Canadian Railroad Trilogy
|"Canadian Railroad Trilogy"|
|Single by Gordon Lightfoot|
|from the album The Way I Feel|
|Recorded||1966 (rerecorded 1975)|
|Length||6:22 (rerecorded 7:04)|
|Gordon Lightfoot singles chronology|
This song was commissioned from Lightfoot by the CBC for a special broadcast on January 1, 1967, to start Canada's Centennial year. It appeared on Lightfoot's The Way I Feel album later in the same year along with the song "Crossroads," a shorter song of similar theme. The structure of the song, with a slow tempo section in the middle and faster paced sections at the beginning and end, was patterned more or less opposite to Gibson's and Camp's "Civil War Trilogy," famously recorded by The Limeliters on the 1963 live album Our Men In San Francisco. In the first section, the song picks up speed like a locomotive building up a head of steam.
While Lightfoot's song echoes the optimism of the railroad age, it also chronicles the cost in sweat and blood of building "an iron road runnin' from the sea to the sea." The slow middle section of the song is especially poignant, vividly describing the efforts and sorrows of the nameless and forgotten "navvies," whose manual labour actually built the railway.
Session personnel for the 1967 recording were: Gordon Lightfoot (12-string), Red Shea (Lead acoustic guitar), John Stockfish (Fender Bass), and Charlie McCoy (Harmonica).
Lightfoot re-recorded the track on his 1975 compilation album, Gord's Gold, with full orchestration (arranged by Lee Holdridge). A live version also appears on two of his live albums, first on his 1969 album Sunday Concert and again on the 2012 release All Live, which consists of songs recorded during the live concerts Lightfoot gave at Toronto's Massey Hall between 1998 and 2001.
According to Lightfoot, Pierre Berton said to him, "You know, Gord, you said as much in that song as I said in my book." Berton was referring to his two books about the building of the railway across Canada, The National Dream and The Last Spike.
In 2001, Gordon Lightfoot's "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" was honoured as one of the Canadian MasterWorks by the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada.
The song has been covered by John Mellencamp and George Hamilton IV, among others. James Keelaghan performed the song on the Lightfoot tribute album, Beautiful. In the summer of 2004, the song was performed by that year's Canadian Idol Top 6.