The Top Six Cover Versions Of ‘The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald’
Thursday will mark the 47th anniversary of the sinking of the Great Lakes freighter, which was immortalized in the song by Gordon Lightfoot. Here are six different takes on the classic.
The Edmund Fitzgerald Went Down On November 10, 1975
The giant freighter, fabled for its ability to churn through terrible Great Lakes weather was, according to Lightfoot's lyrics, 'a bone to be chewed' when the gales of November reached hurricane strength.
The Canadian troubadour sent his homage to the 29 men who perished that day to the top of the Canadian and American pop charts the following year, when the song was released on his album 'Summertime Dream'.
Since then, many musicians have released versions of the maritime ballad, which has the cadence of a sea shanty. It is written in 6/8 time because it gives the song a bit of a swaying feeling, as if you were on the ship swaying in the waves.
Because of this simple structure, many musicians have attempted a version of the song, with some mixed results.
Here are six wildly different takes on the ballad.
6. BRAINCLAW Takes An Electronic Spin
Brainclaw is an industrial electronic band out of Ithaca, New York. Their emo 1980s style is able to match the song's dark tone, and it works in a very weird way.
Nikki Jaine's vocals are compelling, and her monotone slog through the lyrics takes an interesting twist when she pulls it back to almost a whisper when the ship goes down.
I don't hate this.
5. The UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN GLEE CLUB Turns It Into The Shanty It Should Be
As I mentioned earlier, the 6/8 rhythm of the song gives it a rollicking feel, similar to a sea shanty, this allows the lyrics to become the focus of the piece. The 14 stanzas then seem to become hypnotic as the narrative unwinds.
The fabled U of M Glee Club covered it in of their 'Laudes' performances in 2019. How can you not relate to the sea faring feel of this take?
4. THE PUNCH BROTHERS go bluegrass
Chris Thile, the host of NPR's 'Live From Here' recorded the song with his band, The Punch Brothers album 'Hell On Church Street' which came out earlier this year. The song is narrative heavy, which gives this song some weight. The studio version seems to have a bit more gravity than the live version, but both are included.
3. KARL LEHMKUHL goes solo
The musician recorded all the parts himself, using clever video editing to make him look like a group of four of him, and he recorded it as a project during the Covid shutdowns.
Lehmkuhl's version is extremely faithful to Gordon's original, to the point where you may not be able to tell them apart, which kind of cool.
Lehmkuhl is a big fan of '70s music, and has a whole page of covers on You Tube.
2. LAURA CANTRELL gives it the feminine touch
With it themes of the maritime life, and the lore of the Great Lakes, one could argue the song has a mostly masculine vibe to it, so I found Laura Cantrell's contemporary country cover to be a bit different. The song's narrative lines make it fit this style really well.
1. THE HEADSTONES rock it out, with perhaps the best version outside of Gordon
The Canadian alt-rockers, The Headstones, deliver my favorite version of the song, giving the song a bit more pace with some solid guitar work and Hugh Dillon's earnest vocals. The opening riffs are very similar to Greg Kihn's 'Break Up Song'.
This version song also morphs into a march near the end, complete with bagpipes, which gives it a weird twist.
If the lead singer seems familiar to you, you may be a fan of the Paramount hit series Yellowstone. Lead vocalist Hugh Dillon plays Sheriff Donnie Haskell in the series. He also has a key role in the Paramount Plus series The Mayor Of Kingstown, which he also co-wrote.
The Real Edmund Fitzgerald