Now that the holidays have come
They can relax and watch the sun,
Rise above all
Of the beautiful things
Go to the country, take the dog.
Look at the sky without the smog.
See the world,
Laugh at the farmers feeding hogs;
Eat hot dogs.
What a pity
That the people from the city
To the slower things
That the country brings.
Time itself is bought and sold.
The spreading fear of growing old
A thousand foolish games
That we play.
While people planning trips to stars
Allow another boulevard
A quiet country lane.
So the subtle face
Is a loser
This time around.
Here we are in the years--
Where the showman shifts the gears
Lives become careers
Children cry in fear
Let us out of here!
One angle I haven’t brought up yet is that every one of the albums listed on TLA from Electric Ladyland to the eponymous Neil Young album were all released on Reprise records in an effort to break into the youth market. (Frank Sinatra originally owned the Reprise label, but he sold it in 1963.) Evidently, the Jimi Hendrix Experience gave the reviving subsidiary of Warner Brothers a good shot of money for capital investment. (In the U.K., the Jimi Hendrix Experience also helped launch Track records, owned in part by Kit Lambert, manager of The Who. Purple Haze was Track’s first single record, and Are You Experienced the company’s first album.) The Kinks had long been on Reprise, but now the group was limping along in sales. Still, they had something of the “artsy” feel that Lenny Waronker as record producer wanted to promote for the prestige of the brand. As we have seen, Waronker promoted Van Dyke Parks and Neil Young (who eventually made the company a lot of money again, but not with this album). He also signed Randy Newman, Arlo Guthrie, Ry Cooder and Joni Mitchell.
The Neil Young album came out after Young had split from the Buffalo Springfield, and continues an exploration of psychedelia that he was developing in 1967. In my estimation it is Young’s only psychedelic album. The artist himself might contest this, as he released in 2012 an album with Crazy Horse that he named Psychedelic Pill. However, to my ear, the kind of production Neil Young puts into Crazy Horse performances is more allied to post-psychedelic hard rock, despite the use of occasional use of psychedelic audio distortion techniques. In the Neil Young album, there is still a sense of psychedelic composition. Here We Are in the Years continues an exploration of making suites from a series of small songs, as he had begun with Broken Arrow, but without chorus or repetition, and using instrumental transitions rather than linking by the insertion of musique concrete tapes. The album stands in the catalogue of Neil Young performances somewhat like Randy Newman’s orchestrated and complex first album; as Pitchfork magazine writer Mark Richardson comments, the album Neil Young represents “a road not taken” in Young’s later career.
Here We Are in the Years has an ecology theme, which was still rather rare in 1968. [The Doors’ 1967 composition When the Music’s Over is the only other ecological song that comes to mind in the songs included in TLA.] There’s also a Ray Davies-like ironic poke at the bourgeoisie (who can make fun of hogs while eating hot dogs) and whose “lives become careers”. But there’s also an inclusion of the aesthetic (which after all, had been nascent in the Buffalo Springfield) of appreciation for “the slower things that the country brings”, which was beginning to really gather momentum by the end of 1968, with the popularity of Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Band, and Canned Heat’s Going Up The Country. The psychedelic value of “planning trips to stars” is criticized for the sort of destructive progress that Joni Mitchell would most memorably sing about in the following year: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” [Yellow Taxi]
As a composition of four distinct melodies with no repetitions, Here We Are in the Years stands as one of the most complex of psychedelic compositions, a complexity which is improved by the quality of the breaks that form the bridges between them. The song begins with a two verse piano introduction accompanied by an acoustic guitar that lays down the first melody. The second melody is treated more or less as a bridge section with an immediate shift, but approaching the 3rd melody there’s a lift in the bridge, with a twelve string guitar that lends an electric sound. Upon approach to the fourth melody there’s a brief orchestral interlude. The fourth melody carries only a touch of orchestral accompaniment when the song title is mentioned, and is followed by a coda that wanders off with the surprising sound of a siren appearing as the volume diminishes toward closing.This seems to me a double allusion to Bob Dylan’s poetry: There must be some way out of here! (the beginning line to All Along the Watchtower), and Somebody got lucky, but it was an accident (from Pledging My Time).