With a melody line that instantly felt like it had been floating in the ether for thousands of years before Gordon Lightfoot tracked it down and harnessed it, “If You Could Read My Mind” is definitely in the running for the Prettiest Song Ever Recorded, Folk Rock Division.
It’s also a song that has always stopped me in my tracks, as I try to decipher how something so shamelessly beautiful could also feel so effortless.
If you could read my mind, love
What a tale my thoughts could tell
Just like an old time movie
About a ghost from a wishing well
In a castle dark or a fortress strong
With chains upon my feet
You know that ghost is me
And I will never be set free
As long as I’m a ghost you can see
Hell. The way he sings “You know that ghost is me” in the first verse is so lovely and understated you might not even notice how totally fucking sad it is, as well.
And so it goes. There isn’t even really a chorus for “If You Could Read My Mind.” Because there doesn’t even need to be a chorus.
All it needs is the long and gorgeous melody line that underscores the second half of each verse, as well as this utterly devastating lyric:
I never thought I could act this way
And I’ve got to say that I just don’t get it
I don’t know where we went wrong
But the feelings gone and I just can’t get it back
By this point, the strings are soaring in the background as well, but they never feel syrupy or overkill. Instead, they feel totally natural, like they they weren’t even really recorded on purpose, but rather just appeared on the final master.
Though I would assume that the producer of “If You Could Read My Mind,” Lenny Waronker, would dispute that.
Weirdly enough, “If You Could Read My Mind” isn’t a song that totally emotionally devastates me, despite that is clearly its intention. I think I’m so enthralled by the beauty of the melody that it creates a shield where I’m immune to everything else about it.
“If You Could Read My Mind”
“If You Could Read My Mind” performed live on The Midnight Special, 1974
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