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.
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.
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.
Listen to that song again – and picture a teenager building that heartbreaking classic, verse by verse.
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.
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.