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Zorg Report: A Brief History of "Oh So Many Years"

A Brief History of “Oh So Many Years”




Norah Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong (2013)


starts at around 23:28, so go back.


–Billie heard the Everlys’ Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, and thought, since he was rich and famous, he’d like to cover it.  His wife urged Norah, who he’d once met at an awards gala, as someone to do it with him.  So it happened, over a total of 9 days.  The Everlys, of course, came from a steeped tradition going back generations.  But if you’ve got the money and a hint o’ time, well, that cures all defects.


Billie kind of turns it into a honky-tonk song and uses a big lead riff that makes it almost rockabilly.  He intended to stay true to the “original” Everlys, but in this instance he allowed himself some latitude.

You can hear everyone striving for a sparseness true to an original, but they can’t restrain themselves, such showoffs are they, and also so much do they love the song.  Reminds me of Emmylou and Gram, a bit; Emmylou fed off the Bailey Bros., as did so many.  But see below.




The Everlys – Songs Our Daddy Taught Us (1958)


–This must have been a bit of a weird album; after a couple of big hits like “Wake Up, Little Susie” (banned in Toronto in ‘58), the Everlys had to provide more content, overnight.  So. . .songs they knew from youth and had sung forever.  Even Phil at 76 admitted that they didn’t really know what they were singing; they were just striving for good harmonies and music and to please an audience and so on. 

They explicitly used only an acoustic guitar and bass; they wanted the songs to sound like they would be heard on a porch. What they knew.  What they had.

Or that would give cache’, too, a bit like Billie Joe and Norah now.

Notice _1_ sounds like a cacophony with all kinds of things happening at the same time so that the import of the song, lyrically, is lost.  Drums destroying any sense of the music. 


I like how the Everlys’ voices hadn’t even seemed to break by 20; Kentucky never met science.  Those steel-stringed acoustics, those voices like silken filaments (ever tried to break silk?).  Vulnerable, enduring, frail, resonant.

Everlys works for me.  An early vocal pop tune.



The Bailes Brothers akaThe Bailey Brothers (1949)


Of course, nothing comes from nowhere, and the Everlys (songs our daddy taught us) learned from the Bailes, or Bailey Brothers; that’s where they got the harmony.  The Everlys’ dad could easily have introduced this one, since it was in his puberty. 

The steel guitar put the melancholy in the song, and the banjo lends the bouzouki-type sound; if one hasn’t a grand piano or a sophisticated horn or wind instrument, one has voices or banjo with its available steel strings. Notice this sound.

Importantly, Billie Joe Armstrong made Norah Jones swear that she would listen to no other versions of the Everlys’ album.  Clearly, however, he did; his entire approach to the song, and obviously the lead riff from _1_, is based on the original by the Baileys.  Yep, women.  Keep ‘em in the dark.  Never let them know or they might mess it up.  Billie Joe just wanted to make sure Norah sang the high Don part. This overproduced version, _1_, actually loses something by Jones not being ½ way in control of the song, as she isn’t.  It gets throwaway honky-tonk instead of meaningfully moving.  Still, good song; captivating, captive female; I can get into that, but in the end I’m a man and it ends up being a long way from a “Rocking Good Way” with Brook Benton and Dinah Washington.


Turns out that this song was written by Marie or Maria, “Frankie,” Bailes, wife of Walter Bailes or Bailey, when she was, well, maybe not so legitimate by today’s standards.  Walter, like others of his brothers, got to be a priest.   I think, though, that that is where the special feeling comes into this song.  The writer is not just thinking of the future, as we do now, but of the past, and of sins then.  She is saying: “let me sin again, and I will make it right.”  That is where the peculiar power of this song comes from.  It is not, if you listen to Billie Joe now, about a guy longing for a girl, and it is not even, if you listen to the Everlys or the Baileys, an ambiguous song about heartache and longing; actually it is about a striated troubled love for someone that may be illicit—potentially damning.  This is where the “years” of the song come from if you’re 16, or even 18.  I defy an18-yr-old girl today to write this song.  Or maybe I don’t.  Frankie is imagining back into a longing that seems to have gone on for decades; and if you’ve ever been 16, a couple of months can be that long.


This song is not about Billie Joe of Green Day, or Norah Jones; it’s about a young girl, and that’s where this great music came from.  Would Billie Joe, or Norah, or for that matter even Phil or Don Everly, choose “oh so many years” as a chorus line? 

so _5_

The song was written a long time ago by a woman for a man. The later renditions are great, as I’ve said above, but I am haunted by the missing voice in this song.  And that’s the lead voice of the woman in this song, and also the one who wrote it.  It sure ain’t, ain’t, ever Billy Joe.  I hope a great female singer will do this song again one day and put it in its rightful place in the country pantheon.



. . . → Read More: Zorg Report: A Brief History of "Oh So Many Years"

350 or bust: Saturday At The Movies

What’s not to like about this? Norah Jones plays Cry, Cry, Cry at Glastonbury Folk Festival in 2010.