I’ve driven the stretch between Cave Creek and Wickenburg on Arizona State Route 74 many times before. I never made the connection. A disc jockey on a Phoenix radio station provided the clue that allowed me to connect the dots.

Canadian folk songwriter Gordon Lightfoot’s 1974 chart-topper Carefree Highway was a metaphor for a nostalgic state of mind. It is also an intentional reference to Arizona State Route 74.

Lightfoot was traveling between Southwest concert tour stops in the early 1970s, and jotted the name of the Carefree Highway down on a piece of paper after reading it on a roadway sign. Interstate 17 had just been completed around that time between Phoenix and Camp Verde.

According to Lightfoot’s April 1975 interview with Crawdaddy magazine, he kept the piece of paper with the song’s lyrics for a long time before turning it into a tune. “I thought it would make a good title for a song,” recalled Lightfoot. “I wrote it down, put it in my suitcase and it stayed there for eight months.”

The song reached #1 on the US Billboard Easy Listening chart in October 1974 and #10 on the US Billboard Hot 100. It peaked on multiple RPM music industry charts in Canada as well.

Carefree Highway Gordon Lightfoot song namesake named after road interstate

Canadian folk rock singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot named his 1974 hit “Carefree Highway” after a stretch of road just north of Phoenix, Arizona. This sign is located on the northbound I-17 exit to the Carefree Highway.

The Carefree Highway is an east-west segment of State Route 74 in Maricopa County that connects I-17 to Tom Darlington Drive near the town of Carefree. It is a straight, rolling section of quintessential southwestern US highway. Desert mountain vistas, saguaro cacti and the mesas of Tonto National Forest form its backdrop. Several communities are located on the Carefree Highway corridor including Desert Hills, Tramonto, Cave Creek, Carefree and The Boulders.

The songwriter reminisces in the lyrics about an unrequited love when he was 22 years old. In the tune, the singer symbolically escapes down the Sonoran Desert road and wonders if the woman named Ann still thinks of him.

Lightfoot confirmed the origin of the Arizona song reference before a live concert crowd in Flagstaff that I attended in March 2016.

Even though I hear this song occasionally on SiriusXM satellite radio, it still plays best in my head with intermittent AM static on the factory radio of a 1983 Oldsmobile. Here is a a stereo version. Enjoy.

 

Carefree Highway (Live In Reno)

 

Lyrics to Carefree Highway

by Gordon Lightfoot

Album: Sundown (1974) on Reprise Records

Picking up the pieces of my sweet shattered dream
I wonder how the old folks are tonight
Her name was Ann and I’ll be damned if I recall her face
She left me not knowing what to do

Carefree Highway, let me slip away on you
Carefree Highway, you seen better days
The morning after blues from my head down to my shoes
Carefree Highway, let me slip away, slip away on you

Turning back the pages to the times I love best
I wonder if she’ll ever do the same
Now the thing that I call living is just being satisfied
With knowing I got no one left to blame

Carefree Highway, got to see you my old flame
Carefree Highway, you seen better days
The morning after blues from my head down to my shoes
Carefree Highway, let me slip away, slip away on you

Searching through the fragments of my dream shattered sleep
I wonder if the years have closed her mind
I guess it must be wanderlust or trying to get free
From the good old faithful feeling we once knew

Carefree Highway, let me slip away on you
Carefree Highway, you seen better days
The morning after blues from my head down to my shoes
Carefree Highway, let me slip away, slip away on you
Let me slip away on you
Carefree Highway, got to see you my old flame
Carefree Highway, you seen better days
The morning after blues from my head down to my shoes
Carefree Highway, let me slip away, slip away on you.

 


If You Could Read My Mind was written during the collapse of my marriage. It’s a great song. No one has any gripes about it. I wondered what my wife and daughter might think. My daughter is the one who got me to correct ‘The feelings that you lacked’ to ‘The feelings that we lacked. – Gordon Lightfoot, Canadian country and folk singer-songwriter