If you’re a new visitor to this blog, the purpose of my Wrestling With The Angel series (or category) is to highlight and share individual songs that are on a list of mine entitled: Devastatingly Great Songs. The title phrase, “Wrestling With The Angel,” is my paraphrase of a line from a poem by Herman Melville called “Art.” You can read the complete poem in my archived post of November 4, 2011: “The Source.”
Some songs are like Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo.
Lisa sat to have her portrait painted by only one artist; but that artist, Leonardo da Vinci, produced a single work of art, his “Mona Lisa,” that is an endlessly fascinating and now, of course, iconic image of this young, 16th century woman.
Some songs are like Norma Jeane Mortenson.
For seventeen years, Norma Jean posed and acted before the cameras of dozens of photographers and movie directors. But from the thousands and thousands of photographs and twenty-seven feature-length films that these artists produced, not one single image paints a complete portrait of the young model and actress known as Marilyn Monroe.
“These Days” by Jackson Browne is a Norma Jeane Mortenson-kind of song.
Now, the first time I heard “These Days” I was listening to a Tom Rush album.
Singer-guitarist Tom Rush (born February 8, 1941 in Portsmouth, NH) recorded two Jackson Browne songs, “Colors Of The Sun” and “These Days,” for his first album for Columbia Records. Titled Tom Rush and released in March, 1970, this record was the musician’s seventh LP. Tom’s first album, the independently-produced Live At The Unicorn, came out in 1962. In 1965, his fourth album – and first on Elektra Records – was also titled Tom Rush.
On the Tom Rush Tom Rush album I was listening to, “These Days” was the first track on side 2.
Listen for yourself.
The musicians on that recording were: Tom Rush, acoustic guitar & vocals; Trevor Veitch, lead guitar; Duke Bardwell, bass; Warren Bernhardt, piano; and Herbie Lovelle, drums. The string arrangement was by Ed Freeman.
I fell in love with “These Days” and learned to play and sing it from Tom Rush’s recording. I could relate to the introspective observations of the lyric’s wise-beyond-his-years protagonist. I savored wrapping my voice around the curves and rhythms of such a finely crafted melody. I had, by that time, acquired enough fingerpicking guitar skills to be able to bring out all of the rich and emotive harmonies of the chord progression’s half dozen or more open-position chord fingerings. It was (and still is) a completely rewarding experience to be able to sit down and play and sing this song.
But, I would have to wait three and a half years to finally hear how Jackson Browne himself would play and sing “These Days.”
Songwriter, singer, guitarist and pianist Jackson Browne (born October 9, 1948 in Heidelberg, Germany, to an American serviceman father and Minnesota-born mother and raised in Los Angeles, California from the age of 3) recorded his self-titled first album in 1971 for Asylum records.
Jackson’s rendition of “These Days” appeared on his second album, For Everyman, in October 1973. Accompanying Jackson’s lead vocals and acoustic guitar on the track are David Paich, piano; David Lindley, electric lap steel/slide guitar; Doug Hayward, bass & harmony vocals; and Jim Keltner, drums. The track notes on the back cover of the For Everyman record jacket state that the arrangement of “These Days” contained within was “inspired by Gregg Allman.”
Listen to this one, too.
For all of the beauty and multi-faceted brilliance of the performances on each of those recordings (and the intriguing differences between them), I have found myself over the years returning time and time again to the Jackson Browne recording because of the truly dazzling contributions of David Lindley.
Maxi-instrumentalist David Lindley (born March 21, 1944 in San Marino, CA) was a member of the psychedelic Rock band Kaleidoscope from 1966-1970. In 1968, he started doing freelance session work, adding his talents to recordings by Leonard Cohen, The Youngbloods and Graham Nash.
David Lindley began performing with Jackson Browne around the time Jackson’s first album came out. When it was time for Jackson to go on tour in support of Jackson Browne, he initially had a hard time reproducing the album’s full-band arrangements in a live, in-concert setting, mostly because of how well he and David worked together as a duo.
Jackson explained this dilemma in an interview by Derk Richardson that appeared in the February 2006 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.
“In putting together a band,” Jackson recalled, “no matter what I did, it wasn’t as cool as just me and David. I thought, ‘It’s going to take a lot longer to make a band do what we do together,’ and it did take a long time. That became my quest – to get a band to play as emotionally and truthfully as what happened with just me and David.”
To me, on that recording of “These Days,” the music that Jackson Browne and David Lindley create with one voice, an acoustic guitar and an electric lap steel/slide guitar does indeed render the accompaniment of the piano, bass and drums virtually irrelevant. From the way Jackson’s voice and David’s guitar meld in harmony on the first notes of the first verse to David’s epic 48-bar solo that is the song’s coda, all of that coolness and emotion and truthfulness commandingly radiates from every second of this performance.
Go back. Close your eyes and listen again.
Over the years, I’ve learned much about the song “These Days.”
Jackson Browne wrote “These Days” in its first form when he was 16 years old.
The first artist to record “These Days” was the one-time Velvet Underground vocalist and Andy Warhol protoge Nico (born Christa Paffgen, 1938-1988). Nico’s version was included on her 1967 solo album, Chelsea Girl, and featured Jackson Browne’s fingerpicked electric guitar accompaniment.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, a band that Jackson Browne had briefly been a member of in 1966, released their rendition of “These Days” on their 1968 LP, Rare Junk.
Greg Allman’s inspirational version of “These Days” came out on his solo album, Laid Back, which was released almost simultaneously with For Everyman in October, 1973.
The Nico and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band recordings of “These Days” are four verses long, including a second verse that did not make it into the Tom Rush version or Jackson Browne’s For Everyman version.
In 2001, film director Wes Anderson included the Nico recording of “These Days” in the soundtrack of his film The Royal Tennenbaums. The popularity of the movie resulted in a resurgence of interest in the song and directly inspired Jackson Browne to re-learn and begin performing “These Days” in the style he used for Nico’s recording.
Jackson presented his “new” version of “These Days” on his 2005 live album, Solo Acoustic, Vol. 1.
If you’ve got the time and a little listening left in you, here’s that recording.
This summer, on Tuesday, August 19, my wife and I attended the Concord, New Hampshire stop of Jackson Browne’s “2014 Solo Acoustic Tour.” Not long into the second set, Jackson fingerpicked the distinctive introduction of “These Days” on a small body, sunburst Gibson acoustic guitar. (This was one of 23 guitars – and a piano – that Jackson had on stage with him for that evening’s concert.) The gorgeous performance of “These Days” that he gave for us that evening was almost exactly like the “Solo Acoustic, Vol. 1” recording above. One difference was the addition of the brilliant electric lead guitar work of Val McCallum, Jackson’s “surprise” accompanist for the evening. (Val brought 6 guitars.)
The other difference was that Jackson included the “missing” second verse of the 1967 Nico recording.
Here’s what it looked like.
Finally, according to the song’s Wikipedia page, since 1975, “These Days” has been recorded by an additional 21 different artists or bands.
“These Days” by Jackson Browne.