Other people’s songs: Early Morning Rain.

by Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Aaron: Early Morning Rain is a song by Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot. The song appears on his 1966 debut album Lightfoot!

Tony: It is amazing to hear the original version after all these years.  This must be one of the most recorded songs ever.   I’ve just looked it up on Wiki and it says

“Lightfoot wrote and composed the song in 1964, but its genesis took root during his 1960 sojourn in Westlake, Los Angeles. Throughout this time, Lightfoot sometimes became homesick and would go out to the Los Angeles International Airport on rainy days to watch the approaching aircraft.  The imagery of the flights taking off into the overcast sky was still with him when, in 1964, he was caring for his 5-month-old baby son and he thought, “I’ll put him over here in his crib, and I’ll write myself a tune.”  Early Morning Rain was the result.”

I love the restrained accompaniment – thank goodness the arranger didn’t try and milk the emotion by bringing the strings forward – it is restrained and utterly perfect as it is.  And yet although it is really well-known, it has never been a gigantic hit… just one of those songs that is always there.

Aaron: Dylan’s version came from 1970s Self Portrait

Tony: A totally different rhythm from Bob, and his voice is totally suited to this style, and the feelings of this song, although I think there is a little too much detail in the accompaniment; I could do with something simpler.  But as always that’s just me.

Indeed I am also not sure about the harmonica against the various other instruments playing… and I just get a feeling it could be a little slower.  Mind you as I get older I think almost everything could be played a little slower.

I’ve just gone back to the Gordon Lightfoot recording and replayed that and there is some extra freshness and directness in his recording which Bob doesn’t capture, I feel.

Aaron: Paul Weller included the track on his 2005 album Studio 150, the single reached No. 40 in the UK Singles Chart

Tony: Not sure of those quickfire notes at the very start, nor the change of second chord – and overall although it is a pleasant listen, it doesn’t deliver to me the intensity of the emotions that Gordon Lightfoot’s recording does.   But maybe this is unfair…. I hadn’t heard the song for a few years before I played the first version above, and now I’ve heard three versions in the space of 20 minutes.

But whoever added that sound effect after “might engines roar” should be taken out and shot.  Don’t even wait for dawn, do it now.  Sacrilege at this degree should be punishable…

Indeed I think the musical director must have thought the song was going on a bit and needed something to keep up the listener’s interest.   To which I can only reply, “Arghhhhh”.

However, these are just my immediate thoughts….

Aaron: Billy Bragg closed out his 2016 album Shine A Light: Field Recordings From The Great American Railroad with his version

Tony: Now this I like.   Oh yes I really, really do.   I like it because the singers and arranger have worked to take the song to another place – and it is a place that I think really works in keeping with this song.   The harmonies are very unusual, and very much in keeping with being stuck here on the ground where the cold winds blow.  Indeed I’ve never heard a version that gets inside the emotional meaning of the song in the way this does.

In fact I would say this is a truly remarkable arrangement and performance all the way through.  They carry the deep sadness of the lyrics throughout, in the way many others don’t bother to consider.

This old airport's got me down, it's no earthly good to meAnd I'm stuck here on the ground as cold and drunk as I can beYou can't jump a jet plane like you can a freight trainSo, I'd best be on my way in the early morning rain

I think I do tend to focus on songs more intently than most people, and I know I am a highly emotional person compared to many, and this last version of this song has totally taken me apart.   And maybe that is just me, but this final version of this wonderful song really is something to be treasured and played again and again.



  1. The too slow Bragg version doesn’t work at all….

    It’s unremartkable because the contrasting speed of ‘roooaarring’ engines of the leaving jet planes is completely unheard in that version.

    The essence of the song destroyed, the presence of th winged objective correlatives lost.

  2. the picture on the video ( or recording) of Gord’s version of Early Morning Rain is the cover of an album of re-recordings of early songs.
    better look for the united artists label album for the original recording that Bob would have heard.

  3. Lightfoot sings “Where the cold wind blows”;
    Dylan, “Where the cold winds blow”

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