Meeting people along my way
Seemingly I'd known one day.
Familiarity of things
That my dreaming always brings.
Happenings ten years time ago
Situations we really know
But the knowing is in the mind--
Sinking deep into the well of time
Sinking deep into the well of time.
Walking in the room I see
Things that mean a lot to me.
Why they do I never know.
Memories don't strike me so.
Memories don't strike me so.
It seems to me I've been here before--
The sounds I heard, and the sights I saw.
Was it real, was it in my dreams?
I need to know what it all means.
[Break and rap]
Happenings Ten Years Time Ago was the last Yardbirds single to break into the U.S. pop charts. Though they did release their last album in the Summer of 1967, called Games People Play, it was poorly received. By then Jeff Beck had left the group, leaving the lead guitar playing to future Led Zep Jimmy Page, who does an admirable job on the album. However, the rest of the Yardbirds and their songwriters seemed to go too far with the light hearted kiddy stuff popular at the time, flirting with an emerging genre of bubble gum, and weren't convincing in the stiff competition of sounds at psychedelia's peak. Though several other albums have been revived since as worthy of attention now that the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Doors, and Jefferson Airplane no longer dominate the airwaves of the Summer of Love, Games People Play is not among them. Suffice it to say that after Jeff Beck left the group, even with a talented guitar lead like Jimmy Page, the Yardbirds lost their direction. George Starostin of the website Only Solitaire points out the Yardbirds couldn't survive because they were a singles group, and not capable of making a good album. He also blames a change in quality on the album's producer, Mickey Most, who had a tendency to fluff things up. Led Zeppelin arose from the Yardbirds corpse, helping to forge another phase of popular music in hard rock, heir of psychedelic music. Unfortunately, the Yardbirds, as one of the pioneers of the psychedelic movement, passed into history after the release of Happenings Ten Years Time Ago, and helped to mark the end of the early phase of the genre's development.
Happenings Ten Years Time Ago was one of the rare recordings (Beck's Bolero is another) which capture both Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, playing dual lead guitars. In this instance they also seem to duel, as from the beginning the rhythmic lead instrumental line is broken into two opposing phrases which the two guitarists pass back and forth. This sort of theatrical competition between two lead guitarists was a new phenomenon in rock music, though other psychedelic groups would pick it up and develop it, such as the Buffalo Springfield, Moby Grape, Jefferson Airplane, and later, with Abbey Road, the Beatles. Competing guitars, which I believe were originally recorded in country and blues pop music, would continue to be a rock staple long past the psychedelic period.
I have to admit that I don't know whether Beck or Page play particular phrases in Happenings Ten Years Time Ago, though the break certainly introduces its audience to Page's recognizable, Led Zeppelin phrasing. The whole group seems to stop for his solo, as if he were addressing them from another period, in the near future, a little beyond the comprehension of the rest of the group. Jimmy Page would disappear into being a session man for much of the psychedelic period, to step forward with his own group only after the fashion was passing.
A particularly psychedelic sound effect, via guitar, is introduced in Happenings Ten Years Time Ago, that of a two tone ambulance siren. This sound, perhaps taking its verbal cue from Bob Dylan's Pledging My Time, would echo through the melody of the Beatles' I Am The Walrus, and the instrumental wailing of other psychedelic tunes, such as Somebody's House is Burning by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. It should also be recalled here that an ambulance "to the funny farm" was cited in a popular Summer of 1966 novelty lyric, They're Coming To Take Me Away Ha-Haaa by Napoleon XIV. Ambulances seemed to be part of the ambience.
The lyrics to Happenings Ten Years Time Ago are not clear, but according to Yardbirds songwriter Jim McCarty, as quoted in Songfacts, he and group member Keith Relf were trying to write a song about reincarnation. McCarty reportedly recast the opening lines of the song as Meeting people along our way / That we'd seen from another day. Unfortunately the recorded lyric of the second line is Seemingly I'd known one day, a distortion of time sense that the English language tends to reject. It's the same sort of odd time sense one gets from the title, in which ago suggests the past while ten years time suggests the future. I would submit because this was unintelligible to the rational mind, the song did not do well on the pop charts, and was dismissed as gibberish. The playfulness with time reminds me of Bob Dylan's album cut, My Back Pages. I can understand that the mix of tenses serves the purpose of reincarnation, or, as was later the fashion, to express the tripping experience of deja vu. Such a feeling of seems to me I've been here before is common in the LSD and other hallucinogenic experiences. But the lyrics aren't deft enough to use verbal tenses in such a way as to make past and future blend with the present. It sounds incoherent to the casual listener.
A distinction is made between deja vu and remembrance: Memories don't strike me so is a distinction well worth making, for here we have an intimation of meaning in the recognition of a stranger, but without knowing why. Structurally the Memories line echoes the chorus, not the stanza to which it is attached. It points back to another clumsily stated But the knowing is in the mind, which I always had filled in rationally as But half the knowing is in the mind, which makes more sense. Damned if after several listenings that I can't get the singer to form those words! To me, the song suggests that a feeling of meaning and the knowledge of its importance (lodged in memory) are different things. But there's been a deliberate bit of obfuscation, as in a dream.
In the voiceover during the break of Happenings Ten Years Time Ago (which comes as if over the mike from the lead singer in a live performance) some of the words aren't clear, but the rant comes into focus upon ridicule of long hair. Long hair as a sign of the brotherhood of freaks had been coming on for quite some time by the Fall of 1966. Is it true, as my research shows, that up to this point only the Yardbirds were singing about and promoting this hippie signifier? Later discussions of long hair on hippies in the 1960s mostly evade the classification of psychedelic masterworks considered here. Only If 6 Was 9 by the Jimi Hendrix Experience (If all the hippies cut off all their hair / I don't care...) makes the collection. But a couple of less significant songs of psychedelic music come to mind: Almost Cut My Hair by Crosby, Stills and Nash (a David Crosby composition), which references If 6 Was 9, and Moby Grape's Rose Colored Glasses (composed by Bob Mosley), which, like the Yardbirds' Happenings, breaks into a talking blues to address a "long-haired creep".