The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald...

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...was a song by Gordon Lightfoot released in 1976. I just wrote a piece about this song for a friend's 'zine...does it mean anything to you?

Mark, Monday, 1 April 2002 00:00 (twenty years ago) link

It means a lot to me. I remember hearing it on the radio in Michigan in '76 and it seemed like our state song or something (Gord is Canadian, I know.) The mystery of the big lake the Chippewa called Gitche gave me chills! Still does, actually.

Mark, Monday, 1 April 2002 00:00 (twenty years ago) link

It's GRATE, obviously. I have to say that, or have my citizenship revoked. There's an amazing cover version of this done by the Rheostatics on the Melville album, and a slightly flawed but still good version on their live album. It's not surprising that it seems like the Michigan state song, because Gitchee Gumee is Lake Superior, and if I remember correctly, you have a shipwreck museum just on your side of the lake, near the narrows.

Sean Carruthers, Monday, 1 April 2002 00:00 (twenty years ago) link

First folk-song-esque thing I heard via my father - thinking about it gives me the shivers, despite not having heard it since I was around eight or so. Does Lightfoot's version have bells in it (via the "bells they chimed twenty-nine times" or whatever"), or am I hallucinating lyrical content into the music?

Ess Kay, Monday, 1 April 2002 00:00 (twenty years ago) link

No bells on Lightfoot's version, no. But that was a clear, strong image.

Mark, Monday, 1 April 2002 00:00 (twenty years ago) link

I think it's "if the bell jangled twice it rang twenty-nine times" -- yeah I remember that catchy cuplet.

The cook says "well lads it's been nice to know you" -- I think it's spooky because the ending is a forgone conclusion for the crew and so here are these guys between life and death not expecting rescue and pondering the inevitable -- the whole song is a meditation on those last few minutes and what it felt like -- a rare country song I can claim to be moved by.

Anybody heard The Bee Gees' "Odessa" ? one of their tragedy songs about a ship going down, a sailor stuck on an iceburg going crazy carving away at the ice and imagining his wife back home taking up with the vicar. Not so moving, but heavily orchestrated and being the Bee Gees in '69 at the height of their first exposure to fame, groupies, drugs, a very surreal weird song -- does a good instrumental evocation of the sounds of the sea and the cold.

But back to Edmund Fitzgerald. It uses that "this is a true story" (I don't know) thing which always means the song gets taken more intensely to the listeners heart, even if you could call that vicarious snuff. That camraderie in the crew of the doomed -- the inevitable -- the song deliberately goes slightly too long, like when you know it's coming, minutes would turn into hours.

would make a great nautical shanty for that final cruise down the River Styx

George Gosset, Monday, 1 April 2002 00:00 (twenty years ago) link

is this the one that mentions davie jones' locker? lord, i used to lsiten to that as a young un - it was probably on my first radio tape

Queen G, Monday, 1 April 2002 00:00 (twenty years ago) link

true story

mark s, Monday, 1 April 2002 00:00 (twenty years ago) link

Wonderful song, wonderfully covered by the Rheostatics and Dandy Warhols. Now if only those tools who mangled Sundown had been listening...

Mr Noodles, Monday, 1 April 2002 00:00 (twenty years ago) link

I remember hearing it while on the way to pick my grandparents up at the airport. I was probably six or seven and it was the anniversary of the wreck. The weather was awful dreary and windy that day, which made me feel a lot less safe.

Andy K, Monday, 1 April 2002 00:00 (twenty years ago) link

No wonder it was bad weather if it was the anniversery of the wreck, Andy. The gales of November came early once again.

Do you ever find yourself near the sailors' maritime cathedral? It's in some musty old hall in Detroit, apparently. ;)

Mark, Monday, 1 April 2002 00:00 (twenty years ago) link

Paul, Monday, 1 April 2002 00:00 (twenty years ago) link

seven months pass...
Remember NRBQ played this during a show in the early 80s in Rhode Island. Terry Adams read the lyrics from a sheet of paper, pretending he was falling asleep while the band plodded behind him and the crowd hooted and hollered.
Then they left the stage to thunderous applause and came back for an encore. They promptly started up the song again. This time boos.

Jim McGaw, Thursday, 21 November 2002 19:55 (nineteen years ago) link

one year passes...

Mark (MarkR), Saturday, 28 August 2004 17:13 (seventeen years ago) link

in a sea of weed/ where everyone/ would love to drown

dave q, Saturday, 28 August 2004 17:17 (seventeen years ago) link

It's a great song - I'm going to put it on in a minute, I think...

Kevin Gilchrist (Mr Fusion), Saturday, 28 August 2004 17:20 (seventeen years ago) link

I knew was going to be a Mark R. thread!

scott pl. (scott pl.), Saturday, 28 August 2004 17:21 (seventeen years ago) link

Great track, but wouldn't even be in my top 20 all-time Lightfoot tracks. I've never been entirely sure why it's SO highly rated.

For instance, as far as Lightfoot's epic history/storytelling songs go, I think "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" is far, far better.

Barry Bruner (Barry Bruner), Saturday, 28 August 2004 17:26 (seventeen years ago) link

It's a good song, but sheesh. Just seeing the name of this song on the "New Answers" page just completely erased whatever was in my head at the time, and now it's just going to be this song on the brain for the next week.

Pleasant Plains (Pleasant Plains), Saturday, 28 August 2004 17:34 (seventeen years ago) link

I've always liked it, but that's partly because it's got a bit of personal resonance. I remember the night of the actual storm in question, as a 3rd grader whose town was on the actual east shore of "the lake that they call Gitche Gumee."

Myonga Von Bontee (Myonga Von Bontee), Sunday, 29 August 2004 00:56 (seventeen years ago) link

When I bought the album in '76 or '77, I didn't know that this was a true story. I'm not sure where or when I learned the difference.

jim wentworth (wench), Sunday, 29 August 2004 01:30 (seventeen years ago) link

five years pass...

bumping for the anniversary of the wreck

"fellas it's been good to know ya"

some trustifarian junkie moron (dan m), Tuesday, 10 November 2009 16:18 (twelve years ago) link

I almost started a huge fight with my wife a few years ago because she said she'd never heard of this song. Fortunately, I realized just before things really kicked off that I was trying to start a massive argument about Gordon Lightfoot and the sheer ludicrousness of the situation made me stop.

a Barbie-like nub where he provates should be (HI DERE), Tuesday, 10 November 2009 16:23 (twelve years ago) link

Great song but can't help but make me think of that Robyn Hitchcock song, "The Wreck Of The Arthur Lee"

I Poxy the Fule (Tom D.), Tuesday, 10 November 2009 16:25 (twelve years ago) link

Speaking of whom: Ridiculous On-Stage, Between Song Banter

Bloggers Might Ride (James Redd and the Blecchs), Tuesday, 10 November 2009 16:27 (twelve years ago) link

joygoat, Tuesday, 10 November 2009 16:41 (twelve years ago) link

It's hard for me to just think about this song simply in terms of being "just" a song. Growing up on the shores of Superior, the story of the wreck came back around at this time every year. There were a lot of old timers around who worked on the lake and remembered the day, and the weather is frequently as all-consumingly shitty as it was the day the ship went down.

some trustifarian junkie moron (dan m), Tuesday, 10 November 2009 16:49 (twelve years ago) link

if you're in the midwest/rust belt states you should drink some of this:

mark cl, Tuesday, 10 November 2009 16:51 (twelve years ago) link

The song charted in November of 1976, which is just after my very first vague memories of life, and you'd hear it on the radio all the time every November after. It was a pretty huge childhood memory for me and everyone within a couple years in age, to the point that when I was a kid I thought it sank about ten miles from my house instead of 300 or so east.

I miss driving out to the lake on horrible days in November just to be in awe of how scary it can be.

joygoat, Tuesday, 10 November 2009 17:04 (twelve years ago) link


henry s, Tuesday, 10 November 2009 18:06 (twelve years ago) link

one year passes...

35 years ago today

Mark, Wednesday, 10 November 2010 14:27 (eleven years ago) link

Lightfoot; such a classic. I live in WI and the song gives me chills every time I hear it. One of the greatest narratives in song I can think of.

frogbs, Wednesday, 10 November 2010 14:57 (eleven years ago) link

just saw this on fb!

amazing imo

fwiw: lol iirc sb'd u tbqh (dan m), Wednesday, 10 November 2010 18:14 (eleven years ago) link

The song charted in November of 1976, which is just after my very first vague memories of life, and you'd hear it on the radio all the time every November after. It was a pretty huge childhood memory for me and everyone within a couple years in age...

― joygoat, Tuesday, November 10, 2009 9:04 AM (1 year ago) Bookmark

in '76 i wasn't quite new to the world, but was new to america & american radio. this song made a similarly strong impression on me, (along with "bohemian rhapsody", "play that funky music" and "50 ways to leave your lover", each for different reasons). have heard it rarely in the last couple decades, probably just a small handful of times, usually in early november, but i'm always riveted through the end. one of the greatest story songs i've ever heard. i want to say that lightfoot deserves a lot more credit than he often gets, but i don't know his catalog, other than the hits.

buttholes version is cool, but never quite takes off. would have loved to hear gibby drop a couple verses.

naked human hands and a foam rubber head (contenderizer), Wednesday, 10 November 2010 18:41 (eleven years ago) link

classic and despite following a folky storyteller type formula, somehow unique. bet Billy Joel wishes he wrote it.

Kim, Wednesday, 10 November 2010 18:54 (eleven years ago) link

one year passes...


fellas, it's been good to know ya

bomb.gif (dan m), Thursday, 10 November 2011 13:19 (ten years ago) link

nine months pass...

It's not November yet, but man is this making the hairs on my neck prickle tonight. It's just so icy - between the sad searing sweep of the lead guitar part and the otherwise subdued, gentle arrangement there's a whole span of the bleakness and tragedy of the situation. Also worth noting that Lightfoot doesn't go for any of the obvious chances to really open up on the vocals - - could easily imagine him belting out the last lines of the verses ("Fitz-gerAAAAALLLLLD!") but the verse just wraps and moves along. Somehow keeps the temperature just where it needs to be.

Doctor Casino, Sunday, 2 September 2012 05:27 (nine years ago) link

two months pass...

Crew of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Michael E. Armagost 37 3rd Mate
Frederick J. Beetcher 56 Porter
Thomas D. Bentsen 23 Oiler St.
Edward F. Bindon 47 1st Asst. Engineer
Thomas D. Borgeson 41 Maintenance Man
Oliver J. Champeau 41 3rd Assistant Engineer
Nolan S. Church 55 Porter
Ransom E. Cundy 53 Watchman
Thomas E. Edwards 50 Second Assistant Engineer
Russell G. Haskell 40 Second Assistant Engineer
George J. Holl 60 Chief Engineer
Bruce L. Hudson 22 Deck Hand
Allen G. Kalmon 43 Second Cook
Gordon F. MacLellan 30 Wiper
Joseph W. Mazes 59 Special Maintenance Man
John H. McCarthy 62 First Mate
Ernest M. McSorley 63 Captain
Eugene W. O'Brien 50 Wheelsman
Karl A. Peckol 20 Watchman
John J. Poviach 59 Wheelsman
James A. Pratt 44 Second Mate
Robert C. Rafferty 62 Steward
Paul M. Riippa 22 Deck Hand
John D. Simmons 63 Wheelsman
William J. Spengler 59 Watchman
Mark A. Thomas 21 Deck Hand
Ralph G. Walton 58 Oiler
David E. Weiss 22 Cadet
Blaine H. Wilhelm 52 Oiler

dansplaining (dan m), Sunday, 11 November 2012 00:13 (nine years ago) link

And all that remains is the faces and the names / of the wives and the sons and the daughters.

Incredible song. I doubt I ever heard it but once, maybe, before I moved to Ohio. And somehow being around people who knew the Great Lakes firsthand really clicked it into place for me. Can't think of very many other songs based on a real-life tragedy that so well balance the banality of it all with a real honoring of the dead. It's not exploitative and it's not bombastic, but nor does it dial things down so much that it loses the essential fact of a bunch of working people who died for no good reason, whose families never got to see them again. It's sincere, I think.

And man, that guitar part.

Doctor Casino, Sunday, 11 November 2012 01:28 (nine years ago) link

three years pass...

Some of you guys might dig this one. This cover is by the Down-Fi which features Craig Bell from Rocket from the Tombs (and others) on vocals and bass.

earlnash, Saturday, 2 July 2016 04:01 (six years ago) link

four years pass...

as the big freighters go, it was bigger than most

mookieproof, Tuesday, 10 November 2020 22:56 (one year ago) link


henry s, Tuesday, 10 November 2020 23:02 (one year ago) link

Saw this really cool site put together with more about the story, timeline and context:

soaring skrrrtpeggios (jon /via/ chi 2.0), Tuesday, 10 November 2020 23:08 (one year ago) link


Was playing this earlier today and when I heard this I was thinking about the poll we did about how Robert Plant thinks "Darlene" is pronounced.

soaring skrrrtpeggios (jon /via/ chi 2.0), Tuesday, 10 November 2020 23:10 (one year ago) link

In case you were wondering, the ship Edmund Fitzgerald was named after a president of the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company of Milwaukee

— Michigan's Past (@MichiganHist) November 10, 2017

I want to change my display name (dan m), Tuesday, 10 November 2020 23:14 (one year ago) link

Ever since my first trip to UP a couple years ago and a stop at Whitefish Point, I've found myself thinking about this more and more often and playing the song every year on November 10th. Actually reading a book about shipwrecks on the Great Lakes right now!

soaring skrrrtpeggios (jon /via/ chi 2.0), Tuesday, 10 November 2020 23:16 (one year ago) link


i think this may be a canadianism, although i'm not sure why

mookieproof, Tuesday, 10 November 2020 23:18 (one year ago) link

totally a Canadianism, you get real used to it watching Wings games on CBC

I want to change my display name (dan m), Tuesday, 10 November 2020 23:22 (one year ago) link

lol my main example is penguins color guy bob errey

mookieproof, Tuesday, 10 November 2020 23:23 (one year ago) link

totally a canadianism, Mickey Redmond has been dropping that pronunciation for decades on Red Wings broadcasts

henry s, Tuesday, 10 November 2020 23:36 (one year ago) link

it's really too bad Gordon Lightfoot couldn't have worked the Canadianism of “organization” into the lyrics

I want to change my display name (dan m), Wednesday, 11 November 2020 00:15 (one year ago) link

pulled the record out of the shelf today and the sleeve was so busted up the vinyl fell right through. a fitting tribute

frogbs, Wednesday, 11 November 2020 04:36 (one year ago) link

Laura Cantrell covered the song.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 11 November 2020 13:13 (one year ago) link

There are good things about the song but its length and the depressing repetitiveness of the melody make it approach dudness

mouts and shurmurs (Ye Mad Puffin), Wednesday, 11 November 2020 13:18 (one year ago) link

hold on now

frogbs, Wednesday, 11 November 2020 14:34 (one year ago) link

Waiting til the day after to post that kind of challops, can't decide if it's respectful or cowardly

I want to change my display name (dan m), Wednesday, 11 November 2020 14:36 (one year ago) link

this song is perfect, end of sentence end of paragraph

frogbs, Wednesday, 11 November 2020 14:36 (one year ago) link

45 years ago the SS Arthur M. Anderson was trailing the #EdmundFitzgerald before it sank in an intense storm. Tonight, it entered the Duluth canal in a snowstorm. It had to make a second go at the entry due to low visibilities from the snow. #wx

— NWS Duluth (@NWSduluth) November 11, 2020

thought this was cool to see last night

soaring skrrrtpeggios (jon /via/ chi 2.0), Wednesday, 11 November 2020 15:00 (one year ago) link

one of the few sings that literally makes my neck-hairs stand up

henry s, Wednesday, 11 November 2020 15:09 (one year ago) link

one year passes...

Listening to this again, and came across a semi-recent uptempo cover from the Headstones - guessing they're one of those "world famous in Canada" groups like the Rheostatics/Tragically Hip?

etc, Friday, 5 August 2022 01:48 (one week ago) link

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