Classic Seventies Music – “Sundown” by Gordon Lightfoot


Not sure how many of you have heard of Gordon Lightfoot. But there’s a couple of his songs that I just think are utter classics;. One of them is “Sundown”. Just as we head into Autumn let’s talk about a classic song with a summery vibe. Yet a tragic feel about the sun about to set on a bad relationship.

Gordon Lightfoot was a popular Canadian Folk Musician who was big in the 1970s’. He was born in 1938 in Ontario, Canada. “Sundown” was realeased as a single in 1974 and made No.1 in the USA charts. The B side was “Too late for Prayin'”. Sundown is his most famous and popular song along with “If you could read my mind”. Sundown was also an album with the song as the lead track.

“Sundown, originally released in 1974, was Lightfoot’s most successful album on the billboard charts. It went to number 1, in the US and Canada simultaneously, and the single of the title song topped both charts at the same time too.”


What was the meaning behind Sundown?

“Sundown” is quite an intense song about the intricacies of a destructive relationship. Lightfoot wrote Sundown about a year after getting divorced from his ex wife. But this song was not about her but supposedly singer Cathy Smith, who he allegedly had a tempestuous relationship with. Years afterwards he called her the one woman in his life who most hurt him. Sundown conveys the darkness, pain and angst of a volatile relationship.

Gordon Lightfoot started dating Cathy smith while he was still married and she was his Mistress. Canadian, Catherine Evelyn Smith has been described as a Back up Singer, Rock Groupie, Drug Dealer and Legal Secretary. She started working for Lightfoot in the early 1970’s and then began an affair. Their relationship lasted 3 years and he stated throughout it he was sometimes “crazy with jealousy”. So much so that the Good Brothers (Bluegrass musicians Bruce & Brian Good) one of Lightfoots opening acts were fired for flirting with his love interest.

She was also cited in his divorce papers and his divorce settlement was one of the most expensive in Canadian history at that time. In a 1975 interview, Lightfoot explained he experienced a lot of worry in the relationship with Smith.

“All it is, is a thought about a situation where someone is wondering what his loved one is doing at the moment. He doesn’t quite know where she is. He’s not ready to give up on her, either, and that’s about all I got to say about that.”

In 2008, he gave an interview confirming that “Sundown” was written about Cathy Smith;

“I think my girlfriend was out with her friends one night at a bar while I was at home writing songs. I thought, ‘I wonder what she’s doing with her friends at that bar!’ It’s that kind of a feeling. ‘Where is my true love tonight? What is my true love doing?’

In 2014, Lightfoot added further insight into his writing of “Sundown”:

“Well, I had this girlfriend one time, and I was at home working, at my desk, working at my songwriting which I had been doing all week since I was on a roll, and my girlfriend was somewhere drinking, drinking somewhere. So I was hoping that no one else would get their hands on her, because she was pretty good lookin’! And that’s how I wrote the song ‘Sundown,’ and as a matter of fact, it was written just around Sundown, just as the sun was setting, behind the farm I had rented to use as a place to write the album. 

Cool as Folk and Great Lyrics

Gordon Lightfoot injected a cool edginess into folk music. You could say he was Cool  as Folk! He really sang from the heart too which really comes across in his song “If you could read my mind”. There are some classic lines in Sundown. Below are my favourites…

“She’s been lookin’ like a queen in a sailor’s dream
And she don’t always say what she really means”

“I could see her looking fast in her faded jeans
She’s a hard loving woman got me feeling mean…”

“I can picture every move that a man could make
Getting lost in her lovin’ is your first mistake
Sundown you better take care
If I find you’ve been creepin’ ’round my back stairs”

Who’s been creeping round his back stairs?

As regards to the creeping round his back stairs, apparently that’s about secrets. Some think it referenced his girlfriend coming in late and perhaps drunk, but who knows. On his website, Gordon Lightfoot says “Sundown” is not the woman but the man chasing his woman. Some think Sundown could have been the nickname of the guy.

Sundown sums up a difficult Relationship

Sundown seems to sum up this relationship that caused him a lot of pain and hurt, but apparently she did not come out of it unscathed either. Sometimes you have to let the Sun Set on something that’s just not working and move on. Sundown sums up the pain of a relationship that’s had it’s day. Much as he wanted it to work, picturing every move that a man could make. He realised that he never stood a chance, getting lost in her loving was your first mistake.

He’s obviously physically attracted to her, she’s looking like a Queen in a Sailor’s Dream, but it seems she tells lies as “she don’t always say what she really means”. It’s clear he doesn’t entirely trust her, she looking “fast” in her faded jeans. But his attraction to this “hard loving woman” has got him feeling mean. Perhaps passionate or even angry as he has admitted she aroused feelings of jealousy in him. It’s clear that despite being intensely attracted to her they were just not compatible.

Sundown is a pretty chill and mellow song with some great lines, A classic song that’s up there with the best. A Folk classic. At the end of the day we can all guess what a song lyrics mean but only the writer really knows. He has mentioned Sundown several times in interviews. It’s clear that he took the time to write a song about a woman he really cared about deeply despite the pain she caused him. It’s this intense emotion you feel when you hear the song.

Sunset on the Farm

Gordon Lightfoot recorded the song and the whole album while living on a farm in the countryside where he could see a big sunset every day. The picture on the record sleeve of him sitting on the bale was taken right there.

On Gordon’s website it says this; “Gordon Lightfoot’s Sundown is one of his most famous songs. It is about infidelity, but Sundown is not the woman, but the other man who is pursuing her!”

On his website, he elaborates on Sundown:

“A song about infidelity. Lenny Waronker, a producer and former Warner Bros. Records president, and all of us at the studio realized that when we laid it down that it would be the single. There’s nothing like unrequited love with a touch of infidelity to capture peoples imaginations. In the whole time I’ve been recording, I’ve never had the sense that a song was going to click the way it did with this one. I lived out in the country when I was writing that album, and each night there was a beautiful, big sunset to the west of the barn, and that imagery made it into the song. The cover of the album was taken at the farm, where I’m sitting on a bale of hay. The farmhouse was a very good workroom, I have fond memories of working there.”

Gordon Lightfoot is still performing

The Sun has not yet gone down on Gordon Lightfoot’s Musical Career and he is still going strong and is currently on tour.

gordon lightfoot with guitar


(This post is by Anne-Marie at – Not to be reproduced without prior consent.)

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