Listening to old songs is a great way to not only relive what were once faint memories but to further explore a time and place we actually lived through. We can even magnify the total experience by gleaning more knowledge in the present.
It’s almost psychoanalytic. But without having to put up with all the misunderstandings that can arise in the unnatural situation of paid-for analysis.
So yesterday I mentioned Gordon Lightfoot’s tune, “Early Morning Rain.” For Canadians who lived in this country during the 1960s, this is an important song.
Seems a few others around the world caught its relevance too. The song has been covered by some notables in the entertainment industry, and I’m still hoping Willie Nelson will give it a try (I adore Willie Nelson).
“Early Morning Rain” was released in 1966, making me a four-year-old. Nobody in our household bought the record but I must have heard it on the car radio. We took regular weekend trips during spring, fall and winter. And during summers on a remote island at Georgian Bay the radio was our only form of entertainment. That and books.
Those golden years passed by, and the next time I heard the song was at university. My girlfriend’s roommate had the album. Hearing it again just sparked a whole bunch of early memories. Vague, but intact. More emotional than situational. But very fond, all the same.
You can’t jump a jet plane
Like you can a freight train
So I best be on my way
In the early mornin’ rain
This was Canada in the 60s. Jet airplanes were a relatively new thing. And their symbolic importance for internationalism was, back then, as big as the internet is today. Suddenly we could get around the world in just a few hours. Amazing. Transforming. But also sad. Because we all knew it was ushering in a new age and saying farewell to an old one.
The hippies tried to resurrect the idea of rural bliss – essentially an urban fantasy about homesteading and farming life – but in reality, there was no turning back. Technology was here to stay. And so many were left behind like drunks in the early morning rain.
This ol’ airport’s got me down
It’s no earthly good to me
And I’m stuck here on the ground
As cold and drunk as I can be
Listening this time around was yet another new experience. With the Web, I was able to read up on the song and compare different versions by Lightfoot and also by other artists.
Elvis Presley’s take was most memorable. When I heard this I kept saying to myself, “What an amazing voice! Such control. Pure velvet!”
And it’s all true but I think whoever arranged the tune sort of missed the point.
The background sounds a bit like a Kentucky Fried Chicken ad or an old freight train comin’ down the line.
That Nashville sound.
It’s a lovely sound. A very American sound. But for me, it doesn’t work with this song.
This song isn’t about a freight train but about a jet plane. It’s the crux of a cold, technological future replacing a warm and loving past.
Oh well. You can’t expect everyone to get the song’s subtlety or its uniquely Canadian ambiance. Incongruous arrangement aside, Elvis’ outstanding vocal performance does make it worth listening to.
Neil Young – another Canadian – does a cover at Farm Aid. Neil’s version is competent but not too memorable. He starts off shaky and gets better pretty fast but still stares at the boards to remember the words. How much heart and soul can you put in a song if you have to read the lyrics while playing?
So went my thoughts yesterday as I heard this tune.
And now that I’ve written about it, “I best be on my way… in the early mornin’ rain.”