#1409: Go Go Round by Gordon Lightfoot

Peak Month March 1967
6 weeks on Vancouver’s CFUN chart & 4 more weeks on the All Canadian Top Ten
Peak Position #16
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ did not chart
YouTube.com: “Go Go Round
Lyrics: “Go Go Round

Gordon Lightfoot was born in Orillia, Ontario, on November 17, 1938. His parents, Jessica and Gordon Lightfoot Sr., ran a dry cleaning business. His mother noticed young Gordon had some musical talent and the boy soprano first performed in grade four at his elementary school. He sang the Irish lullaby “Too Ra Loo Rah Loo Rah” at a parents’ day. As a member of the St. Paul’s United Church choir in Orillia, Lightfoot gained skill and needed confidence in his vocal abilities under the choir director, Ray Williams. Lightfoot went on to perform at Toronto’s Massey Hall at the age of twelve when he won a competition for boys who were still boy sopranos. During his teen years Gordon Lightfoot learned to play piano, drums and guitar.

In the years that followed Lightfoot performed in coffee houses in Toronto. He got work as a performer on the CBC’s Country Hoedown and went to England to host the BBC TV Country and Western Show in 1963-64. At that time, Lightfoot’s songs were recorded by numerous recording acts. These included “Early Morning Rain” by both the Kingston Trio and Judy Collins, and “Ribbon of Darkness” by Marty Robbins. The attention Lightfoot got as a songwriter landed him a record contract with United Artists in 1965. In 1966 he was commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) to compose the “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” for a broadcast on New Year’s Day in 1967, the nations centennial.

The “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” was about the construction of the Canadian Railway and the dream of “an iron road running from the sea to the sea” across the new nation of Canada. The railway was built between 1881 and 1885, a promise kept to the province of British Columbia for entering confederation in 1871. Coinciding with the spotlight the CBC gave him at the start of 1967, Lightfoot released the single “Go Go Round”.

The single was his first from his second studio album, The Way I Feel. Recorded in 1966 and released in 1967, the album was only 38 minutes long, including the epic “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” that was six minutes and twenty-two seconds. “Go Go Round” at 2:40 was like most of the songs on the album, three minutes long or less.

The subject of the song was about a go-go girl who dances in a cage at a club. She makes eye contact with a guy in a band called The Intended who are playing at the club. Although sparks are flying, she soon finds the musician mistreats her and doesn’t care about her. Lightfoot’s poetic renderings in the song were a foretaste of more sophisticated lyrics in the coming years. The lament about the go-go girls fate were summarized: “the pavement is a shoulder for her tears.”

Go Go Round by Gordon Lightfoot

The song was play-listed on CFUN initially for four weeks on their All Canadian Top Ten. This was a chart list below the C-Funtastic Fifty where “Go Go Round” remained for ten weeks. The song had an overlapping six weeks on the regular CFUN chart.  It peaked in Vancouver at #16. The song didn’t get any significant airplay in the USA and didn’t chart on the Billboard Hot 100. In southern Ontario, where Lightfoot back then had his strongest following, the tune peaked at #1 in Belleville, #2 in Hamilton and #6 in Toronto. But listeners in the USA were largely unaware of this Ontario folk singer making his way onto the pop charts in Ontario and on the Canadian West Coast.

Go-go dancing began at the Peppermint Lounge night club at 128 West 45th Street in New York City. The house band, Joey Dee and the Starlighters, were playing Chubby Checker’s hit single, “The Twist”, in 1960. Some women in the club began to get up on tables and start dancing the twist. Eventually go-go girls were employed in night clubs to dance energetically to help add a hip vibe to the establishment. The term comes from the French expression à gogo  meaning “in abundance, galore.” And that phrase comes from the earlier French a gogue, meaning “joy, happiness.” These high energy go-go girls by the mid-60’s were dancing in cages above the club dance floors.

Hullabaloo was a musical variety series that ran on NBC from Tuesday, January 12, 1965, through Monday, August 29, 1966. The Hullabaloo Dancers—a team of four men and six women—appeared on a regular basis. Another female dancer, model/actress Lada Edmund, Jr. was best known as the caged “go-go girl” dancer in the Hullabaloo A-Go-Go segment near the closing sequence of the show. Other dance TV shows during this period such as ABC’s Shindig! also featured go-go dancers in cages. These images were likely conjured as well when listeners heard Lightfoot on the radio.

Gordon Lightfoot had a number of hit singles in Vancouver and across Canada in the late ’60s. In the spring of 1968 he had a Top Ten hit with “Black Day In July“. In the winter of 1968 came “Bitter Green“, a single release from Lightfoot’s fourth studio album, Back Here on Earth. It peaked at #5 in Vancouver, but only reached #44 on the national RPM Canadian singles charts. It did not chart in the USA.

Lightfoot’s breakthrough in the USA was with “If You Could Read My Mind”. He went on in the mid-70’s to chart “Sundown” to #1 and “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald” to #2 in the USA. (Both were #1 hits nationally in Canada). Between his initial breakthrough and later hits in the mid-70’s, there were three songs that did well in Canada but less well in the USA. These were “Talking In Your Sleep”, “Beautiful” and “You Are What I Am”.

Gordon Lightfoot’s last charting single in Vancouver was “Daylight Katy” in 1978. Between 1966 and 2004 Lightfoot released 19 studio albums and 46 singles. In 1997, Gordon Lightfoot received the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award, the top honor a recording artist can receive in the performing arts in Canada. A tribute album to Gordon Lightfoot was recorded by many Canadian recording artists in a special release in 2003. In 2012 he performed the “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” at the 100th Grey Cup football championship between the Toronto Argonauts and the Calgary Stampeders.

On Gordon Lightfoot’s website his tour schedule for 2016 lists all the 65 concert dates booked for the year.

October 4, 2016
Ray McGinnis

gordonlightfoot.com (Gordon Lightfoot bio)
Alison Mayes, “If You Could Read His Mind,” Winnipeg Free Press, December 1, 2011.
discogs.com (The Way I Feel)
Go Go Dancer, Your Life is Calling, goretro.com, July 15, 2010
Definition: go go ~ Miriam-Webster Dictionary
Vincent Terrace, Complete Encyclopedia of Television Programs 1947-1979, (A.S. Barnes, 1979).
C-FUNTASTIC FIFTY,” CFUN 1410 AM, Vancouver, BC, March 4, 1967)

For more song reviews visit the Countdown.

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