How much do I like the music of Gordon Lightfoot? I can quantify. I have been listening to the folk singer for 42 years. I still have five of his vinyl LPs, and I now have eight of his albums on compact discs. The last number rose when I went on a minor eek-they-are-going-to-stop-making-CDs buying spree. Among the titles I purchased to fill in my collection of Lightfoot in his prime was Summer Side of Life, which I had heard but never personally owned. Because it was less familiar to me, it was like finding a new Lightfoot album, and I have listened to it numerous times in the past two months.
While there were many great songs in Lightfoot's early period, he garnered more attention between 1970 and 1976, when he issued an album a year. Summer Side of Life came out in 1971, right between If You Could Read My Mind (1970) and Don Quixote (1972). I don't remember any of the tracks from the 1971 collection getting much radio airplay. Lightfoot wrote all the songs. Some listeners might remember "Talking in Your Sleep" which has the same love-gone-wrong feel as "If You Could Read My Mind," one of Lightfoot's most replayed songs on oldies radio. "Cotton Jenny" was a hit for Anne Murray, but most baby boomers probably never heard Lightfoot's rendition.
The singer/songwriter and his long-standing band showed much versatility on Summer Side of Life. "10 Degrees & Getting Colder" is a good down-on-my-luck-on-the-road song. "Miguel" is a Mexican border ballad that may remind some listeners to Marty Robbins' "El Paso." "Redwood Hill" is sort of country swing. "Nous Vivons Ensemble" and "Cabaret" are ambitious art songs, such as Judy Collins would have sung at the time. It is all good listening and representative of a great musical career.
Lightfoot, Gordon. Summer Side of Life. Warner Brothers, 1971.