Time is a constantly shifting, constantly changing framework. Perspectives adapt. Memories bend. Things we know to be true are conjecture. Things we know that have happened is nothing more than imagination.
Paul McCartney wrote the beautiful Beatles song “I’ll Follow the Sun” when he was only 16 years old. Released on the 1964 album Beatles for Sale, this lovely little folk-rock treasure was written in 1957, when we barely knew what rock and roll was, before Paul had even met John Lennon to create The Beatles, and well before we had even heard the term folk rock. What had Paul McCartney heard that served as inspiration? When he put pen to paper, could he have imagined that the song would be commercially released seven years later, and possibly serve as inspiration to other artists?
This gentle, loping acoustic song that people thought was a contemporary sound was actually created in the midst of the rock and roll explosion of the late 1950’s. That which they thought was coming from the mind of an established artist had actually come from the imagination of a 16 year old. Time shifts. The framework changes.
“Well I’ve been out walking
I don’t do that much talking these days”
During these isolated days of the COVID-19 pandemic, these days when sometimes my only connection with the outside world are the several short walks I take around my neighborhood, I often find myself humming “These Days” by Jackson Browne, from his 1973 album For Everyman.
“These Days” is a Southern California country rock classic. Released almost 50 years ago, it evokes a specific time and place, and has earned a place next to the finest music of Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Linda Ronstadt. Reflective and pensive with concurrent themes of maturity and innocence.
“These days I seem to think a lot
About the things that I forgot to do
And all the times I had the chance to”
Though Browne wrote the song, it was first recorded by Nico, and then the chord progression and lyrics were altered slightly for a recording by Gregg Allman. By the time Browne decided to release the song as well, he picked up pieces of inspiration from previous recordings, and finally recorded the song himself.
“I’ve stopped my rambling
I don’t do too much gambling these days, These days-
These days I seem to think about
How all the changes came about my ways.”
Jackson Browne was 25 years old when his recording of “These Days” was released, but just like with Paul McCartney before him, he had actually written song nine years before when he was only 16. Actually, Browne wrote “These Days” in 1964, the same year that “I’ll Follow the Sun” (written in 1957) was released.
We cannot say, with any measure of certainty or confidence, that there would be no “These Days” had it not been for “I’ll Follow the Sun.” However, I do feel comfortable saying that there would be no sun-tinged, Southern California easy going country rock had The Beatles not provided a way for mainstream America to hear folk inspired rock songs, like “I’ll Follow the Sun,” “I’m a Loser” and “Baby’s in Black.”
But those songs were all buried pretty deep on Beatles albums, and it’s worthwhile to note that while a young Jackson Browne was writing this deeply reflective, mature soliloquy, he was likely also hearing the mainstream hits like “I Saw Her Standing There” and “A Hard Day’s Night,” along side their more contemplative folk rock counterparts. During this time of the British rock invasion, Jackson Browne was writing the blueprint for the Laurel Canyon country rock explosion of the early 1970’s, in the early 1960’s, during which time he being inspired by new music that was written in the late 1950’s.
Time is shifting.
The structure of “These Days” is simple. Browne is strumming a simple rhythm on his acoustic guitar, guided by a descending bass line and backed by the wail of a steel pedal guitar. After the opening lines, he is joined by quiet drums and piano.
“And if I seem to be afraid
To live the life that I have made in song
It’s just that I’ve been losing so long”
Who does this 16 year old kid think he is? How does he know about loss, love, failure, and rambling and gambling? I’ve tried to be cynical, and dismissive, and convince myself that the song is not as good as I think it is now that I know it was written by a teenager. But I can’t get there. The song is a brilliant, reflective piece of songwriting. Jackson Browne has been writing great music his entire career, and I think it begins with this song, written by a 16 year old rock star in the making.
“These days I sit on corner stones
And count the time in quarter tones to ten
Please don’t confront me with my failures
I had not forgotten them“
Written and Performed by Jackson Browne
Released October, 1973