These Days (Jackson Browne song)
"These Days" is a song written by Jackson Browne and principally recorded by Nico, Gregg Allman, and Browne himself in three distinctly different musical styles. Though the song was first recorded by Nico in 1967, Browne had written an early version of the song several years earlier, at the age of 16. The song, which deals with themes of loss and regret, has over the years, in the words of the Los Angeles Times, "quietly become a classic". Pitchfork Media's 2006 ranking of "The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s" placed the Nico "These Days" at number 31.
Origins and Nico version
In the mid-to-late 1960s Browne was a precocious songwriter who was pitching his material to various artists and publishing houses. On January 7, 1967 he made some demo recordings for Nina Music Publishing at Jaycino Studio in New York City. (An unplanned double album of these recordings was made by Nina Music, with 100 copies issued.) Included in these demos, and the third song on this collection, was "I've Been Out Walking," the earliest manifestation of "These Days". Yet the song was even older than that; Browne would later say he wrote it when he was sixteen years old, meaning in 1964 or 1965.
German model and chanteuse Nico was the first to record "These Days" for release, on her October 1967 album Chelsea Girl. The elaborate production featured a fairly fast fingerpicking electric guitar part by Browne played in a descending pattern ending in a C major 7th chord; the use of that instrument was suggested by Andy Warhol, who was part of the Nico and Velvet Underground scene in New York and was looking for something more "modern" than an acoustic guitar in the song. This was combined with strings and flutes, added after the fact by producer Tom Wilson, without Nico's knowledge. Set against these elements were the sad, world-weary tone of the lyrics, all wrapped around Nico's mannered, icy, German-accented, lower-register vocals:
- I've been out walking
- I don't do too much talking, these days –
- These days ... 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
Critics have denounced the strings addition, and Nico herself called the whole album "unlistenable" as a result. But Pitchfork said that nevertheless, the "ineffable sadness" and "grandeur of her melancholy" came through. While Nico never achieved much commercial visibility, her work caught the attention of other musicians and songwriters. And although Browne was still several years from getting his own recording contract, his wise-beyond-his-years talent was quickly recognized by other performers looking for material. And of Browne's catalogue during this period, "These Days," along with his "Shadow Dream Song," were regarded as his gems. Thus "These Days" was recorded in 1968 by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on their album Rare Junk, by Tom Rush on his 1970 self-titled album, by Jennifer Warnes (as "Jennifer") in 1972 (this version was produced by John Cale, who also played on Nico's Chelsea Girl album), by Kenny Loggins' first band, Gator Creek, around the same time, and by Ian Matthews on his 1973 album Valley Hi.
Browne and Allman versions
By 1973, Jackson Browne had become a successful recording artist, and not having raided his back catalogue for the first album, was now more willing to do so for this second, For Everyman. Recorded at the Sunset Sound Factory, this "These Days" was considerably different in several ways from the Nico effort. Some lyrics were changed or omitted, such as a couple of lines about "rambling" and "gambling". The fingerpicking guitar figure was replaced with flatpicking, and the slower-paced instrumentation was typical of early 1970s Southern Californian folk rock — drums, bass, piano, acoustic guitar, but most prominently with David Lindley's slide guitar, a feature of Browne's early albums, but also with Jim Keltner on drums and David Paich on piano. Nico's cool delivery was replaced by Browne's singer-songwriter-style approach, resulting in a vocal that Philadelphia City Paper later called "unique, and piercingly sad".
The For Everyman liner notes thanked Gregg Allman for the arrangement. While Allman was most associated with the emerging Southern rock scene, he had spent considerable time in Los Angeles before The Allman Brothers Band came together; he and Browne had become friends, and the brothers' early band had recorded Browne's "Cast Off All My Fears" on their 1967 self-titled album The Hour Glass. Allman decided to record his own version of "These Days" for his debut solo album, Laid Back, released like For Everyman in October 1973 (and following by a year or two the loss of bandmates Duane Allman and Berry Oakley in motorcycle accidents). Allman's version kept to Browne's revised lyric until the end, when he changed "Don't confront me with my failures / I had not forgotten them," to "Please don't confront me with my failures / I'm aware of them." Rolling Stone praised the treatment, saying Allman "does full justice to the quietly hurting lyrics, double-tracking the vocal over a sad steel guitar," and calling the vocal quality "resigned" and "eternally aching." In 1999, writer Anthony DeCurtis called Allman's version "definitive", and in 2012, American Songwriter magazine said that Allman's recording had overshadowed Browne's in the same way that the Eagles had for Browne's co-written "Take It Easy".
Many years later, Browne would describe the inspiration he credited: "When [Allman] did it I thought that he really unlocked a power in that song that I sort of then emulated in my version. I started playing the piano. I wasn't trying to sing it like Gregg; I couldn't possibly. I took the cue, playin' this slow walk. But it was written very sort of, kind of — [strums opening] — a little more flatpicking."
While neither version was released as a single, both Browne's and Allman's "These Days" recordings gained airplay on progressive rock radio stations and became the most-heard interpretations of the song. The song was included on both of Browne's "best of" albums, The Next Voice You Hear: The Best of Jackson Browne and The Very Best of Jackson Browne, and on both of Allman's compilations, The Millennium Collection: The Best of Gregg Allman and (in a live version) No Stranger to the Dark: The Best of Gregg Allman.
When Allman toured as a solo act, he generally kept "These Days" in his concert repertoire. Browne was a different story. It had appeared in his concerts since before he had a recording contract, and stayed in through the 1970s, usually played on piano in a surprising segue out of his biggest hit single, "Doctor My Eyes". But by 1980 he had graduated from halls and outdoor amphitheatres to arenas, and "These Days" disappeared from his set lists, perhaps because he felt it no longer effective in those settings. Save for the occasional acoustic show or benefit show, the song was not heard again until the late 1990s, as Browne was again playing smaller venues, often solo, and where it began to reappear out of the "Doctor My Eyes" segue again.
"These Days" gained renewed visibility when the Nico recording was included in a scene in the 2001 Wes Anderson film The Royal Tenenbaums, which grossed over $50 million in the U.S. and garnered many award nominations. The Philadelphia City Paper wrote that "It's no surprise that Wes Anderson used this recording in The Royal Tenenbaums; the fear of missed opportunity that its characters share is what propels 'These Days'." Indeed, the scene, in which Gwyneth Paltrow gets out of a Green Line bus as the song is heard, was one of the first that Anderson designed for the film. As Jackson Browne would later describe it, "I forgot that I'd licensed them to use this song. And this is one of those things that comes to you in the mail and you don't know what they're talking about and you simply give them their permission. You're sitting in the movie theater and there's this great moment when Gwyneth Paltrow is coming out of a bus or something like that. I'm thinking to myself, I used to play the guitar just like that. And then the voice comes on and it's Nico singing 'These Days', which I played on."
Nico's "These Days" was included on both versions of The Royal Tenenbaums soundtrack. Later, a 2002 Kmart commercial looped the guitar part from the Nico recording. There was a new wave of covers of the song, with some emulating either Nico or Browne while others reimagined it in other ways.
Given this new attention, Browne began playing "These Days" in concert on a regular basis, but on acoustic guitar and in a new style. He now started with the fingerpicking guitar part but continued in a technique and feel that falls between the Nico and Browne recordings. Indeed he would say, "And now I've learned how to play the Nico version, which we sort of made up for her. [Imitates Nico's version] Fabulous you know..." It was included on Browne's 2005 live album, Solo Acoustic, Vol. 1, including a humorous spoken introduction about the origins of the song. Yet another arrangement was constructed for his 2006 tour of Spain with Lindley and percussionist Tino di Geraldo and captured on the 2010 live album Love Is Strange: En Vivo Con Tino. A Spanish-accented vocal from guest singer Luz Casal was set against Browne's acoustic guitar, Lindley's violin, and di Geraldo's cajón; Allmusic stated that the result "makes an already beautiful song exquisite".
The Allman Brothers Band themselves would include the song for the first time in their concerts, featuring it on their March 2005 Beacon Theatre run of shows with Gregg Allman and Warren Haynes both playing acoustic guitar and sharing dual vocals.
Post-1973 cover versions
- New Grass Revival recorded the song in a progressive bluegrass style for their 1975 album Fly Through the Country.
- Indie rocker Barbara Manning included it as the B-side of one of her singles in 1989.
- 10,000 Maniacs covered the song for the 1990 Elektra Records tribute album Rubáiyát.
- The Golden Palominos released an ethereal, drum machine-laced interpretation on their 1993 album This Is How It Feels.
- Kate Wolf recorded it on the 1994 album Looking Back At You (Live, Los Angeles, 1977-1979).
- Lloyd Cole played the song live in the 1990s.
- Elliott Smith was known to cover the song frequently in live performances (most likely in the late 1990s).
- Fountains of Wayne used it as the B-side of their 1999 single "Troubled Times", and later included it on disc 2 of the band's 2005 compilation album Out-of-State Plates.
- Mates of State recorded it as a 7" inch single in 2002
- Paul Westerberg covered the song on his 2003 album Come Feel Me Tremble.
- Philadelphia singer/songwriter Denison Witmer included the song on his 2003 covers album Recovered.
- Alternative folk singer Kathryn Williams included a cover of "These Days" on her 2004 covers album, Relations.
- Annie "St. Vincent" Clark covered the song on the 2006 EP Paris Is Burning.
- Southampton band Delays included a cover of the song on their 2008 EP Lost Tunes.
- Glen Campbell covered the song on his 2008 album Meet Glen Campbell.
- Band Of Horses guitarist Tyler Ramsey covered the song on his 2008 solo album A Long Dream About Swimming Across the Sea.
- Irish singer Gemma Hayes recorded the track on her 2009 Oliver EP.
- Fightstar covered the song acoustically as a B-side to the digital download of their 2009 single "Never Change".
- The Tallest Man on Earth covered the song in 2009 for a Take-Away Show video.
- Robin Pecknold and Alela Diane covered the song at a live concert in 2011.
Musical allusions to the song
- Tim Buckley, who had been involved in recording Chelsea Girls, played a song in the late 1960s called "I've Been Out Walking" that took its first two lines from "These Days" but was otherwise different.
- The title song from Belle & Sebastian's 1996 album If You're Feeling Sinister borrows the melody, though not the words, of "These Days" for its own chorus.
- Beth Orton's 2002 song "Concrete Sky" quoted from "These Days".
- The Dirty Projectors quoted from "These Days" on the track "Two Doves" from their 2009 album Bitte Orca.
The best-known soundtrack usage of "These Days" was in the 2001 film The Royal Tenenbaums. Other soundtrack appearances include:
- The 2002 cover version by indie rock band Mates of State appeared in the 2004 Wicker Park soundtrack.
- A cover version by Griffin House was played on the Everwood television series and its 2004 soundtrack album.
- Browne's 1973 recording appeared in the Seventies-set 2006 film Invincible.
- Jen Stills' version was featured a 2009 episode of the television series Brothers & Sisters.
- Inman, Davis (January 2, 2012). "Jackson Browne, 'These Days'". American Songwriter.
- Roberts, Randall (June 25, 2012). "Review: Glen Campbell's farewell at the Hollywood Bowl". Los Angeles Times.
- "Staff Lists: The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s". Pitchfork Media. August 17, 2006.
- Sessions @ AOL September 4, 2002 Jackson Browne concert broadcast.
- Solo Acoustic, Vol. 1, "These Days" song introduction, 2004 tour.
- Michael Pelusi, "Test of Time: Nico said there'd be 'These Days'", Philadelphia City Paper, November 27, 2003. Accessed May 26, 2007.
- Jackson Browne inductee entry, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Accessed May 26, 2007.
- Tony Glover, "Laid Back", Rolling Stone, January 3, 1974. Accessed May 27, 2007.
- Anthony DeCurtis, "For Everyman", August 5, 1999. Accessed May 28, 2007.
- Interview with Jackson Browne, KGSR radio Austin, October 10, 2002. Accessed May 26, 2007.
- Allman would also later attempt Browne's "Shadow Dream Song" in an unlikely context, the 1977 album Two the Hard Way with Cher.
- "The Royal Tenenbaums (R)". Boxoffice. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
- "Awards for The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
- Georgiana Cohen, "The life I have made in song", The Seedy Revue, August 7, 2004. Accessed May 27, 2007.
- Juhrek, Thom. "Love is Strange: En Vivo con Tino > Review". Allmusic. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
- Bob Grimm, "Let the Eagle Soar", Tucson Weekly, August 31, 2006. Accessed May 28, 2007.