Fare Thee Well, Love, which was voted CBC listeners’ No. 1 East Coast song, was the final cut recorded for the Rankin Family’s 1990 indie album of the same name. Jimmy had originally written the song as a solo, but quickly rewrote the lyrics as a duet for himself and his sister Cookie, which they sang live in front of a single microphone. Supporting their lead vocals were brother John Morris on piano and sisters Heather and Raylene on backing vocals. So impressive was the result that the song became the album’s title track.
The family distributed the finished cassette locally in a grass-roots effort that morphed into regional success. The Sam the Record Man store in Halifax stocked it, and their music was picked up by CBC and college radio.
As Jimmy Rankin told CBC Radio’s Classic Wax, “It happened very quickly; it caught on like wildfire….There was something happening in the air in Canadian music, a resurgence of roots music…we just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
The group had sold 100,000 units before signing with Capitol Records EMI Canada. Capitol re-released the album in 1992, choosing Fare Thee Well, Love as a single for the radio market. Both the album and the single exploded onto Canada’s music scene mid-year, becoming cross-over hits on the country singles and country albums charts, as well as the adult contemporary singles, top singles, and top albums charts.
The album went gold before the end of 1992 and to No. 1 on RPM’s Canadian country albums chart; by 1996 it reached quintuple platinum sales.
The single became a No. 1 hit on adult contemporary radio for two weeks and reached Top 10 on RPM’s adult contemporary and country singles charts before winning the Juno award for single of the year for 1993. As if that weren’t enough, The Rankin Family also netted Junos for group of the year, country group, and Canadian entertainer of the year. Fare Thee Well, Love was also nominated for the East Coast Music Awards song of the year.
About his first big hit as a songwriter, Jimmy Rankin remembered, “For me personally that’s the most special song on that record. At the time it really opened a lot of doors for the band because we were on commercial pop radio across the country.”
And special it is; the song’s haunting beauty takes your breath away. With its traditional storyline about a couple who must be parted, longing is expressed in every note and lyric, harkening back to the Scots who left their homeland to settle in Cape Breton. From the lonely resonating opening chord, to Jimmy’s opening solo lament, to the melody’s recurring octave leap, every element conveys distance and space. The Celtic scale and old-style lyrics contribute to the song’s traditional feel.
Fare Thee Well, Love also appeared on The Rankin Family’s albums “North Country” and “The Rankins Collection,” and the group re-recorded it for the 2009 album “These Are The Moments.”
The song has been covered by Ireland’s The Celtic Tenors and by countless choirs. It is also heard on the soundtrack of the Disney film “Into The West.”
The Rankins also performed the song at the 2015 regimental funeral of RCMP Constable David Wynn.
Fare Thee Well, Love made The Rankin Family a cornerstone of the East Coast music industry, paving the way for a future generation of beloved Atlantic musicians.
Jimmy Rankin concludes, “I knew that that was a darn good song when I wrote it…. I still marvel at that song; it’s taken on a life of its own.”
Jimmy (James Kevin) Rankin was the chief songwriter and guitarist for The Rankin Family. He launched his successful solo career in 2001, and to date has recorded seven solo albums and earned several Junos and Canadian Country Music awards plus more than two dozen East Coast Music Awards and several SOCAN awards. He has collaborated with such artists as John Prine, Keith Urban, The Chieftains, and Alison Krauss.