Monday, May 25, 2020

Jackson Browne - These Days

While Jackson Browne's lyrics are more often known for their sociopolitical content, "These Days," the iconic tune written when Jackson was a high school student in Orange County, is a song of unrequited love and regret. Originally recorded for the Nina demos in 1967, the song was given to Nico for her solo LP, Chelsea Girl, in a version Jackson would dismiss when he finally recorded it in 1973.

By 1970, Jackson was well established in L.A. and the Laurel Canyon scene, but he'd yet to release an LP of his own tunes. Before his debut release, Browne's songs were recorded by Tom Rush, Joan Baez, The Byrds, Linda Ronstadt and The Eagles, among others, and before he could take a stab at releasing his own version, the song would travel south for Gregg Allman's 1973 solo album, Laid Back. Allman's cover seems to steal Browne's thunder just as The Eagles had when they recorded "Take It Easy," a song Browne co-wrote with Glenn Frey. Browne based his own arrangement of "These Days" on Allman's, crediting him in the liner notes. Allman alters the phrasing of the lines, honing a bluesier cadence, and the sense of loss in Allman’s voice is unmistakable, coming shortly after the death of his brother Duane.

Browne's version, recorded in Studio One at Sunset Sound, follows Allman's acoustic pace, with David Lindley supplying slide guitar, and bassist Doug Haywood the harmony vocal. Jim Keltner's drums and David Paich's piano give the song the classic 70s folk-rock feel of early Asylum Records. (There was indeed an expectation if an LP graced that blue label with the Asylum door.) For many contemporary listeners, though, "These Days" will forever be linked with Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums. Browne gave his permission for use in the film and promptly forgot about it until he was at the theater and the familiar guitar intro cued up. He didn't initially even recognize his own playing.

Bruce Springsteen, a longtime fan who inducted Browne into the Hall of Fame in March 2004, described the first time he heard Browne perform. "As I listened that night I knew that this guy was simply one of the best," said Springsteen. "Each song was like a diamond and my first thought was, 'Damn, he's good.' My second thought was, 'I need less words.'" (As someone who truly appreciates Asbury Park, I don't know that it was good advice in retrospect.)

As stated, Browne is known as the more political of the Laurel Canyon crowd, but to this writer, it's the angst and the regret that make up the artist's most memorable tunes; think "Fountain of Sorrow," "Late for the Sky" and "Somebody's Baby," the latter adapted for Cameron Crowe's Fast Times at Ridgemont High, a coming of age story about teens struggling with sex, love, and the future. Browne's song (which some speculate was inspired by his own absentee father) is used as the theme to Stacy's misadventures with the opposite sex (as played by an obscenely young Jennifer Jason Leigh). The song appears as Stacy loses her virginity to the local Lothario, Damone, and while it may not work out so well for our heroine, it certainly teaches a lesson about fantasy and reality.