The early 1970s were good times for Canadian artists on the international stage. Gordon Lightfoot, Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Anne Murray, amongst many others, made it to the upper reaches of the charts both inside and outside their home country.
I’ve always had a soft spot for “Snowbird” by Anne Murray. It’s one of the jauntiest songs about a sad subject you’ll ever come across. And her voice is so light and pure, she almost makes sadness sound like a good thing.
Written by Gene MacLellan, “”Snowbird” was inspired by a walk along a wintry Canadian beach looking at the birds flying off to warmer climes.
Gene MacLellan wondered what it would be like if human beings could just get up and fly away like those snowbirds when the going became too hard. I think we all have days like that…
When I was young my heart was young then too
Anything that it would tell me
Is the thing that I would do
But now I feel such emptiness within
For the thing that I want most in life
Is the thing that I can’t win
It would be easy to make this subject into a dark and depressing song, which is why I like “Snowbird” so much. Gene MacLellan, with Anne Murray’s help, took it in an entirely different direction.
Even on Gene’s original version, we have an up-tempo song lightly skipping through a tale of sadness and disappointment. Gene MacLellan’s version is quite a bit more country than Anne Murray’s international hit version, but both singers give “Snowbird” a very similar treatment.
In Anne Murray’s hands, the song doesn’t become frivolous, but it comes about as close to jaunty as you can get without parodying a Tommy Steele musical.
Which is hard to do when you’re singing lyrics like…
The breeze along the river seems to say
That he’ll only break my heart again
Should I decide to stay
So little snowbird take me with you
When you go
To that land of gentle breezes
Where the peaceful waters flow
Gene MacLellan had a tough life. He contracted polio as a child and was badly injured in a car accident which killed his own father. In 1995 he took his own life. I guess he felt he’d waited long enough for his own snowbird to come and take him away somewhere the sun shone every day and the air was light and free.
By all accounts a good, kind and humble man, Gene MacLellan left the world a marvellous gift when he wrote “Snowbird”.
You can find his original version here… https://youtu.be/kEGDicF9Do4 This includes some extra lyrics which didn’t make it to the Anne Murray version. In the hands of its original songwriter, “Snowbird” is a gorgeous song and well worth a listen.
There’s also a lovely version by his daughter, Catherine MacLellan. She gives it a treatment perhaps more consistent with the subject matter and creates a wonderfully thought-provoking version of “Snowbird” — the sort of version you could imagine someone strumming away on a back porch somewhere and half-singing along as their mind churned over some problem or other.
Her version is here… https://youtu.be/DJAYOh70fIY
Great though both of those versions are, however, it’s Anne Murray’s chart-topping version that always comes to mind when I think of “Snowbird”. If you’re looking for some jauntiness in your life, you’ll certainly find it here…as long as you’re not paying too much attention to the lyrics…
Please enjoy Anne Murray singing Gene MacLellan’s lovely song, “Snowbird”…
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading about another of my favourite songs. I’m grateful that you’ve taken the time to spend a few moments in the company of a song that I love.
The video is below, but if you prefer to listen to your music on Spotify, you can find this track here… https://open.spotify.com/track/2ik5qJAcmrjbpON5QPxmRr