Back in the days when radio announcers had to play actual records and CDs (as opposed to high-powered hard drive playback systems), we all had a set of songs we treasured for their length. Long songs were necessary for bathroom breaks, smoke breaks and dashes to the kitchen to find something to eat. One of the most important for Top 40 and AC announcers was Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
At 6 minutes and 32 seconds (5:57 for the single edit), it saved many a DJ from biological embarassments. Lightfoot wrote the song after reading an article in Newsweek entitled “The Cruelest Month” which detailed the sinking of USS Edmund Fitzgerald, a Great Lakes freighter that sank in a storm on Lake Superior 40 years ago today.
The song was a massive hit in Canada, reaching #1 on the singles charts. In the US, it reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It even squeaked into the Top 40 in the UK.
While much of the song is historically accurate, Wikipedia points out some issues with the lyrical content. For example, the song says the ship was headed for Cleveland when in fact she was headed for Detroit. As for the old cook in the song, he wasn’t there. The ship’s regular cook was ill and was replaced on this voyage by a substitute.
Still, it’s a great bit of balladry told in 6/8 time.