100 best covers: #94 Rheostatics “The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”

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Here’s a cover that took many many years to appreciate and it’s because the original is oh so deeply ingrained in me.

Canadian icon Gordon Lightfoot’s original is a romantic commemoration of the sinking of the American freighter, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior in 1975. The disaster is one of the best known to happen on the Great Lakes, resulting in the deaths of all of its crewmen and improvements to shipping regulations. The song was released just over a year after the actual disaster, instantly becoming one of Lightfoot’s biggest commercial successes. These days, it is his most easily recognizable track and one of his own personal favourites. His is a haunting piece, but not because of the music. It’s a pretty straightforward if not sorrowful composition but the words really stay with you, able to easily conjure teardrops out of the corners of Canada’s collective eyes.

Rheostatics are iconic (some might say iconoclastic) in their own right and unleashed their cover as the penultimate track on the CD version of their now classic 1991 album, “Melville”. I don’t think it as widely known as the original but it is definitely accepted as part of the Canadian alt-rock canon. Yet still, it drove this particular writer/blogger nuts for years, always wanting to hear Lightfoot to sing those words: “The church bell chimed ’til it rang twenty-nine times for each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald”.

Once I accepted that Rheostatics’ cover is a different beast from the original, however, I grew to love it. They extended it from the original six minutes to well over eight, adding plenty of simmering guitars, wailing solos, and some wonderful cymbal washes, reflecting the wildness of those turbulent Lake Superior waters. And all those heartfelt words are still there but sung in a different tone, perhaps with a bit more anger than sadness.

Have a listen to both versions below (though if you’re Canadian, I’m sure you’re quite familiar with the original) and let me know what you think in the comments section.

The cover:

The original:

(And if you’re up for a third option, I can offer up the deadpan delivered drone of the Dandy Warhols rendition here.)

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.

6 replies on “100 best covers: #94 Rheostatics “The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald””

I only ever saw them live the once and unfortunately, this wasn’t on the set list that night. It would have been awesome if it was.


I can’t even imagine never having heard the original. It seems so much a part of Canada’s cultural fabric but I certainly understand why you might not have. Do let me know what you think.

Liked by 1 person

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