The Neil Young Song That Closely Echoes A Bob Dylan Classic

It's a meta take on the demise of the 60s dream...

Neil Young has never been afraid to lean on his influences. A musician’s musician, the Canadian-born songwriter interweaves his own work with tributes – whether explicitly stated as such, or otherwise. Check out the ‘Satisfaction’-style riff on early Buffalo Springfield track ‘Mr Soul’, or the way ‘Ambulance Blues’ accidentally interpolates ‘Needle Of Death’ by Bert Jansch. In a way, it was inevitable that Bob Dylan’s oeuvre would somehow find its way into the catalogue of this fellow folkie.

‘Days That Used To Be’ from 90s album ‘Ragged Glory’ though, does it in a very meta way, acting as a commentary on the passing of a generation. Using Dylan’s ‘My Back Pages’ as a base, Neil Young scrubs away at the song until it becomes his own, developing this a platform for the message on the fading of 60s idealism.

Fans at the time were quick to note the melodic similarity – after all, The Byrds transformed the song into a hit. The original’s lyrics – “I was so much older then / I’m younger than that now” – can also be interrupted as raging against the dying of the light, a very Neil Young topic.

Indeed, as Neil Young has noted, his song was initially titled ‘Letter To Bob’ – before eventually plumbing for the more original ‘The Days That Used To Be’.

Speaking to Musician in 1991, Neil Young clarified that it isn’t an anti-Dylan track; instead, he uses Dylan’s work as the cypher for an entire generation.

“Yeah, but it’s about everybody from that generation,” Young explained. “It’s to me as well as everybody else.”

The lyrics address the emerging materialism of the 80s and 90s, and Neil Young was self-aware enough to include himself in this critique. “I don’t want to flaunt my riches to the public,” Young said. “There could be somebody writing a letter to Musician saying, ‘What the f–k do we give a s–t about Neil Young’s f–king cars, he’s got so much money… Unfortunately, that’s my lot in life, I have to be a f–king rich hippie and buy old cars.”

Tune in below.

Related: After The Goldrush – Neil Young’s Most Underrated Albums

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