The Song Stuck in My Head


Our Daily Correspondent

Life is but a day:
A fragile dewdrop on its perilious way
From a tree’s summit
—John Keats

Last night I heard the singer-songwriter Emmy the Great cover “Who Knows Where the Time Goes.” It was beautiful. That song is one that lends itself to covers: resolutely gorgeous, flexible enough to allow for interpretation, but always essentially itself. Whether it’s Cat Power, Richard Thompson, Eva Cassidy, or the cast of Pretty Little Liars singing the ballad, the mix of melancholy reflection and bursts of pure feeling can never be less than stunning. (Okay, maybe the Pretty Little Liars version doesn’t quite get there.) 

Written in 1967 by the folk-rock legend Sandy Denny, “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” was covered by Judy Collins, then recorded by Denny herself and by her band, Fairport Convention. The elegiac lyrics take on more poignancy in light of their author’s life: after struggles with substance abuse, Denny died at only thirty-one from blunt-force trauma to the head following a bad fall. Although she was revered by her peers, she wasn’t a great commercial success, and her reputation has grown significantly since her death.

Across the evening sky, all the birds are leaving
Oh but then you know, it was time for them to go
By the winter fire, I will still be dreaming
I do not count the time
for who knows where the time goes?
Who knows where the time goes?
Sad, deserted shore
your fickle friends are leaving
oh, but then you know it was time for them to go
But I will still be here
I have no thought of leaving
I do not count the time
for who knows where the time goes?
I know I’m not alone
while my love is near me
I know that it’s so until it’s time to go
All the storms in Winter and the birds in Spring again
I do not count the time
For who knows where the time goes?
who knows where the time goes?
who knows where the time goes?

It’s the classic stuff of ballads—Denny came from a family of traditional singers—but more personal and immediate. While you can’t go wrong with any cover, I do urge you to listen to Nina Simone’s rendition, which trades wistfulness for wisdom. 

Indeed, her opening words on people pleasing are worth the listen alone: “You use up everything you got when you give everybody what they want.”

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.