My husband and I have pretty similar tastes in music across many decades of tunes. It is very rare that we will be listening to the music in the car or at home and come across a song on the radio which neither of us have heard — usually at least one of us knows every song. And most of the time when we come across an unknown song, it doesn’t really click with us within the first few measures and it’s onto the next song.
That wasn’t the case with “Sundown” by Gordon Lightfoot. We were driving home from dinner, taking the scenic backroads for a change of scenery. We were listening to a classic rock station and “Sundown” came on. Neither of us had heard the song, and we were about to switch to a different station because of that, but the song caught our attention. We just sat there, listening to the acoustic guitar and Gordon’s deep voice. Then the third line came in with a beautiful harmony, and we were both hooked.
I knew Gordon Lightfoot from “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” I was born and raised in Michigan, and the tragic story of the ship’s sinking in one of our Great Lakes is memorialized in this song. That song has a beautifully haunting melody with a bit of a sea chanty feel and had been the only Gordon Lightfoot song I could recall. After I heard “Sundown” I went through a phase of researching more songs by Gordon and then adding in other artists whose music evoked similar feels: America, Looking Glass, Seals & Croft, Cat Stevens.
A song has to capture my attention very quickly from its start, or I will likely never listen to it. It may not be the “right” way to listen to music, but that is my habit anyway. “Sundown” captured me in the beginning because the acoustic guitar was simple but had what I call a nice, round sound to it. Then Gordon starts to sing and I think the melody is catchy, and I absolutely love multi-part harmony. Two-part, five-part, I love them all. I think I hear a three-part harmony in this song, but I could be mistaken.
I am the type of person who likes a song first for the music, and lastly for the lyrics. I will like a song for the type of mood it evokes and only later ponder about the song’s meaning and what the musician was thinking about when writing lyrics. I couldn’t tell you what exactly Gordon was singing about in “Sundown.” When I hear the song, I picture a man talking to or about a woman who tries to make him stray from his current partner. He’s reminding her (or maybe even himself) that no good can come from spending time with this woman who’s creeping ‘round his back stairs.
My favorite lyric is, “Sometimes I think it’s a sin, when I feel like I’m winning but I’m losing again.” It makes me think about times in my life where I think everything’s going right and then I start feeling like something bad will happen soon, since everything in life can’t be right all the time. Which then makes me think of Alanis Morisette’s song “Ironic”…
In any case, if you like folksy, classical music from the likes of Gordon Lightfoot, America, etc. give this song a listen, and its beautiful melody and lyrics just may captivate you like it has me.
(Song recommendation by Kimberly Wolkens)