There you stood on the edge of your feather
Expecting to fly.
While I laughed, I wondered whether
I could wave goodbye,
Knowing that you'd gone.
By the summer it was healing,
We had said goodbye.
All the years we'd spent with feeling
Ended with a cry
Babe, ended with a cry. (2x)
I tried so hard to stand as I stumbled
And fell to the ground.
So hard to laugh as I fumbled
And reached for the love I found,
Knowing it was gone.
If I ever lived without you,
Now you know I'll die.
If I ever said I loved you,
Now you know I tried
Babe, now you know I tried. (2x)
Expecting to Fly represents Neil Young's first production with Jack Nitzsche. Nitzsche had worked with Phil Spector to create the "Wall of Sound" effect, and had been picked up as part of the Wrecking Crew for the Beach Boy's Pet Sounds which was released in Spring 1966. Nitzsche was also doing work with the Rolling Stones as early as the Out of Our Heads album, about the time of the release of Satisfaction in the Summer of 1965. But with Neil Young's composition the listener can hear the collaboration more clearly and hear what Nitzsche has to offer. Expecting to Fly has a unique and eerie orchestration on reverb that Matthew Greenwald of allmusic reports has been described as "Phil Spector on acid." Nitzsche's distortion of an actual orchestra creates a vast aural space that would later accustom the ear to mellotron "orchestras", like that of the Electric Light. Previous psychedelic orchestration had tended toward chamber music. The only possible precedents of huge sonic space I can think of are a couple of Marty Balin ballads on Surrealistic Pillow with David Hassinger as sound engineer; and I Feel Free by Cream / Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Tell You by the Bee Gees, both engineered by Robert Stigwood.
Greenwald goes on to write this eloquent paragraph about Expecting to Fly: "Young's sense of craft and the ability to accurately convey the bittersweet emotions of the end of a relationship are positively spellbinding. Recorded with session arranger Jack Nitzsche during one of the periods when Young had temporarily left the Springfield, it was and is (for all intents and purposes) his first solo work. The recording and Nitzsche's string arrangement fit the song's grandeur and sense of grace perfectly."
The song begins like a dawning awareness. It is the reverse of the long piano chord that ends the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album, in that it emerges from silence with ever increasing loudness to burst upon an orchestral introduction. (The use of orchestra bears comparison: A Day in the Life uses it to create a noisy "rush"; the orchestra in Expecting to Fly instead sets a romantic atmosphere, a dreamy setting.) Neil Young comes in with rhythm guitar on the verse and harmonizes with himself by double-tracking. The song ends by restating an orchestral intro, and finishes by holding a note (just as it had begun). In the conclusion, however, the note is held as if by a choir of voices to give an angelic aura.
Despite opening lines that suggest expecting to fly is the anticipation of an initial LSD rush, and the first lines of the second A verse about stumbling which suggest inebriation, Neil Young's lyrics to this song are grounded in regret for the end of a long standing romantic relationship. In this regard, it shares a thematic similarity with Stills' Bluebird. The lyrics and orchestration create a poignancy rare in psychedelia; the emotion evoked is somewhat similar to Paul McCartney's 1966 "art rock" composition, Eleanor Rigby.