100. Jackson Browne

Jackson Browne (b. 1948) is a singer/songwriter from Los Angeles, California. A published songwriter years before his debut album in 1972, Browne was an integral figure in the vibrant Los Angeles folk rock scene during the late sixties and seventies. The first three albums received critical acclaim and modest commericial success; his Late For The Sky in 1975 is generally thought as his creative peak. His most popular album, Running On Empty (1977), reached number three on the Billboard pop album charts, and was nominated for a Grammy award. Though his output slowed over the years, Browne continues to compose and perform in concert. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.

Wikipedia Biography of Jackson Browne

Fine Biographical Overview by Russ Paris

Los Angeles Music Scene Timeline

Browne’s “Best” Work Receives Mixed Reviews

Like many artists, the self-titled first album Jackson Browne is a mature portrait of Browne, the result of years of preparation. His first hit, “Doctor My Eyes”, is one of his best:

In the All Music Guide to Rock, William Ruhlmann writes:

“Like any great artist, Browne articulated the tenor of his times. But the album has long since come to seem a timeless collection of reflective ballads touching on still difficult subjects — suicide (explicitly), depression and drug use (probably), spiritual uncertainty and desperate hope — all in calm, reasoned tones, and all with an amazingly eloquent sense of language.”

— William Ruhlmann

Purchase “The All Music Guide to Rock” on Amazon.com

On the other hand, critic Robert Christgau’s impression is less sanguine:

“The voice is pleasant, present, and unpretentious, and when I listen assiduously I perceive lyrics crafted with as much intelligence and human decency as any reasonable person could expect. Unfortunately, only critical responsibility induces me to listen assiduously. It’s not just the blandness of the music, but of the ideas as well, each reinforcing the other. Even the meticulously structured requiem “Song for Adam” interests me more for the quality of Browne’s concern than for its philosophical conclusions.”

— Robert Christgau

Robert Christgau Reviews Jackson Browne

Robert Christgau books on Amazon.com

While reviewing Browne’s music this week, I found meaningful commentary lost in the sleepy lullaby of his pleasant voice and an accompaniment without distinction. Even if his lyrics convey a depth of understanding that belies his youth, I can’t grasp it.

Browne’s quiet, contemplative songs may be best executed with spare accompaniment. He wrote “These Days” as a teenager, years before his national debut. Check out Nico’s version as well.

I love the line “Don’t confront me with my failures, I had not forgotten them”. How does a sixteen year old write that?

Running On Empty

The multi-platinum Running On Empty was a common soundtrack up and down the dormitory halls in early college years. Similar to his earliest work, Running On Empty elicited a variety of professional opinion:

“As a result, Jackson Browne’s least ambitious, but perhaps most accessible, album ironically became his biggest seller. But it is not characteristic of his other work; for many, it will be the only Browne album they will want to own, just as others always will regard it disdainfully as ‘Jackson Browne Lite’.”

— William Ruhlmann

“Out of the studio — this was recorded on tour — Jackson sounds relaxed verbally, vocally, even instrumentally. He cuts his own meager melodies with nice ones by Danny O’Keefe and Danny Kortchmar. He does a funny and far from uncritical version of “Cocaine” and a loving and far from unfunny version of “Stay.” I consider this his most attractive album. But his devotees may consider the self-effacement a deprivation.”

— Robert Christgau

Fast Times At Ridgemont High

At times, the prolific Browne strays from his role as social commentator. Commissioned to provide a song for the 1982 movie Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Browne produced the straight ahead rocker “Somebody’s Baby”, at #7 his highest charting hit and another favorite:

Fast Times At Ridgemont High was a very influential movie, featuring several young actors who became major Hollywood stars.

Wikipedia Entry for “Fast Times At Ridgemont High”

A Conscientious Activist

Browne is notable for his political and environmental activism. In 2004, Browne received an honorary doctorate degree from Occidental College, for “a remarkable musical career that has successfully combined an intensely personal artistry with a broader vision of social change and justice”. In particular, he is a champion for the prudent use of both energy and plastics, as described in the two following articles:

Jackson Browne’s Off-Grid Ranch

Jackson Browne Receives 2011 Wallace J. Nichols “Ocean Hero” Award

One of his political statements, “Lives In The Balance”, with David Crosby and Graham Nash pitching in:

To his credit, extensive review of his music did not grow tiresome; listening to Jackson Browne in the background remains pleasant for hours. This is not generally true. Browne’s voice has matured with age, and the two solo albums from the past few years, Solo Acoustic, Vol. 1 and Solo Acoustic, Vol. 2, feature good renditions of his famous songs. The two songs labeled (En Vivo) are from a live 2010 album with David Lindley. I left a few hits from Running On Empty, but this list of twenty-two songs gives a broad overview of his career:

Jackson Browne Songs:

Doctor My Eyes, Jackson Browne ✭✭✭
Somebody’s Baby, Jackson Browne ✭✭✭
For A Dancer (Live), Jackson Browne ✭✭✭

Take It Easy, Jackson Browne ✭✭
Redneck Friend, Jackson Browne ✭✭
These Days (Live), Jackson Browne ✭✭
Ready Or Not, Jackson Browne ✭✭
Rosie, Jackson Browne ✭✭
Running On Empty, Jackson Browne ✭✭
For A Dancer, Jackson Browne ✭✭
Tender Is The Night, Jackson Browne ✭✭
Song For Adam, Jackson Browne ✭✭
Lives In the Balance (Live), Jackson Browne ✭✭
My Stunning Mystery Companion (Live), Jackson Browne ✭✭
Late For The Sky, Jackson Browne ✭✭
These Days (En Vivo), Jackson Browne & David Lindley ✭✭
I’m Alive (En Vivo), Jackson Browne & David Lindley ✭✭

Before The Deluge, Jackson Browne
Jamaica Say You Will, Jackson Browne
Under the Falling Sky, Jackson Browne
Rock Me On The Water, Jackson Browne
Off Of Wonderland, Jackson Browne

Related Songs:

Take It Easy, The Eagles ✭✭✭✭

Stay, Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs ✭✭

These Days, Nico ✭✭

2 thoughts on “100. Jackson Browne

  1. Roofrack September 11, 2011 / 11:57 PM

    John, You are a gifted writer. You’re introducing me to music I’ve enjoyed, but it comes to life through your words. Thanks! –RR

    • theperfectipodcollection September 17, 2011 / 11:52 PM

      Thanks for the nice words.

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