This Song Didn’t Reach Number One, But Did Reach Two, And That Baffles Me…

This Song Didn’t Reach Number One, But Did Reach Two, And That Baffles Me…
Painting by WIlliam Ramsdell 2013
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“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” has got to be one of the most boring songs ever written. Did people really love this song when it first came out?

In July of 2018, Drake broke a Beatles record by having seven top ten hits in the Billboard Hot 100 in the same week, besting The Beatles, five. Why do I say this? It is to point out that the Billboard Hot 100 has been around forever. (Well, not forever but since 1958.) Almost since it’s inception it has been the industry standard for determining the most popular song in the United States for a given week.

The chart is littered with high charting songs that are pretty baffling, but to me “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” takes the cake.

For the most part, I think I know a bit about popular music and the history of pop music. As a teen, I spent most of my free time–countless hours–looking up bands and trading cassette tapes with my friends. In the months before I turned sixteen, I went to the Sam Goody in the local mall every few weeks and spoke to the manager, letting her know of my interest in a position as soon as I was old enough. (This was back in 1998 when music stores were still a thing.)

The persistence paid off and was immediately hired after my birthday. One of the things I was asked to do on my first day along with the standard paperwork, was to take a forty question multiple-choice quiz so that the management staff could gauge how much I knew about music.

A photo of one of the last operating Sam Goody locations.
Photo Credit – Mike Kalasnik, Flickr

Man, I miss Sam Goody, and Tower, and even you Coconuts…

I only missed one question. The only one I got wrong was about what genre Yo Yo Ma was. I guessed rap. That was wrong…

Yo Yo Ma playing the Chelo
Photo Credit – U.S. Department of State Flickr

How was I supposed to know he wasn’t a rapper. His damn name is YO YO MA. It was the 90’s, it made sense.

So for the most part I know my music, but we all have gaps. For me, in one of those gaps was Gordon Lightfoot’s unlikely 1976 hit, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Then, one day a couple of years ago the song was mentioned by former NFL quarterback and current college football coach, Jim Harbaugh, during an interview on The Dan Lebatard Show. Harbaugh said it was his favorite song, to the befuddlement of the radio hosts. I immediately decided I needed to investigate this musical gap. This is the song:

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Pretty dull, right? And not only that, on top of that this singsongy folk tune clocks in at almost seven minutes! Was this just played when disc jockeys in the 1970s needed to poop? For the entire duration of the song neither the tempo or melody really change, it just drolls on.

What Was The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald?

The Edmund Fitzgerald was a real ship, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, to be more exact. The ship was first launched in 1958 and spent its years until sinking in the American Great Lakes region. On November 10th, 1975 the ship was caught in a brutal storm in Lake Superior, featuring massive waves. The ship sank in the middle of the night while trying to outrun the storm, killing all 29 crew members. If you would like more information about the history of the ship and its unfortunate demise you can take a look here, or you can watch (or rewatch) the lyric video for Lightfoot’s song. The lyrics of the song detail much of what happened to the ship, which is perhaps why the song is on the longer side.

So, I Find the Song Boring, But Some People Must Enjoy it, Right?

While the song is not my cup of tea, it must have resonated somewhere. These are some of the comments from the Youtube video.

One user writes in the top comment:

I was a combat medic in veitnam in 69. I now have pending terminal bone cancer. Gords songs helped me to cope and reajust. I live near lake superior, and go there often. This song gives me solace to look at the reality of how we have to eventually face our own death with honor and dignity. I have been very close to many forms of death in its manner of being. This song comforts me in the unusual sense of completion. Thank you gordon for all you have done for all of us with your music. From the silence of the north.

Damn. Some ultra heavy stuff about that person and his sentiments regarding the song.

Another user writes:

Yesterday at our school, the highschool and middle school came together to sing this song. We do It every year on the day that the ship sank. That was the first time I had participated in singing that song. Somewhere in the middle of the song I stopped singing and just listened to the beautiful voices of the people around me. I got chills listening to the song and almost cried. I realized how much meaning the lyrics had. That was the 25th time they had sang the song in a row… Annually.

Here is the song sung by a chorus. I couldn’t find a school chorus to accurately reflect what the user above mentioned, but this will give an idea as to what the song sounds like with a chorus:

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And this last person writes:

When I listen to this so does my whole apartment complex

So we have people listening to the song voluntarily, and then some who aren’t…

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Steven Richard

Steven Richard is the publisher here at Unruly Stowaway. He has written a memoir which will be released one day.

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