Gordon (Meredith) Lightfoot Noel Coppage - Essay

Noel Coppage

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

There is a literati in popular music, a group of people with refined musical taste, education, and judgment, and my contention that Gordon Lightfoot is at the head of it just keeps getting more plausible with every record he makes. Lightfoot imposes increasingly tougher standards upon himself, and his albums consistently add poetry to the mostly commercial form in which he works. In short, he keeps adding songs to that precious five or so per cent of everything new that is worth keeping.

Technically, his work is excellent; he's every bit the craftsman the old boys were before rock-and-roll made amateurish writing and performing the most profitable kind. Yet he is a folk artist in the sense that he works down among the people instead of in an ivory tower overlooking Broadway and Twenty-eighth Street (Tin Pan Alley, that is). He's relevant, accessible, and all that, working … in verses that deal with what really happens rather than what's supposed to in idealized boy-meets-girl fairy tales. And so his new "Summertime Dream" … is a remarkably direct, trimmed-down, person-to-person album, and it is running over with poetry.

Not the least of its achievements is that it manages—according to my grasp of the whole of it—to wish the other person well, to realize how complicated it is for all of us (most of us?) to confer more dignity, wish less guilt, lend a little encouragement. That's extremely hard to do without fawning or sounding stuffy; it's much easier to cheer our side and boo theirs. The songs have a variety of interior messages of their own, of course, and so many of them are superb that I hate to single out any. Never Too Close, though, with its sense of what to remember about a so-called "failed" relationship—"That is all right / We meant no one no harm"—and with the nice surprises in the way it is constructed, is hard to beat. Most of the songs talk in common language edited in that expert, subtle way that makes it elegant…. A man like Lightfoot, and an album like this, can cut through the cynicism we've understandably fortified ourselves with and show us the popular song can actually amount to something.

Noel Coppage, "Gordon Lightfoot's 'Summertime Dream': Running Over with Poetry," in Stereo Review (copyright © 1976 by Ziff-Davis Publishing Company), Vol. 37, No. 4, October, 1976, p. 87.