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"These Days"

#161 / Video Extra

Jackson Browne was just 16 when he wrote “These Days,” an iconic song of remembrance and loss. Such wistfulness seemed at the time somehow beyond the kin of someone of less than one score years. However, we came to see as his remarkable career continued that for Mr. Browne this kind of insight was bred in the bone.

The song has a curious history. We in The Flood learned our approach to the tune from Tom Rush’s beautiful, pensive rendition on his 1970 self-titled Columbia album.

Until that LP came out, none of us had even yet heard of Jackson Browne; after all, at that point the young singer-songwriter was still two years away from his own debut album.

In the first years of The Flood, “These Days” was a regular at the jam sessions, always following the Rush arrangement, with Charlie singing and Roger and Dave providing the solos.

Only later did we learn that Rush was taking his cue from the first recording of the song, performed by Nico on her 1967 Chelsea Girl album, a disc on which Browne himself contributed the signature guitar accompaniment.

Enter Gregg Allman

A few years after that, “These Days” took a major turn in its evolution through the artistry of Gregg Allman, who produced a dramatically new arrangement of it for his 1973 Laid Back album.

Of course, Allman is most associated with the emerging Southern Rock movement, and it is that sound he brought to his treatment of the tune. Less well known is that fact that Gregg also had history in the folk-rock world, spending considerable time in Los Angeles before The Allman Brothers Band came together back home in Florida.

Allman and Browne became friends and roommates in those days. Remembering Jackson working on the song, Gregg always had a different idea of how it should go. That was the vision he brought to his version when he recorded it, double-tracking the vocal over a sad steel guitar. The result was what Rolling Stone magazine termed "resigned, eternally aching.”

Browne loved the new sound for his old song, and when he got around to recording it on his For Everyman album in 1973, he based his arrangement, not Nico’s and Rush’s original, but on the sound that Allman created.

In fact, virtually all recordings of “These Days” after 1973 — from those by Cher, Kate Wolf and 10,000 Maniacs to others by Don Henley, Glen Campbell and Barbara Manning — imitated Gregg Allman’s voicing.

Enter Hollywood

And just when The Flood was beginning to think its version ought to be retired to a music museum, suddenly that simpler original interpretation of the lovely tune got a revival through the helping hand of Hollywood.

In the new century, "These Days" gained renewed visibility when the 1967 Nico recording was included in a scene in the 2001 Wes Anderson film “The Royal Tennebaums.”

"It's no surprise that Wes Anderson used this recording,” commented The Philadelphia City Paper at the time. “The fear of missed opportunity that its characters share is what propels 'These Days'."

Jackson Browne later said he forgot he had licensed Anderson to use the song. “This is one of those things that comes to you in the mail,” Browne said, “and you don't know what they're talking about and you simply give them their permission.”

Flash forward a few years. “You're sitting in the movie theater,” Browne said, “and there's this great moment when Gwyneth Paltrow is coming out of a bus. 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."

The following year, a 2002 Kmart commercial looped the guitar part from the same Nico recording. After that, there suddenly was a new wave of treatments of the song, some emulating either Nico or Tom Rush, others imagining it in other ways. Nico's version later even became a sound on the popular TikTok mobile app.

Finally, coming full circle, Jackson Browne himself began playing "These Days" again in his concerts, finger-picking the guitar part in a technique and feel that fell somewhere between the Nico and Allman recordings.

Our Take on the Tune

In the Floodisphere, we have never really stopped playing that original version, and it came up again at last week’s rehearsal.

Harmonicat Sam St. Clair was a bit under the weather and couldn’t make the session, but the rest of us held down the fort, with Dan Cox and Veezy Coffman laying down some especially beautiful solos for this 2022 take on the tune. We’re glad that Pamela Bowen had her phone at the ready to video the moment on a wonderful December evening at the Bowen house.

The 1937 Flood Watch
The 1937 Flood Watch
Charles Bowen