| The Southern Ontario/WNY Radio-TV Forum

You are not logged in. Would you like to login or register?

January 2, 2023 7:57 am  #1

How The CBC Was Behind One Of Gordon Lightfoot's Most Famous Songs

This may be common knowledge, but I have to admit I'd never heard it before. Gordon Lightfoot's classic "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" may never have happened if the CBC hadn't hired the singer to compose an anthem celebrating the 1967 Centennial of the country. 

A glimpse behind the making of a now iconic tune, that was a paid assignment for the veteran artist.

"Lightfoot was approached by CBC producer Bob Jarvis who wanted to commission Lightfoot to write a song for an upcoming TV special the CBC was working on.

 As a rising Canadian talent who had already composed “Steel Rail Blues,” along with two train-themed songs for a promotional film about the Canadian National Railway, Lightfoot seemed like a natural fit. Jarvis explained that the special needed a folk ballad that would encapsulate the story of Canada’s birth and envisioned the song being specifically about the Canadian transcontinental railway."

The Right Man for the Job: Gordon Lightfoot and the “Canadian Railroad Trilogy”


January 2, 2023 11:27 am  #2

Re: How The CBC Was Behind One Of Gordon Lightfoot's Most Famous Songs

The article states:
In musician and author Dave Bidini’s Writing Gordon Lightfoot: The Man, the Music, and the World in 1972, one commentator remarks, “In 1967, it was impossible to turn on the radio without hearing [Canadian Railroad Trilogy].”
I have no recollection of hearing it on the radio ... I was only seven years old, but there are many songs that I do recall from back then and not just from hearing them played since. I'm not questioning that it got some airplay, but I'm wondering how extensive it really was. 


January 2, 2023 11:49 am  #3

Re: How The CBC Was Behind One Of Gordon Lightfoot's Most Famous Songs

I don't think Canadian Railroad Trilogy charted at all.  CHUM didn't play it, but I bet CFRB, CBC radio and maybe CKEY did. But this was also the era when Canadian recordings didn't show up much on radio station playlists. If a local song got noticed in the US then they would play it.  How pathetic is that?
Canadian Railroad Trilogy is also very long, about three times longer than the average single at the time.  When CHUM went all oldies they did play the song.  The better version of Trilogy in my opinion was the re-recorded Gord's Gold edition for his greatest hits in 1975.  Strings were added and less guitar picking. Lightfoot sings the song better since he is older and his voice more mature and character than in 1967.

Last edited by paterson1 (January 2, 2023 12:29 pm)


January 2, 2023 3:50 pm  #4

Re: How The CBC Was Behind One Of Gordon Lightfoot's Most Famous Songs

My mother probably listened to CHUM more than CFRB, although as I've mentioned before she went back and forth between them. I did think that CFRB might have played it, but it just occurred to me that it was the sort of song that would make my mother want to switch to CHUM as she preferred more uptempo music overall -- and the length sure wouldn't have helped it any. My father did listen to CKEY when I was older and perhaps was listening to it back then, but mostly I listened to CHUM and CFRB and I figured that CHUM wouldn't have played something like that. Agree that CBC would have, but overall I doubt it got anywhere near the airplay that the quote would imply.