Chart Week: November 6, 1976
Song: “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” – Gordon Lightfoot
Chart Position: #3, 11th week on the chart. Peaked at #2 for two weeks.

This entry is cheating a little bit, as I’ve written about this song before. However, I heard not one but two countdowns last weekend that included it, so I take that as a sign from the Music Gods that they want me to share it again.

I first heard it on the weekly Sunday countdown, which was from this week in 1980. On that show, Casey shared it as an extra with some historical trivia. A little later in the day I heard this 1976 countdown, during which “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” was approaching its chart peak.

During the 1980 show Casey related the events of the actual sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975. Other than it being the fifth anniversary of the wreck, I’m not sure why he decided to drop a four-year-old song in the midst of the countdown. He told the audience that the day the EF sank – November 11 – was an especially deadly day in Great Lakes shipping history. A storm hit the lakes on November 11, 1930 and sunk five ships, killing 67 people. The biggest natural disaster to ever hit the lakes, 1913’s Big Blow, was in full-force on November 11. Its final toll was at least 12 ships and 254 people. He shared these facts in his usual jolly tone. Maybe he was just really into shipwrecks.

One reason I’ve shared this song before is because the former music teacher at St P used to play it for her students every year around the anniversary of the ship’s loss. The song had always been stuck in my head because of its unforgettable, haunting main guitar riff. But as the girls learned about the song, I read up about it while also paying attention to the lyrics. It floors me that Lightfoot could build such a magnificent narrative arc around a shipwreck. I especially love his sixth verse, where he describes each of the Great Lakes. Turning it into a pop hit was pretty amazing.

I’ve always thought it was cool that weird, old Mrs. K taught her kids about this song. I never knew why she did that. Was she from the Great Lakes and/or grew up around shipping? Did she just love the song when it was out? Regardless, she put it in my girls’ heads and brought it back to mine.