Its A New Day But It All Feels Old Lyrics Neil Young’s "Old Man" – The Meaning (and Musicians) Behind the Song

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Neil Young’s "Old Man" – The Meaning (and Musicians) Behind the Song

The song “Old Man” first appeared on Neil Young’s 1972 Harvest album. With its thumping and raggedly-picked acoustic guitar, high-tenor lead vocals and over-all folk sound and feel “Old Man” has become one of Neil Young’s most memorable tunes. What was the inspiration behind this song and what famous musicians lent their talents to create this musical masterpiece?

“Old Man”, which reached no. 31 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in 1972, opens with Young singing: “Old man look at my life, I’m a lot like you were.” As listeners we immediately find ourselves wondering about the identity of the old man. Was it Young’s father? Grandfather? Of course there is always the possibility the “old man” is a metaphor and there really is no old man per se. However we have now come to learn there was in fact a specific old man to whom Young was singing.

In 1970 Neil Young purchased the Broken Arrow Ranch in Redwood City, California. Apparently it is the caretaker of this ranch who is the subject of this song. In Young’s recent concert movie Heart of Gold he introduces “Old Man” by saying: “About that time when I wrote Heart of Gold and I was touring, I had also — just, you know, being a rich hippie for the first time — I had purchased a ranch, and I still live there today. And there was a couple living on it that were the caretakers, an old gentleman named Louis Avila and his wife Clara. And there was this old blue Jeep there, and Louis took me for a ride in this blue Jeep. He gets me up there on the top side of the place, and there’s this lake up there that fed all the pastures, and he says, “Well, tell me, how does a young man like yourself have enough money to buy a place like this?” And I said, “Well, just lucky, Louie, just real lucky.” And he said, “Well, that’s the darndest thing I ever heard.” And I wrote this song for him.”

Of course knowing what we now know makes it that much easier to understand the rest of the song’s lyrics which include: “Old man look at my life, twenty four and there’s so much more. Live alone in a paradise that makes me think of two. Love lost, such a cost, give me things that don’t get lost. Like a coin that won’t get tossed, rolling home to you.”

Mystery solved. Which brings us to the question regarding the supporting artists on this classic song. The album’s liner notes confirm Singer/Songwriter James Taylor played six string banjo (with guitar tunings) and sang backing vocals on the song. Singer Linda Ronstadt added her distinctive vocals as well. This combination of the day’s mega-talents explains the unmistakable “sound” of the song. The mixture of Young’s raw singing and guitar playing are perfectly counter-balanced by the sweet vocals and musical touches provided by Taylor and Ronstadt.

With a perfect blend of subject matter, strong (and haunting) melody, effective performance and guest appearances by singers James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt, “Old Man” remains one of Neil Young’s finest songs.

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