The inspiration for this song came from Lightfoot worrying about his girlfriend, who was out at bars all day while he was at home writing songs. He recalled during a Reddit AMA: "I had this girlfriend one time, and I was at home working, at my desk, working at my songwriting which I had been doing all week since I was on a roll, and my girlfriend was somewhere drinking, drinking somewhere. So I was hoping that no one else would get their hands on her, because she was pretty good lookin'!"
"As a matter of fact, it was written just around Sundown," he added, "just as the sun was setting, behind the farm I had rented to use as a place to write the album."
Lightfoot most likely wrote this about the stormy relationship with his one time girlfriend Cathy Smith, who was later sentenced for delivering a lethal dose of heroin to John Belushi.
Brian J. from Houston, Tx"Drinking too much and married to another woman, he on one occasion broke Smith's cheekbone in a fight." This song is about a creepy control freak who beats women. It gets me riled up whenever I hear it.
Nicholas A. from Pittsburgh, PaSundown song creeps at my craw, don’t feel sorry for men like GL. It is, he is creepy as Gollum, languishing in his inability to strike passion in a woman and savor his experience of lustful lovemaking. What does he expect: that a woman will be faithful to only him if he is a poor lover? Stupid. Inane. He has no flame. He is a dirge. He is the antithesis of PRESLEY. He is the personification of cuckold. Sad songs like his rip, tear and destroy at the image of the beauty of passion and love of life, our joie de vivre.
Char from TorontoGordon has said it many times over the years that the song is about Cathy (not susan) smith who was stepping out with a friend - one of The Good Brothers who opened for him in concert back in the early 70's and who are to this day still great friends. Videos online of Gordon with them singing at many venues in the last few years.. He has said he really loved Cathy Smith and it hurt him badly - when they broke up. SUNDOWN i not the only Cathy Smith inspired song he wrote and recorded.. He helped her out with her legal bills regarding the Belushi case. They had been apart for several years before that terrible incident. In the documentary that was released a year ago (IF YOU COULD READ MY MIND) in theatres in Canada and is now on CBC Gem online for Canadian viewers, he speaks of her and there are clips of her as well.. This is not heresay. I have moderated a Lightfoot discussion board for 20 years and am now on his social media team. The bio, LIGHTFOOT, that came out a few years ago by Nicholas Jennings is a wonderful read. Nicholas spoke with Gordon over 10 years compiling stories etc.- background to songs etc.. Another book by his former tour manager/sound/lighting guy back in the high times has a book out as well.Once Upon A Red Eye by Richard Harrison. Gordon has a new album out, SOLO. Songs of him and his guitar he recorded 20 years ago, written around 1998-2000. They were polished and mastered and are a lovely collection. One newer song recorded a few years ago is for his wife of 5 years, Kim. He's been on tour all of his life and had dates he's had to postpone because of covid-19. He suffered a life threatening abdominal aortic aneurism in late 2002 but after 6 weeks in a coma and several more surgeries he was back on tour in 2005.. He was 81 last November. A legendary singer songwriter still out there for his fans who fill halls and theatres across North America. He had a very successful tour in England/Ireland a few years ago.. He lost a good friend in John Prime thither day. John was in Toronto in Dec.2018 for a small house concert with Gordon in attendance - he said Gordon was his songwriting hero back when he started out and he came to Toronto to play The Riverboat coffee house in Yorkville.. you can view it here - it's a wonderful memory of John and so sweet to see Gordon enjoying his old friend.. check out his new SOLO lp..links are on his Official Facebook and Twitter and corfid.com has many many threads going back 20 years with reviews/articles/interviews/videos/photos etc. VIDEO of John Print with Gordon Lightfoot and wife Kim @ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5Rkm_dqm7A&feature=youtu.be
Kris from Victoria, Australia I remember how hot my ex-wife looked, and still feel it now. She's long gone to someone else... And i try to rebuild my life. And our little girl's. The lyrics and emotion in this song not only ring a bell, they tug a heart string. I dont know Gordon Lightfoots true story, but i know my own. Nice guys truely finish last.
Aspen from CanadaThe song is about Susan Smith. Gordon had a 3 year affair with her while divorcing his wife. He deeply loved this woman and she hurt him bad. He wanted to marry her , but also felt a danger about her. Later she was up on murder charges for killing John Belushi by injecting him with a herion/C0caine speedball. Gordon told this on a 2 hour special titled "If you could read my mind."
Will from Marble Hill Ga This is one of my favorite songs. It was released a year after I was born. Awesome to this day. I listen to it a lot and write my own songs. Thank you Gordon Lightfoot. You're always in my head
Stephe from Oklahoma What is the girls name in the video?
Seventhmist from 7th HeavenLightfoot's comments about this song (from his "Songbook" collection): "A song about infidelity. Lenny Waronker, a producer and former Warner Bros. Records president, and all of us at the studio realized when we laid it down that it would be the single. There's nothing like unrequited love with a touch of infidelity to capture people's imaginations. In the whole time I've been recording, I've never had the sense that a song was going to click the way it did with this one. I lived out in the country when I was writing that album, and each night there was a beautiful, big sunset to the west of the barn, and that imagery made it into the song. The cover of the album was taken at the farm, where I'm sitting on a bale of hay. The farmhouse was a very good workroom, I have fond memories of working there."
Kawa from Tokyo, JapanI think that the first idea of the lyric of the song, Sundown, came from the lyrics of the song called, One-Way Out, played by the Allman Brothers Band on their live album in 1971. Because the lyrics of Sundown is about a woman cheating her man. So is One-Way Out! I think that the second idea writing this lyrics came from the song called, Needle And The Damage Done, written and played by Neil Young on his biggest hit album called Harvest in 1972. There would be more song to be!
Melinda from AustraliaNo better song written about the dark rage men feel in relationships. Where they feel beguiled and betrayed by women. And a rival. It amazes me that he could even make a song of this subject, deeply sexy. It’s mesmerising. Reminds me of JJ Cale songs.
Edward from ChicagoIt sounds like it is about his woman cheating on him. He even claimed this in an interview. I don't think that's true.
Many rock stars have a common skeleton in their closet and many rock songs are cryptic riddles that appear to be about a woman or love, but are really about something else. "Sundown" is about heroin.
Marguerite from Gothenburg, SwedenI'd go with the Toronto guy. Most of us from Richmond Hill (us lucky ones escaped) have heard that Brian Good was the actual dude sneakin' around Lightfoot's back stairs. The Good Brothers were pretty huge in the day... largely thanks to Lightfoot and his music industry connections. Of course, can't deny that those bad boys could also turn a pretty tune.
Johnhardesty from Bardstown, KentuckyEvery man from time to time have always had that beautiful woman, who can't be held no more than a night and the light passing through that morning upon her face is as fleeting as a 4 minute song on a radio! Gordon Lightfoot could write a tale, and most were true! I love 'The Wreck of Edmund Fitzgerald,' nonpareil!
Kevin from TnI always wondered if "Sometimes I think it's a shame When I get feelin' better when I'm feelin' no pain" is a reference to getting over a hangover.
Darcy from PaOh, so many know-it-alls!!!! How many of u personally spoke to Gordon and now are experts so that you can come on here and tell us what the meaning of this song is? Offer an opinion. And, state it as such. No more, "trust me" or similar false statements. You have no idea. My ribs hurt so bad from laughting--hehehehehe.
Mike from OklahomaThis is definitely about a woman he cares for and worries about her fidelity. I'm going through it right now. This song resonates with me deeply. Who knows who she is with or what she is doing? The sun of my life/happiness is setting. That's what I get out of the song anyway.
Jeff from Beverly Hills, MaThe lyric "sometimes I think it's a shame when I get feeling better and I'm feeling no pain" may have multiple meanings. While alcohol is the most probable meaning, it can also apply to depression, which often accompanies alcoholism.
Mike from Milwaukee, Wi"Sometimes I think it's a sin when, I feel like I'm winnin' when I'm losin' again" I think means that he knows the woman he is with is not good for him and cheating on him but he feels comfort being with her anyway. He feels like he's winning because she is there with him and he feels good, but his is really losing because her love is fleeting. "Sometimes I think it's a shame when I get feeling better when I'm feelin' no pain" means that he is hurting very badly about this woman and he is sad that the only time he feels good is when he is drunk. Trust me on these two, I speak from experience. As to who he is singing about, this is not a whore he visited but someone he cared deeply about.
Charlie Leissler from Cherokee, IaJeremiah Sundown
Nancy from Baltimore, MdI was 10 when the song came out and I liked it then as I do now but I really can't figure out what it's really about.
Nomy from Chicago, IlSo many interpretations! This is one of my faves. I haven't figured out the "sundown" reference in my mind, but I'm in love with the lyric "Sometimes I think it's a shame when I get feeling better when I'm feeling no pain" It's kinda sad and deep
Sal from Philadelphia, DeThe room where you do that you don't confess...Hotel room. He is in a relationship with another women, but his ex is a great lay. He doesn't really want to screw up his life or his relationship but, he gets lost in his loving, and she is so into him she creeps around his back stairs. He feels like he's winning but he's losing again because he can't stay away from her, even though he should.
She's a hard loving women, got me feeling mean. If you don't get that, you haven't f--ked the right girl.
The crazy ones make you nuts, but you can't marry em. That's his dilema, he doesn't want the crazy broad, but he does.
Rae from Rotterdam, NyHey U are ALL WRONG...Gordon had a girlfriend named TRISH... the song was written about her...I met her & I know it for a fact...
Ryan from Abingdon, Vai always thought it was about a whorehouse. much like House of the Rising Sun
Jeff from Bayshore, NyAnyone who's seen Gordo in concert knows that he wrote the song at a time in his life when his wife was divorcing him. The song and Lightfoot have always been near the top of my personal list of songs and songwriters. He also has two of my other faves in "If You Could Read My Mind," and "Carefree Highway," the latter written about the highway of the same name north of Phoenix, Arizona that goes to Carefree/Cave Creek, Arizona. A very beautiful spot.
Dave from Toronto, OnThis song is about when Gordon Lightfoot had the Good Brothers Band stay at his place in Ontario Canada..He was helping them get started and he caught one of the members having sex with his partner.HE THROUGH THEM ALL OUT AND IT WAS HISTORY FROM THERE
Heather from Los Angeles, CaHey gang, while we're into interpretations, maybe this song was the antithesis to the song about "approaching lavender" (I think that was the title?). He sings, "oh, approaching lavender...." which my mom said she thought was about a gay guy. You know, Sundown is the straight version and the other one is the gay version but they're both basically the same song. Howz that for convoluted?
Linda from Sundown , NyI understand that this song was written in a tiny little hamlet called Sundown located in upstate NYS. There was a summer residence and apparently Lightfoot was a visitor there when he wrote the song. I am sure there is a double, if not multi-meaning to his association with his song "Sundown"
Mike from Jacksonville, Flthis song is so bad ass! really dark and heavy. I love the guitar solo.
Jdm from Los Angeles, Ca, CaHey all. Just wanted to lend you all a helping hand. Your subjective interpretations are, of course, valid as to your own situation, so I mean no offence when I say that the following is the actual meaning behind this marvelous song:
"Sundown" was the nickname of a close friend of Mr. Lightfoot's who shall remain nameless. Suffice to say, Mr. Lightfoot beganto suspect that his friend was having an affair with his first wife. This occurred at a point when Mr. Lightfoot's marrige was on the rocks to begin with, and also when he was struggling with pretty serious problem with alcohol and the violence that drinking tended to bring out of him. In this context, the meaning of each line of this song should be clear to you all.
Mamahill from Rutherfordton, NcI was 14 the year this came out and an older boy taught me the art of kissing to this song... I still feel like a naughty little girl when I hear it... because I was sneeking around behind a very strict family to even be kissing a boy... LOL... memories...
Alex from Pueblo, CoTo me this song represents my time in the navy going over seas(asian countries) and meeting women at "buy me drinky" bars. Where we would fall in love with the women and then have to leave. He uses to references to sailors, "lookin like a queen in a sailors dream" and "I can see her looking fast in her faded jeans". we would call it looking fast when we were looking good, its a navy term. AGAIN im not saying that thats what the song is about but to me thats what it reminds me of, the good ol' days in the navy out in the world.
Edwin from Vancouver, BcA great single no matter what it's really about. Is it country? Is it pop?
Adam from Portland, OrI read through all the comments and most of them make sense. However it's probable that "Sundown" isn't about a single nailed-down topic, but rather a collection of lyrics Gordon put together perhaps on a subconscious level, hence the ambiguity. I think we can say for sure there is reference to infidelity in a relationship as well as to alcohol. Many said it was about a hooker; well possibly, but perhaps just a "loose woman" as someone suggested. My favorite lyrics are "Sometimes, I think it's a sin, when I feel like I'm winning when I'm losing again". Great universal feeling expressed in an ambiguous way. The two comments that were completely off the mark were the ones about rape and coke.
Amber from Barrie, OnIt is very likely to be about a prostitute. I grew up in a town very close to where he was born and raised. In this town is a strip club called the Sundowner, which back in the day was very well none for basically being a whore house. I think it's about the girl that he visits there.
Amy from Acworth, GaI believe this is about a man who has had his wife/girlfriend cheat on him with someone he knows she frequents with his permission. (What you don't confess). He is thinking about what is going on when he is not there...while they are meeting behind his back. "You'd better take care"...Watch your back. They know what they do when they are all together..."but you have no clue as to what I would do if you two were meeting behind my back." (My backstairs). "I feel like I'm winning when I am losing again. Very rebellious. "Feeling No Pain" : denial. Total denial. This is a very rivoting song.
Fernando from New York, NyWould you believe this song reminds me when I got my first apartment in 2000. It played on a CD while I was moving my stuff into it. :)
Andre from Montreal Area, Canada"feeling no pain" means drunk. I always thought that line just meant sobering up is hell. Especially since Gordon was a heavy drinker for a time.
Fred from Laurel, Mdarch, SD, Cal -- If you're looking into Gord's other works, I recommend the album, Summertime Dream. It's more similar to this song, Sundown, than are his early works, like Early Mornin Rain, which I also like, and was covered by just about every major folk-style artist in the late 60's.
Gerry Walsh from Melbourne, AustraliaBrilliant !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Dan from Ventura, CaI've always thought the line "sometimes I think it's a shame when I get feeling better when I'm feeling no pain" might have to do with luck. He's saying he thinks it's wrong when you narrowly avoid something bad and you think you're lucky for it but then you think "why do I feel lucky? I have every right to expect that never to happen to me."
Arch Stanton from San Diego, CaI just heard this song today and that was the first time I heard it since the 70s, it brought back some great memories and Im going to buy the album so I can hear is somemore. The lyrics have some depth too, Ill have to see what other songs this guy has since I dont know much about him. I does on the surface seem to be a song about someone cheating with his girl though he knows that the guy cant help himself, but the girl could, so he drinks to numb the pain. But the surface lyrics are hardly the real meanings and sometimes the lyrics are symbolic. Look at the Doors lyrics and they are some deep stuff, for example
Chris from Sacramento, Ca"When I get feeling better when I'm feelin' no pain" was a reference to Gord's relationship with alcohol- he was a self-confessed alcoholic for a long time (a lot of his songs carried a reference to alcohol- Hangdog Hotel Room, Triangle, Early Morni' Rain, Minstrel of the Dawn, Ordinary Man, and Christian Island, just to name a few)then got sober about 12-15 years ago. Good thing: the physical regimen he used to get his system dry and well kept him healthy enough to survive a burst abdominal aneurysm in 2002, putting him in a coma for several months.
Steve from CanadaIN my travels I heard that Gordon Lightfoot wrote this song for Brian Good from The Good Brothers after Gord caught him sneekin' down his backstairs. Could be just a good story but that's what I heard from a "GOOD" source!
John from Millersville, MdI got the infidelity out of it? Regardless, great sounding song.
Dale from Memphis, TnI always thought it was about a "loose" woman, perhaps because I was dating one at the time and I heard the song driving home on the night we broke up!
Alan from Grande Prairie, Alberta, CanadaNotice you failed to show this song topped the billboard charts at #1. Lightfoots only record so far to do so.
Colleen from Oakville, CanadaI have a good friend that is in the Canadian Music business. A couple of years ago he mentioend that "Sundown" was Bruce Cockburn's nickname and it is written about an affair he had with Lightfoot's wife.
Angie from Rockmart, GaI always assumed also that it was about a cheating lover. It just makes more sense to me, the more that I listen.
William from Norfolk, Vasounds like song about a drag queen
Jena from Bonner Springs, KsThis song always sounded like a song about rape to me. "I can see her lyin back in a satin dress/in a room where you do what you don't confess" plus the part about you'd better "take care" if creeping down a back stair. Just creeps me out a little.
Dan from Winthrop, MaI think its about a prostitute.
Julian from Oakland, ArBut on the other hand this could very well be about a cheating lover.
Julian from Oakland, Ar"When I get feeling better when I'm feelin' no pain" has got to be a drug reference.
Pete from Nowra, Australiayep another song about drugs!!!!!!!!!!!
give it a rest
Tom from Houston, TxI always assumed this was about cocaine.