"Goin' Back" is the opening track on Comes A Time, a mellow, melodic record that gave little hint of the hard-driving Rust Never Sleeps that would come a year later.
In the chorus of "Goin' Back," Young sings about a simple yearning for return to a freer past, but everything else in the song's lyrics is just plain weird. At times, they're almost apocalyptic. There's a sky filled with fire and Earth rocks careening through space. There are people torn apart by the shadows of buildings and high mountains sunken in cities. That sense of confusion and dissociation is actually the point of the song.
"Goin' Back" is "sorta like the debris of the '60s," Young says in Jimmy McDonough's Shakey. "There's nowhere to stay, nowhere to go and nothin' to do. You could go anywhere..."
Lots of musicians from the fabled '60s just pretended to be part of the hippie scene in order to appear hip, but Young's participation was about as real as it gets. He's been singing about the hippie dream and the loss of '60s pretty much since the moment the decade and the movement ended.
Like one of the great painters who does a long series of works rendering the same object or theme over and over again, Young has taken us to the territory many times over the course of his career. What makes "Goin' Back" unique in that canon is that there's little on the surface to give away the subject matter.