THE NEW YORK TIMES – Gordon Lightfoot, the Canadian folk singer who died on Monday at 84, had one hit in particular that famously defied Top 40 logic.
“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” his 1976 folk ballad, was unusual partly because, at more than six minutes long, it was about twice as long as most pop hits.
It also retold a real-life tragedy — the 1975 sinking on Lake Superior of a freighter with 29 crewmen aboard — with meticulous attention to detail.
“It’s a documentarian’s song, when you think about it,” said Eric Greenberg, a longtime friend of the singer who interviewed Mr. Lightfoot as a student journalist in the late 1970s and later co-wrote a song with him.
The plotline of a typical Top 40 hit usually consists of “boy meets girl, boy breaks up with girl, or come back, or you left me, or whatever,” Mr. Greenberg said, speaking by phone from New York City.
“Not a five-, six-, seven-minute story — a factual story, in Gordon’s case, painstakingly checked to make sure that all the facts are right.”
Here’s the true story that inspired “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” and a look at the song that kept its memory alive.
A disappearing ship
The Edmund Fitzgerald was a 729-foot ore carrier and one of the largest freighters on the Great Lakes when it left Superior, Wis., on Nov. 9, 1975, carrying iron pellets bound for Detroit.
The next day, the ship was caught in a storm with winds that averaged 60 to 65 miles an hour. Its captain reported 20- to 25-foot waves washing over the decks and water pouring in below deck through two broken air vents …