Written by Pierre Sénécal, the song features the organ, an instrument popular in 1960s pop and rock music, as the dominant instrument. It opens with an organ motif in a minor key and abruptly shifts to the main organ theme before the vocals enter, punctuated by insistent, fast, repeated organ chords.
The French-speaking, musically self-taught Sénécal actually wrote the lyrics in English, since his band-mates were all English-speaking. These lyrics suggest various meanings of the question “Do you love me?” and of the expected response “Yes, I love you.” Sénécal’s insights into the many possible forms of love from childhood to old age made As The Years Go By a natural for middle-of-the-road radio and easy-listening charts.
As The Years Go By was a last-minute addition to the band’s debut album, the self-titled “Mashmakhan,” which they recorded in New York City for the Columbia label. The group however felt that the song lacked hit potential, so they had intended another song to be the single. They were quite surprised when Columbia cut that one in favour of As The Years Go By. The single (with Days When We Are Free on the other side) was released in June 1970 and became a No. 1 hit with a gold record and then a platinum one (100,000 records sold) at home, before it charted in the US.
The single spent 18 weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, peaking at No. 31 and enjoying sales of one half a million copies in the U.S. In Japan, it rose to become the third largest selling single in that nation’s history. Commenting on the song’s chart-topping achievements Sénécal said, “I wasn’t surprised. I remember when I wrote that song I felt I had something that was extremely commercial. It’s one of those songs that took me fifteen minutes to write.” The record helped CBS International, which released it in Europe and Japan.
As The Years Go By made Mashmakhan one of Canada’s top groups of 1970-1971 and catapulted them to international fame, albeit brief. Drummer Jerry Mercer told the Montreal Gazette, “We went from playing in a church basement in Île-Perrot on a Wednesday night to playing in Tokyo on Saturday.” They performed the song in major venues in Canada, the US and Japan, where they played for audiences of over 60,000. Another highlight of the group’s touring career was the famous “Festival Express” 1970 train tour which travelled across Canada with such icons as Janis Joplin, The Band, Robert Charlebois, and Grateful Dead. Mashmakhan’s hit song appears on the resulting 2003 DVD. The band was however destined to be a one-hit wonder, breaking up the following year.
As The Years Go By can be heard on the compilation albums “Maple Music Vol. 1” (1972), “Rock Artifacts Vol. 1” (Sony, 1990), “Mashmakhan/The Family” (Mashmakhan’s albums re-released together in 1999), “Rock Treasures” (Sony, 2001); and “70’s Vol. 3” (Universal, 2007).
The song earned Pierre Sénécal a SOCAN Classics Award in 1999. He tried briefly to re-form Mashmakhan in the mid-1980s, wrote some music for film, and released singles in 1980 and 1982.