A great song has many lives.
Those who write a song give it life – but after that, their song takes on a life of its own: shaped and reimagined through the experience, talents and style of the artists who cover it. And when the song is a great piece of work – a composition that puts a deeply human, emotional message to a beautiful melody – it will have a long life. A great song will be addressed, caressed and blessed by many musicians over the course of decades.
Some great songs seem impossibly visionary and too emotionally mature to have been written by the callow youths who penned them.
Inspired in a dream, 22-year old Paul McCartney gave us “Yesterday” in 1965.
Since then, there have been more than 1,600 recorded covers of that classic gem.
Bob Dylan was only 20 when he wrote “Blowin’ In The Wind” in 1962.
It’s amazing that such poetry, passion and profound wisdom could flow from someone not even old enough to buy a drink in the Greenwich Village folk clubs.
And Jimmy Webb was just 19 years old when he wrote the brilliant romantic musical short story, “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” around 1965.
Listen to that song again – and picture a teenager building that heartbreaking classic, verse by verse.
Right around the time that the prodigies Webb and McCartney were writing songs that would become standards, 16-year old Jackson Browne wrote an introspective ballad called “These Days”.
It would be nearly a decade before Browne put the song on his second album, “For Everyman”, in 1973.
Here’s a much older Browne performing “These Days”. The song seems perfect for an older and wiser man looking back on a long, hard life. But as you listen, try to strip away the years – and picture a 16-year old kid writing such lyrics.
Now, I’m not a big fan of Nico, but she did have the good taste to record “These Days” in 1967. Pay attention to the arrangement of her version. Four decades later, you’ll hear the influence of Nico’s arrangement in Glen Campbell’s 2008 cover.
Gregg Allman recorded his own cover of “These Days” for his debut solo album, Laid Back, released in 1973, like Browne’s “For Everyman”. (Allman and Browne were both 25-years old at the time.)
Here’s 41-year old Allman performing “These Days” in 1989, harmonizing with the great Graham Nash. It’s remarkable what an additional 16 years of life experience brings to the performance of a song originally written by a kid who had only been alive for 16 years.
The first time I can remember hearing “These Days” was when Glen Campbell featured it on his 2008 album, “Meet Glen Campbell”. Glen was 72 years old when he sang it – and listening to an older and wiser Glen connect with the song, I thought Jackson Browne had written it recently. Surely, a man with something like Glen’s years and experience created those lyrics, and the melancholy yet somehow hopeful melody they’re strung upon. Maybe Jackson had even written it for Glen? But no.
It’s just another moving example of how a great tune written by a soulful young songwriter of preternatural talent can be given new life by a great artist.
7 responses to “One Song: Four Artists”
Paul. Wow. You have taken me on a voyage of discovery here. And I agree with your proposition and conclusion that songwriting talent– any creative talent, but musical talent especially– can be preternatural. Thank you for the writing, production and thinking time it took to present this. It’s a treat and an inspiration. And I have to say, while I enjoyed all of the versions of this soulful ballad, Mr. Campbell’s moved me most. As you have said elsewhere, about your man Glen… bow down. I am bowing in the presence of his greatness.
Lovely post. I am your biggest fan when you post such interesting introspective cultural offerings. Civil War battlefields? Not so much, but I respect your right to share that stuff too.
Tom Rush also does a great rendition of this wonderful tune. I’ d not heard this in quite awhile. After listening to Glen I’m close to tears. These days listening back to those days….thanks for giving.
What a great post, Paulie. Just watched Glen C in the WRECKING CREW documentary. The older Glen reflecting on the younger studio session-man Glen led me straight back to the Meet Glen Campbell album (that YOU gave me! Thanks you, sir) and this great cover of Jackson Browne’s tune. That album features Glen covering several contemporary songs in that wise but never-weary way of his. Totally honest and personal and all the more touching now as he begins his fade-out. Oh, and bring on the Civil War battlefields stuff any ol time you want to… And more about the naval aspects of the war of 1812, too, please.
Thanks, Brad. Where did you see the Wrecking Crew doc? I saw it at Vitello’s last year. I sure hope they can raise the money to pay for all those music rights and give it the wide distro it deserves.
Speaking of naval warfare in the Age of Sail, I will soon be posting my book report of on “Lord Cochrane: The Real Master and Commander”.
I often think about how young all these songwriters were when they came up with these songs, and wonder if there’s any equivalent coming out of my generation (or if one has already).
Paul Westerberg, former leader of the band the Replacements does a moving rendition of this song as well. I have not heard a version of this beautiful song that did not do some justice to the original version by Jackson Browne. The haunting starkness of the song reminds me of old Irish and Scottish folk songs.