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.

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