30 Sad Songs no 18. If You Could Read My Mind – Gordon Lightfoot

Gordon-Lightfoot1I was about ten when this song came out. It was a big hit in the UK, so it was on Radio 1 all the time, and I remember that the lyrics about ghosts in wishing wells, castles dark and fortresses strong made a big impression on me. There was a lot of this kind of stuff  around in the early 70s: beautiful melancholy tunes, haunting lyrics, things like Horse with No Name. If You Could Read My Mind has lasted better than any of them, and I still listen to it a lot. What I didn’t realise at the tender age of ten was that the song is really about the bitterness and isolation that comes when a relationship ends, and the key lines aren’t the big imagistic ones but the very simple ‘I never thought I would feel this way’ stuff. Gordon Lightfoot is one of those artists who got swallowed up in a sort of middle-of-the-road hell, but there’s much more to him than that. And it’s a testament to how great this song is that it’s spawned two fantastic disco cover versions (Viola Wills and Stars on 54) that are just as melancholy as the folky original.

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