MUSIC MONDAY If You Could Read My Mind by Gordon Lightfoot

If You Could Read My Mind

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For the album sometimes known by the same name, see Sit Down Young Stranger.

If You Could Read My Mind” is a song by Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot. Lightfoot wrote the lyrics while he was reflecting on his own divorce. It reached No. 1 on the Canadian Singles Chart on commercial release in 1970 and charted in several other countries on international release in 1971.[1]


Lightfoot has cited his divorce for inspiring the lyrics,[2] saying they came to him as he was sitting in a vacant Toronto house one summer.[3] At the request of his daughter Ingrid, he performs the lyrics with a slight change: The line “I’m just trying to understand the feelings that you lack” is altered to “I’m just trying to understand the feelings that we lack.” He has said in an interview that the difficulty with writing songs inspired by personal stories is that there is not always the emotional distance and clarity to make lyrical improvements such as the one his daughter suggested.[4]


Gordon Lightfoot (pictured in 2009) wrote and originally recorded the song.

The song was produced by Lenny Waronker and Joe Wissert at Sunwest Recording Studios in Los Angeles, California,[5] with strings arranged by Nick DeCaro.[6] The song is analyzed in detail by music producer Rick Beato in a YouTube video entitled “What Makes this Song Great? Ep. 94”


The song is in A major and uses the subtonic chord.[7] According to Duran Duran lead singer Simon Le Bon, the chorus of their song “Save a Prayer” was based on “If You Could Read My Mind”.

Format releasesEdit

This song first appeared on Lightfoot’s 1970 album Sit Down Young Stranger, later renamed If You Could Read My Mind following the song’s success.[citation needed]

Chart performanceEdit

On release, the song reached No. 1 on the Canadian Singles Chart and was his first recording to appear in the U.S., reaching No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100singles chart in February 1971. Later in the year, it reached No. 27 on the Australian singles chart and No. 30 on the United Kingdom’s singles chart. The song also reached No. 1 for one week on the Billboard Easy Listening chart,[1] and was the first of four Lightfoot releases to reach No. 1.

Rights infringement legal actionEdit

In 1987, Lightfoot filed a lawsuit against Michael Masser, the composer of Whitney Houston‘s hit “The Greatest Love of All“, alleging plagiarism of 24 bars of “If You Could Read My Mind”; the transitional section that begins “I decided long ago never to walk in anyone’s shadow” of the Masser song has the same melody as “I never thought I could act this way and I got to say that I just don’t get it; I don’t know where we went wrong but the feeling’s gone and I just can’t get it back” of Lightfoot’s song. 

Lightfoot stated that he dropped the lawsuit when he felt it was having a negative effect on the singer Houston because the lawsuit was about the writer and not her.[8] He also said that he did not want people to think that he had stolen his melody from Masser.[9] The case was settled out of court, and Masser issued a public apology.[10]


“If You Could Read My Mind”
Side A of the Canadian single
Single by Gordon Lightfoot
from the album Sit Down Young Stranger
B-side“Poor Little Allison”
ReleasedDecember 1970
RecordedNovember 1969
GenreSoft rockfolk rock
Songwriter(s)Gordon Lightfoot
Producer(s)Lenny Waronker and Joseph Wissert
Gordon Lightfoot singles chronology
“Approaching Lavender” 
(1970)”If You Could Read My Mind” 
(1970)”This Is My Song” 
“If You Could Read My Mind” on YouTube
Weekly chartsEditChart (1970–71)Peak
positionAustralia (Go-Set)[11]28Australia (Kent Music Report)27Canada Top Singles (RPM)[12]1Canada Adult Contemporary (RPM)[13]1New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)19UK Singles (OCC)30US Billboard Hot 1005US Easy Listening (Billboard)1
Year-end chartsEditChart (1971)RankCanada Top Singles (RPM)[14]17US Billboard Hot 100[15]38

Stars on 54 version

Other notable cover versions

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