What Did You Do To My Life?

Album: Neil Young (1969)

Songfacts®:

  • "What Did You do to my Life?" is a breakup song, pure and simple. What makes it distinctly a Neil Young tune are the lilting vocals and haunting, faded chorus, which sounds like a ghost crying out from an attic.

    The whole Neil Young album, his debut, is infused with an eerie sorrow. In Good Times (August 1969), Greil Marcus described its songs as, "Scary and at times virtually maudlin, creepy, almost a horror show."

    In some of the album's songs, such as "The Loner," "The Last Trip to Tulsa," and "The Old Laughing Lady," the subtle strangeness is in the lyrics themselves. In "What Did You Do To My Life?," however, as in "If I Could Have Her Tonight," it's in the vocals and the backing music. In the hands of nearly any other musician on Earth, the song would be just another breakup song, good for forgettable. With Young, it becomes something almost otherworldly and unforgettable.
  • One lyric stands out in the song: "I don't care if all the mountains turn to dust in the air." This line plays that same role that "I've been looking for a woman to save my life" plays in "I've Been Waiting for You." They bring a sense of fatalism and desperation to the songs, which suits the desperate way Young sings them.

    There's not a sense that Young is going to be rebound and be just fine once he lets the anger. It feels like he's on the verge of taking the bridge, and it's easy to imagine him putting down his guitar after recording was done and walking off to do exactly that.

    Luckily, that wasn't the case. Young kept recording for many decades after this song was released.

Comments

Be the first to comment...

Editor's Picks

Sub Pop Founder Bruce Pavitt On How To Create A Music Scene

Sub Pop Founder Bruce Pavitt On How To Create A Music SceneSong Writing

With $50 and a glue stick, Bruce Pavitt created Sub Pop, a fanzine-turned-label that gave the world Nirvana and grunge. He explains how motivated individuals can shift culture.

Sarah Brightman

Sarah BrightmanSongwriter Interviews

One of the most popular classical vocalists in the land is lining up a trip to space, which is the inspiration for many of her songs.

Tom Bailey of Thompson Twins

Tom Bailey of Thompson TwinsSongwriter Interviews

Tom stopped performing Thompson Twins songs in 1987, in part because of their personal nature: "Hold Me Now" came after an argument with his bandmate/girlfriend Alannah Currie.

The End Of The Rock Era

The End Of The Rock EraSong Writing

There are no more rock stars - the last one died in 1994.

Black Sabbath

Black SabbathFact or Fiction

Dwarfs on stage with an oversize Stonehenge set? Dabbling in Satanism? Find out which Spinal Tap-moments were true for Black Sabbath.

Emilio Castillo from Tower of Power

Emilio Castillo from Tower of PowerSongwriter Interviews

Emilio talks about what it's like to write and perform with the Tower of Power horns, and why every struggling band should have a friend like Huey Lewis.