By 1980, the man dubbed “Canada’s greatest songwriter” was about to release the fourteenth album of his career, Dream Sweet Rose. It was the first album Gordon Lightfoot had released since Endless Wire in January 1978. 

Endless Wire had reached number two in Canada, and number twenty-two in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in the second gold disc of Gordon Lightfoot’s fourteen year recording career. By then, Gordon Lightfoot was no stranger to commercial success and critical acclaim. It first came Gordon Lightfoot’s way when he signed to Reprise Records in 1970. Before that Gordon was signed to United Artists.

The United Artists Years.

Gordon Lightfoot’s solo career began when he signed to United Artists, where he released five albums. However, it took three albums before commercial success came Gordon’s way. Neither Gordon Lightfoot’s 1966 debut Lightfoot!, nor his 1967 sophomore album The Way I Feel charted. Gordon’s third album was a game changer.

When Gordon Lightfoot released Did She Mention My Name? in 1968, it reached number twenty-one in the Canadian charts. So did the followup Back Here On Earth when it was released in 1969. Later in 1969, Gordon released his live album Sunday Concert. Not only did it reach number twenty-one in Canada, but 143 in the US Billboard 200 charts. Not long after this, Gordon left United Artists and signed to Reprise Records. This was the start of the most successful period of his career.

The Reprise Years.

The Reprise Years began in 1970, and was the start of a period when commercial success and critical acclaim were familiar friends for Gordon Lightfoot. He released seven albums between 1970 and 1976.  The first of these was Sit Down Young Stranger.

Gordon Lightfoot’s Reprise Records debut album Sit Down Young Stranger, was released in April 1970. It reached number twelve in Canada and the US Billboard 200 charts. Soon, Sit Down Young Stranger was certified gold in America. That wasn’t surprising, as Sit Down Young Stranger featured two hit singles.

The lead single was Me and Bobby McGhee which reached number thirteen in Canada in 1970. Approaching Lavender then failed to chart. Then If You Could Read My Mind reached number one in Canada, and number five in the US Billboard 100. Having just released his first album for Reprise Records, Gordon had already enjoyed a number one single  It wouldn’t be the last.

Just over a year later, Gordon Lightfoot returned with Summer Side Of Life in May 1970. It reached number three in Canada and thirty-eight in the US Billboard 200 charts. Summer Side Of Life was Gordon’s most successful album in Canada. That was until he released Don Quixote.

It was the first of two albums Gordon Lightfoot released during 1972. The first was Don Quixote. On its release in February 1972, it reached number one in Canada; number forty-two in the US Billboard 200 charts and forty-four in the UK charts. Nine months later, Gordon returned with Old Dan’s Records in November 1972. Although it reached a disappointing ninety-five in the US Billboard 200 charts, Old Dan’s Records reached number one in Canada. This gave Gordon his second consecutive number one album. Soon, two would become three.

In January 1974, Gordon Lightfoot returned with Sundown. It reached number one Canada and in the US Billboard 200 charts. Across the Atlantic, Sundown reached forty-five in the UK. Meanwhile, in America Sundown had sold over a million copies, and Gordon received his first platinum disc. This wasn’t the end of the commercial success.

When Sundown was released as a single in 1974, it reached number one in Canada and the US Billboard 100. This resulted in a gold disc for Gordon Lightfoot as he celebrated his second number one in Canada. Gordon’s fusion of folk, country and rock had turned him into one of the most successful Canadian artists of the seventies. 

This run of commercial success and critical acclaim continued when Gordon Lightfoot released his eleventh album, Cold on the Shoulder in February 1975. On its release, Cold on the Shoulder reached number three in Canada, and number twelve in the US Billboard 200. The Reprise years were proving the most successful period of Gordon’s career. They were about to come to an end.

In June 1976, Gordon Lightfoot returned with Summertime Dream. It was not only the best album Gordon released on Reprise Records, but the most successful. Summertime Dream reached number one in Canada and number twelve in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in platinum discs in Canada and America. Then in November 1976, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald reached number one in Canada and number two in the US Billboard 100. Gordon had enjoyed his third Canadian number one, and the most successful album of his career. This was a fitting way to close the Reprise years.

The Warner Bros. Years.

Now signed to Warner Bros, Gordon Lightfood was keen to get his career at the his new label off to a good start. Things couldn’t have gone better. When Endless Wire was released in January 1978, it reached number two in Canada, and number twenty-two in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in Endless Wire being certified gold in America. Gordon had bookended the seventies with gold discs in America. Along with two platinum discs in America, and one in Canada, the seventies had been the most successful period of Gordon Lightfoot’s career so far. He must have wondered what the eighties held for him?

Gordon Lightfoot’s first album of the eighties was Dream Sweet Rose which was released in 1980. It’s part of a recent reissue. Recently, BGP Records have remastered and reissued Dream Sweet Rose, Shadows and Salute as a two CD set. They find Gordon Lightfoot as he’s about to embark upon a new period of his career.

Dream Sweet Rose.

Having watched as his Warner Bros’ debut Endless Wire sold over 500,000 copies in 1978, Gordon Lightfoot must have felt confident about the future. He was now one of the most successful Canadian artists. So far, Gordon had won sixteen Juno Awards in Canada; That’s not forgetting three gold, three platinum discs, plus number one singles and albums. The future looked bright for Gordon, as he began work on his first album of the eighties, Dream Sweet Rose.

Just like previous albums, Gordon Lightfoot wrote most of the songs himself. He penned nine of the ten songs. The exception was The Auctioneer, which had been written by Leroy Van Dyke and Buddy Black. It was the only cover on Dream Sweet Rose, which was recorded in L.A.

Recording of Dream Sweet Rose took place at November 1979 at WB Recording in Los Angeles. The studio was one of the first to pioneer digital recording, and Dream Sweet Rose was recorded digitally. For many members of Gordon Lightfoot’s band this was a new development.

Gordon Lightfoot’s band featured a rhythm section of drummer and percussionist Barry Keane and bassist Rick Haynes. They were joined by lead guitarist Terry Clements; Pee Wee Charles on pedal steel guitar and pianist and keyboardist Michael Omartian. This newly expanded band comprised some top musicians, and put all their experience to good use. So did Lenny Waronker and Russ Titelmab who co-produced Dream Sweet Rose with Gordon Lightfoot. They spent much of November 1979 recording what would be Gordon’s fourteenth album, Dream Street Rose.

Before the release of Dream Street Rose, critics had their say on  the album. Most of the reviews were positive, with critics noting that Dream Street Rose followed in the footsteps of 1976s Summertime Dream and 1978s Endless Wire. Again, there were a few seafaring songs, including Sea Of Tranquility, Ghosts Of Cape Horn and On The High Seas. However, this time around, Gordon Lightfoot and his band weren’t rocking as hard as they had on Summertime Dream and Endless Wire. 

Although there were still some uptempo country songs, they rubbed shoulders with thoughtful acoustic folk ballads and AOR. A welcome addition to Dream Sweet Rose was a song that had been a staple of Gordon’s live shows for many years, The Auctioneer. However, Gordon hadn’t got round to covering The Auctioneer until Dream Street Rose. It wasn’t an easy song to cover, but Gordon’s versatility allowed him to deliver a moving interpretation.  Despite this moving cover, some critics felt The Auctioneer seemed out of place on Dream Street Rose. On other songs, Gordon wears his heart on his sleeve as he  dawns the role of troubled and heartbroken troubadour on If You Need Me. It’s a role that suited him well, and showcased his versatility. Gordon it seemed was hoping that Dream Sweet Rose would reach a much wider audience.

On its release in 1980, Dream Sweet Rose reached number nine in Canada, and number sixty in the US Billboard. Compared to Endless Wire this was disappointing. However, Dream Sweet Rose proved popular in country music circles. It reached number nine in the Canadian RPM Top Albums charts; and number fifty-eight in the US Billboard Top Country Album charts.  When Dream Street Rose was released as a single, it reached number eight on the Canadian Country charts, before If You Need Me reached number twenty-one. This was a small crumb of comfort for Gordon.

It must have been a frustrating and disappointing, when Dream Street Rose didn’t match the success of his previous albums. Indeed, Dream Street Rose is a truly underrated album, and one of the hidden gems in Gordon Lightfoot’s back-catalogue. He must have been hoping that history didn’t repeat itself.



When recording of the followup to Dream Street Rose began, a familiar face was absent, Lenny Waronker. He had produced or co-produced every Gordon Lightfoot album since Sit Down Young Stranger in 1970. These nine albums were the most successful period of Gordon’s career. Replacing Lenny Waronker wasn’t going to be easy.

Having writing eleven new songs, a new chapter in Gordon Lightfoot’s career began at Eastern Sound, in Toronto. Gordon was joined by Ken Friesen, who would co-produce his fifteenth album Shadows. It was recorded during March, April and June of 1981. Joining Gordon was a band that featured familiar faces and new names.

This time around, the rhythm section drummer Barry Keane; bassists  Rick Haynes and Dennis Pendrith and guitarist Dean Parks and Patrick Miles.  Lead guitarist Terry Clements were percussionist Victor Feldman; Robbie Buchanan on synths; keyboardist Michael Heffernan who also added synth and Pee Wee Charles on steel guitar and dobro. Herb Pedersen added harmonies. Meanwhile, Gordon Lightfoot played guitar and added vocals. After three months of recording Shadows, Gordon’s new album was complete. Critics were in for a surprise.

When critics received their copies of Shadows, they realised that Gordon Lightfoot had decided to change direction. While his  previous albums often featured acoustic songs, Gordon decided to move away from this on Shadows. To do this, Gordon brought onboard various synths, keyboards and an electric organ. Another change was that Gordon moved away from the uptempo country songs that had featured on his last three albums. They were replaced by slower songs. Some of them showcased a softer, AOR sound. Others featured Gordon’s trademark country sound. It was a potent and heady brew.

Wistful and thoughtful ballads like 14 Karat Gold,  Shadows and All I’m After showcased Gordon Lightfoot’s new AOR sound. Then on Heaven Help The Devil, elements of country and AOR unite. One of Gordon’s best ballads is the soul baring Thank You For The Promises, where Gordon’s country roots shine through. That’s the case on the ballads Triangle and I’ll Do Anything. However, Gordon’s kept one of his best songs until last. She’s Not The Same is a beautiful, melancholy song where AOR and country combine. It’s the perfect way to close Shadows, as it leaves the listener wanting more. 

Despite the positive reviews from critics, when Shadows was released in January 1982, it reached just  number sixteen in the Canadian charts. This was Gordon Lightfoot’s least successful album since Sunday Concert in 1969. Meanwhile, Shadows stalled at eighty-seven in the US Billboard 200. It wasn’t since the release of Old Dan’s Records in November 1972, that a Gordon Lightfoot album found itself in the lower reaches of the charts. To make matters worse, the singles all failed to chart.

The lead single was Baby Step Back. Despite its quality, commercial success eluded the single in 1981. It was a similar case with Blackberry Wine and In My Fashion in 1982. This only added to what was already a worrying situation for Gordon Lightfoot. His career was at a crossroads. His next album was one of the most important of  Gordon Lightfoot’s career.



Eleven months after the release of Shadows, Gordon Lightfoot began recording his sixteenth album, Salute. By then, he had written ten new songs. They would become Salute, which saw Gordon continue further down the road marked AOR.

Recording of Salute began in December 1982 at Eastern Sound, in Toronto. By then, Gordon Lightfoot was in the throes of alcohol addiction, and had recently split from a partner. This made recording a new album difficult. Especially since Gordon had decided to bring onboard a  new co-producer. This time, it was  a familiar face, guitarist and synth player Dean Parks. He would co-produce Salute with Gordon Lightfoot, and was joined by smaller band.

While the band was slightly reduced in numbers, it was just as tight and versatile. There were many familiar faces, including the rhythm section. It featured drummer and percussionist Barry Keane and bassist Rick Haynes and Gordon who played rhythm guitar and added vocals. Lead guitarist Terry Clements ; pianist Michael Heffernan and Pee Wee Charles on steel guitar were all veterans of Gordon’s band. Newcomers included pianist Harlan Rodgers; Hadley Hockensmith who switched between bass and hi-string bass and .

Carol Parks who added harmonies. For three months, Gordon and his recorded laid down ten tracks. However, after three months of recording, Salute was completed in February 1983. Five months later, and Salute would be released.

Before critics had their say on Salute. It found Gordon Lightfoot continuing down the road marked AOR. This included the album opener Salute (A Lot More LIvin’ To Do). It’s a rocky track with a slick, polished, eighties production. So is Someone to Believe In and the mid-tempo Without You.  Gotta Get Away and the ballad Biscuit City mark a return to Gordon’s country roots. However, that’s only part of the story

Some of the best tracks on Salute are the ballads. Especially the folk-tonged Whispers Of The North, Knotty Pine and Tattoo. One of the best ballads is Romance which features lush strings. These ballads are tailor made for Gordon Lightfoot, and allow his vocal to take centre-stage. They’re among the highlights of what’s an eclectic sounding album, Salute. It closes with Broken Dreams, where elements of AOR, country and rock combine to create another slick, polished track. However, would Salute find favour with critics and record buyers.

Mostly, Salute received positive reviews. Alas, when the album was released in July 1983 it stalled at fifty-nine in Canada and 175 in the US Billboard 200. Salute became Gordon Lightfoot’s least successful album in Canada and  America. Things didn’t get any better when the singles were released. Neither Salute (A Lot More Livin’ To Do) nor Without You troubled the charts. It was official, Gordon’s career was at a crossroads.


While Gordon Lightfoot never again enjoyed the commercial success he enjoyed during the seventies, he continued to release albums. Indeed, when Gordon released East Of Midnight in July 1986, it reached 166 in the US Billboard 200 and thirty-seven in Canada. This was enough for a gold disc in Canada.  It looked as if things were improving for Gordon. However, he only ever released three more studio albums.

This included Waiting For You, which was released in April 1993. It reached twenty-four in Canada, and it looked as if Gordon Lightfoot was on his way back. Sadly, this was a false dawn. 

When A Painter Passing Through was released in 1998, it stalled at ninety-two in the Canadian charts. Six years later, Gordon Lightfoot returned with Harmony in May 2004. It reached number thirteen in the Canadian charts, and thirty-five in the US Indie charts. Although this was a far cry from the days Gordon’s albums sold over a million copies, it was Gordon’s most successful album in Canada since Dream Street Rose in 1980. However, Gordon didn’t rush to release another album.

His only new album has been All Live in April 2012. It reached number sixteen in the  Canadian charts, and meant that Gordon Lightfoot had enjoyed hit albums in six different decades. That was fitting for the man whose regarded as “Canada’s greatest songwriter” and a “folk-rock legend.” He gained this reputation during the most successful period of his career, the seventies. 

While Gordon Lightfoot didn’t enjoy the same commercial success after the seventies were over, he continued to write and record some wonderful music. This includes on Gordon Lightfoot’s first album of the eighties  Dream Sweet Rose. It  brought to a close a ten year period when Gordon Lightfoot could do no wrong. Sadly, this run of commercial success came to an end with Shadows. 

This just happened to be the album that saw Gordon Lightfoot change direction musically, and embark upon a new chapter in his career. Shadows found Gordon Lightfoot heading in the direction of AOR. He  continues further down this on Salute. However, he doesn’t turn his back on country and folk. As a result, Shadows and Salute are both eclectic albums, which show the different sides to Gordon Lightfoot. Sadly, neither Shadows nor Salute were particularly successful, and are two of the hidden gems in Gordon Lightfoot’s extensive back-catalogue. 

Recently, BGP Records’  reissued Dream Sweet Rose, Shadows and Salute as a two CD set. This is the perfect opportunity to discover a trio of albums that find Gordon Lightfoot as he changes direction and reinvents himself musically. These three albums show the different sides to “folk-rock legend “ and “Canada’s greatest songwriter” Gordon Lightfoot.



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