‘If You Could Read My Mind’

Originally posted January 22, 2007

This LP, Lightfoot’s sixth, was originally released during the summer of 1970 as Sit Down Young Stranger, taking its title from the somewhat cryptic tune that opened the second side. Some listeners heard the tune dissecting a father-son conflict; others heard an older man questioning a young man from the U.S. as he alighted in Canada after fleeing the Vietnam-era draft. I lean toward the second interpretation, though I’m not certain – although I’ve never looked very hard – whether Lightfoot has ever said what he had in mind.

The LP’s title was changed, probably during the early days of 1971, after “If You Could Read My Mind,” became Lightfoot’s first Top 40 hit, entering the charts in the first week of 1971 and reaching No. 5.

Here’s what All-Music Guide has to say about the album:

“It seemed as though [the single] ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ was everywhere in the early months of 1971. Its appeal crossed genres and age groups, and its simplicity and acoustic arrangement fit in nicely with the burgeoning singer/songwriter scene then storming the airwaves and record stores. ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ was not the first track released as a single from this album; Lightfoot’s recording of Kris Kristofferson’s soon-to-be-classic ‘Me and Bobby McGee,’ the only non-original in this collection, preceded it but barely dented the charts. The entire album is rich in the simple beauty of its folky melodies and personal lyrics. Lightfoot is accompanied here by his regular band of the time, Red Shea on guitar and Rick Haynes on bass. This trio is expanded on several cuts with Warner/Reprise labelmates Ry Cooder on bottleneck guitar and mandolin, John Sebastian on autoharp, harmonica, and electric guitar, and Van Dyke Parks on harmonium. In addition, there are subtle string arrangements by Randy Newman on two tracks, Nick DeCaro on three. There are no drums to be found anywhere on this disc. This album fits in very well with the acoustic-based music being made at the turn of the ’70s. Even so, the music here is timeless, still feeling and sounding great many years after its release.”

I’ve always kind of thought that the Kristofferson tune never fit very well with the rest of the album, and I’ve wondered what led Lightfoot to record it.

On the other side of the discussion, as lovely as “If You Could Read My Mind” is, my favorite cut is the haunting “Cobwebs & Dust,” with its cryptic lyrics and its slow instrumental build, rising from a solo guitar to a full group backing.

Even though I have an LP copy of If You Could Read My Mind (and a copy as well of the LP under the title Sit Down Young Stranger), the rip here is from CD, a few of the cuts from a Lightfoot box set, the others from the If You Could Read My Mind CD.

Track list
Minstrel of the Dawn
Me & Bobby McGee
Approaching Lavender
Saturday Clothes
Cobwebs & Dust
Poor Little Allison
Sit Down Young Stranger
If You Could Read My Mind
Baby It’s Allright
Your Love’s Return (Song for Stephen Foster)
The Pony Man

Gordon Lightfoot – If You Could Read My Mind [1970]


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