From yesterday’s all-knowing song by Leonard Cohen, we move to another song about knowledge, or imagined so, by a fellow Canadian. Though classified as easy listening, Lightfoot’s 1971 hit is far from simple, and its lyrics touch on complex feelings inspired by his divorce. Particularly eye-catching is his use of simile, opening up fantasy narratives, and leaping between escape and truth with an ending “just too hard to take”. There’s nothing easy about this, often though it sounds so in the music:
If you could read my mind love
What a tale my thoughts could tell
Just like an old time movie
About a ghost from a wishing well
In a castle dark or a fortress strong
With chains upon my feet
You know that ghost is me
And I will never be set free
As long as I'm a ghost you can see
If I could read your mind love
What a tale your thoughts could tell
Just like a paperback novel
The kind the drugstore sells
When you reach the part where the heartaches come
Come the hero would be me
Heroes often fail
And you won't read that book again
Because the ending's just too hard to take.
Echoing thoughts, and mind reading lead to another issue. Does something in the chorus sound familiar? Perhaps that’s why in 1987 Lightfoot took out a lawsuit against the writers of the song The Greatest Love of All (written by Michael Masser and lyrics by Linda Creed). It was originally recorded in 1977 by American singer and guitarist George Benson, and later by Whitney Houston. But Lightfoot later dropped the case because he felt that it was harming Houston, which wasn’t his intention.
The song has, with such a strong theme and melody, been covered by many other artists, including Barbra Streisand, Neil Young, Andy Williams, Johnny Mathis, Petula Clark, Jack Jones, Ultra Nate, Don Williams, Johnny Cash, Duane Steele, Don McLean, Kalan Porter, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, Olivia Newton-John, Liza Minnelli, Diana Krall, Sarah Maclachlan, Glen Campbell and Gene Clark.
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