song is about 6 minutes and 30 seconds but it does not feel drown out.


This has become a classic and you do hear it from time to time on the radio. Unfortunately, I do not think that it plays enough. You are more likely to hear Bon Jovi or Led Zeppelin. It is a shame, as not every song has to be a top 10 for it to be good. 


Having said that, because of this song, the 29 sailors / members of the Edmund Fitzgerald will never be forgotten. 


Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald - Gordon Lightfoot


What do you think? Do you like the song or do you not like it^ Let us know below. 


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