Bob Lefsetz: Welcome To My World - "Jackson Browne Playlist"
DOCTOR MY EYES
The first time you probably heard him.
But I discovered him at the Fillmore East, opening for Laura Nyro in December 1970, during her annual Christmas spectacular, they were both managed by David Geffen, ergo Jackson's appearance. Very few people impress you the first time out, especially if you're completely unfamiliar with their material, but I was enraptured by Jackson and waited with bated breath for his debut LP, which didn't come out until early '72.
"Doctor My Eyes" was not my favorite cut on the album, it was somehow too obvious, but hearing it a decade later waiting to check out at Fedco I realized the magic was in the piano part, and I now love it. It stands the test of time.
ROCK ME ON THE WATER
The first cut to enrapture me on the debut LP, it ended up with a big skip in the middle which I used to wait to hear on the CD, but it was gone.
There have been a number of covers, but no one sings it as well as Jackson.
My favorite song on the album. It opened side two and was quiet and meaningful and was the soundtrack to that bleak Vermont winter.
"Now you say 'Morocco' and that makes me smile
I haven't seen Morocco in a long, long while"
Never underestimate the ability of a song to paint a picture and take you away to a place you've never been before.
SONG FOR ADAM
Who was he? How did Jackson know him?
Death. It's something barely understood in your late teens, when I first heard this. But it wasn't long thereafter that my roommate's brother was killed in a car crash.
Some never get to fulfill their promise. While we waste time and spin our tales squandering our futures.
JAMAICA SAY YOU WILL
The opener. With that majestic piano part. Once again, there are many covers but Jackson owns it. You'll find yourself singing along with the chorus, you won't be able to help yourself.
UNDER THE FALLING SKY
Can I say I prefer Bonnie Raitt's take, on her definitive album "Give It Up"? (Actually, Bonnie equaled it twenty years later with "Luck Of The Draw," how many people return to the pinnacle...ALMOST NOBODY!)
A CHILD IN THESE HILLS
Everybody acts so grown up today. Am I the only one who still feels like a child?
TAKE IT EASY
Yes, Jackson cowrote it, many argue he was mostly responsible for the Eagles' breakthrough hit, he released his iteration in 1973, a year after theirs. It was quieter and less majestic, more intimate, and its greatness was in the way it segued into "Our Lady Of The Well" on the album.
I THOUGHT I WAS A CHILD
Once again, Bonnie Raitt did a killer cover, on her third album, "Takin My Time," but that LP is a bit slicker than "Give It Up," and "I Thought I Was A Child" suffers for it.
"It's such a clever innocence with which you do your sorcery"
Whew! Who writes this stuff? One Jackson Browne, the bard of the seventies, the king of the California sound. Hipsters knew him, he had a place in the firmament, but he was not ubiquitous, his true fame was years off, but his greatness was evidenced early. "For Everyman" was not quite as good as the initial LP, it moved the ball forward ever so slightly, but that does not mean it's not excellent, even better in retrospect, after decades of substandard albums by pretenders.
At this point Jackson was not famous for writing this, as he is today. "For Everyman" pre-dated Gregg Allman's solo LP by a smidge, but when the southern rock icon released "Laid Back" Jackson's fame grew. Funny, as time marches forward the wisdom and greatness of this song is being forgotten, we thought our music was forever... Well, it is for us!
READY OR NOT
"And the next thing I remember, she was all moved in
And I was buying her a washing machine"
The story of Jackson meeting and marrying his first wife, if this song doesn't make you want to move to SoCal and partake...you have no dreams.
THE LATE SHOW
My number one album of all time.
Go ahead and judge me, but there's more insight and wisdom in 1974's "Late For The Sky" than anything released in the twenty first century.
This is the closing song on side one of the LP, and it's full of couplets that deserve to be framed.
My favorite is:
"Now to see things clear it's hard enough I know
While you're waiting for reality to show
Without dreaming of the perfect love
And holding it so far above
That if you stumbled on to someone real you'd never know"
There it is. We're so busy looking in the distance that we don't see what's right in front of us.
"Maybe people only ask you how you're doing
'Cause that's easier than letting on how little they could care"
Whew! Ain't that the truth. If someone is truly listening, make them your friend, you're gonna need 'em, life is rough.
"Afraid that all these words might scare you away"
If you meet the right person you can't shut up, you want to share everything.
If you've got more questions than answers, if you feel damaged and alone, with no direction home, spin "The Late Show." No one ever talks about it, you never hear it on the radio, but it's my favorite song on the LP. Join the club.
LATE FOR THE SKY
"Now the words had all been spoken
And somehow the feeling still wasn't right
And still we continued on through the night"
You've said everything but you're still yearning to connect, to make your point, so you soldier on, even though it's way past midnight.
"Tracing our steps from the beginning
Until they vanished into the air
Trying to understand how our lives had let us there"
Breakups, they're hard. Today you ghost, just disconnect, maybe text your exit. But when you live together, when you're invested, it's so hard. We used to review everything that once was, reminiscing as we knew there was no future. You've come this far, but you can go no further.
"You never knew what I loved in you
I don't know what you loved in me
Maybe the picture of somebody you were hoping I might be"
As close as we are in relationships, we're still alone. We never really know what bonds others to us. What we think are our flaws are our attractions.
"Awake again I can't pretend
And I know I'm alone
And close to the end
Of the feeling we've known"
It's so scary. Part of you is dying to march forward, into the universe.
Another part of you just wants to stay put.
"How long have I been sleeping
How long have I been drifting alone through the night"
You could see the end coming, if you were looking.
And now you're here.
FOUNTAIN OF SORROW
As depressing as the opening cut might be, as heavy as "Late For The Sky" is, the piano bangs and then you're off and running, on the album's opus.
Listen for the truth.
I'll just quote one line, which I use on a regular basis:
"I'm just one or two years and a couple of changes behind you"
We're all going through this life at our own speed. And it's rare that we're on the exact same page. We've got so much to learn, and opportunities are lost when we can't connect because we're in different places.
FOR A DANCER
"Keep a fire burnin' in your eye
Pay attention to the open sky
You never know what will be comin' down"
You learn this as you age, the best plans are ruined. Life is about the unexpected. Like death.
"I don't know what happens when people die
I can't seem to grasp it as hard as I try"
I said these words at my father's funeral, and I'm gonna say them at yours. He had terminal cancer, but his death was still a shock. The finality. They're gone.
"Just do the steps that you've been shown
By everyone you've ever known
Until the dance becomes your very own"
So many never do this, they never grow up, they never make decisions for themselves, they still worry about what their parents and society have to say.
With Freebo on tuba. This tack is upbeat, the kind you sing to yourself when you're walking down the avenue feeling good and not exactly sure why.
It's 1976, two years after "Late For The Sky," Jackson is reaching critical mass and Jon Landau produces an album if not quite as good as what came before results in much deeper cultural impact.
This was a staple on the radio, along with Hall & Oates's "Rich Girl" and eventually "Hotel California," it was a magical time, the fall of '76.
YOUR BRIGHT BABY BLUES
The best song on "The Pretender."
"Everybody's going somewhere
Riding just as fast as they can ride
I guess they've got a lot to do
Before they can rest assured
Their lives are justified"
As true today as it was back then. Everybody's fakin' it, trying to prove something to someone who is not them.
"I can't help feeling I'm just a day away from where I want to be"
Well, it used to be. When I believed in the power of the individual, when I thought I could make it on sheer will.
I haven't, but I've still got this record.
"Baby if you need me
Like I know I need you
There's just one thing
I'll ask you to do
Take my hand and lead me
To the hole in your garden wall
And pull me through"
HERE COME THOSE TEARS AGAIN
"Here come those tears again
Just when I was getting over you"
Oh, your twenties. When so many relationships end in dead ends.
You can't live with 'em, and you can't live without 'em.
This song is a tear, with backup vocals by Bonnie Raitt, it will empower you to hang on.
RUNNING ON EMPTY
Made Jackson Browne a star.
Only a year later, much sooner than ever before, Jackson released this 1977 album cut on the road and ended up a giant. This was the opening track, and if not quite as famous is as much a part of the culture as the Eagles' "Life In The Fast Lane," you should know that your baby boomer predecessors uttered these words all the time...
They were RUNNING ON EMPTY!
Written by one Danny O'Keefe, it feels like being on the road. Check it out.
THE LOAD OUT/STAY
The first of its kind, where many people first learned about life on the road, this epic production was an FM staple.
Now it's two and a half years later. The eighties have begun, disco killed corporate rock and then the whole enterprise imploded. There's just something magical in the sound of this track, I've come to love it more with each year that's gone by.
OF MISSING PERSONS
The story of Lowell George, who most didn't know then and still don't know now.
LAWYERS IN LOVE
The eighties were in full swing, yuppies were coming into prominence, but despite the dash for cash Jackson Browne didn't cast aside his role as commentator. You were either with us or against us. But the truth is most had given up and switched sides, the revolution was in the rearview mirror.
CUT IT AWAY
The best song on "Lawyers In Love," it's about when your brain says yes but your heart says no. Jonathan Franzen details this eloquently in "Purity," but not as well as Jackson does here. You've got everything you thought you wanted, you fought hard for it, and then you find out...it doesn't make you happy. Why does life has to be so strange? You think you've reached the mountaintop, but the truth is you've got to journey back down into the valley in search of a destination you can only feel and may never find.
Supposedly the album was concocted in a loft downtown, when L.A.'s titular epicenter was a true wasteland, before its renaissance.
FOR A ROCKER
"I'm gonna tell you something I found out
Whatever you think life is about
Whatever life may hold in store
Things will happen that you won't be ready for"
It's 1983, MTV's got traction, Jackson's on the losing side of distance, yet he's still got it!
I used to say to play this at my funeral, when I was still a rocker, when I still felt that music could save your life.
Listening on headphones right now...maybe it still can.
IN THE SHAPE OF A HEART
Jackson's last single with any real traction. 1986's "Lives In The Balance" is not good, it just wasn't timely, "Thriller" had and the SoCal sound seemed quaint. You can listen to more of the album, check out "Candy," but you don't have to, not if you're not a fan.
I AM A PATRIOT
Written by Little Steven, when he was on EMI America and trying to make it as a solo act, when he thought politics were important, before he became Silvio Dante and retreated to the E Street Band with his tail between his legs.
Jackson still plays this live.
As for the rest of 1989's "World In Motion"... A true disappointment.
And then came...
A complete return to form. Four years later. Completely unexpected.
Suddenly Jackson retreated to the sound that made him, cast aside the electricity and went for that intimate sound.
This is the post Daryl Hannah album. And maybe it was less than successful because his female fans were now judging him, but this album is nearly as big an accomplishment as the aforementioned Bonnie Raitt album "Luck Of The Draw," a high point decades later when it was least expected.
You're deep into it.
Then you escape.
MY PROBLEM IS YOU
"But to go on attempting to break into the prison
You'd have to be me"
Perseverance. Or maybe myopia. You're not ready to give up.
EVERYWHERE I GO
Great white reggae. Infectious.
I'LL DO ANYTHING
The haunting sound that sold JB in the first instance.
It rocks, all of "I'm Alive" is not a downer, you can groove to the sound, even if the story is less than optimistic.
TOO MANY ANGELS
For those of you who thought Jackson burned out, that he couldn't do it anymore, check this out.
SKY BLUE AND BLACK
"I'm Alive"'s epic. Which had some word of mouth and some traction, but ultimately "I'm Alive" did not fulfill expectations, so Jackson backed away from this intimate sound, to his detriment, he was on to something. "I'm Alive" is a hidden gem, check it out.
It's three years later, 1996, and Jackson's rocking out again, the title track of the LP is infectious in the same way as "Disco Apocalypse," the hooks will grab you.
THE BARRICADES OF HEAVEN
This survives. Jackson plays it regularly today. The story of growing up in California, the story behind the exuberance of "Running On Empty."
"No, I couldn't tell you what the hell those brakes were for
I was just trying to hear my song"
And the song remains the same, the youth run head first into the future with little wisdom but plenty of drive. The only difference was back then you did it anonymously.
Almost yacht rock, a modernized "Walking Slow," the magic is in the change into the chorus.
I'M THE CAT
Come on, sometimes you feel good, you feel powerful, and you sing a song like this in your head. At least I did. Yup, I waver, but sometimes...I'M THE CAT!
That's Culver City. Before it became gentrified, when the Lakers still played just south of there. If you're a basin resident, you'll crack up and smile.
BABY HOW LONG
Totally different from the sound of "I'm Alive," the essence is in the electric guitar, but it feels so good here!
THE NIGHT INSIDE ME
And then all hell broke loose. Napster eviscerated the recording industry and suddenly the baby boomers no longer counted. Jackson didn't return to his acoustic sound of yore, he was stuck in band mode, but there's some magic on 2002's "Naked Right Home."
"I caught a ride into the city every chance I got
I wasn't sure there was a name for the life I sought
Now I'm a long way gone down the life I got
I don't know how I believed some of the things I thought"
It's too late to start over. Suddenly, we are what we've become. Oh, what a long strange trip it's been.
ABOUT MY IMAGINATION
There are two killers on "The Naked Ride Home," two unforgettable tracks that will get inside you and won't let go.
This is one of them.
It's about the changes. Supported by the organ, the sound.
And the magical chorus.
And this is the other. Not only my favorite track on the album, but the best thing Jackson Browne has cut in the twenty first century.
"And never stop coming up with all that love for me
Never stop coming with your faith in what a love can be"
Be there for me, PLEASE!
THE BARRICADES OF HEAVEN-LIVE
And then Jackson gave up, stopped recording new music and went on a victory lap, recorded two double live albums of greatest hits and sold them himself.
If you don't know these "Solo Acoustic" albums you're in for a treat, especially when you hear the stories, like when the audience asks Jackson to sing a SoCal song he didn't write.
This is that 1996 song from "Looking East," which gains gravitas in this solo acoustic rendition.
A complete reworking, the same song, yet different. This is my favorite of the solo acoustic redos. Check it out, it'll get under your skin. The kind of music you used to treasure, you know, when you were alone, at home, behind the wheel...it sets your mind free, you can see the past and the future and you're aware of your place in the landscape of life.
From the second "Solo Acoustic" set. A great song works in all formats, fully produced and stripped down. This is so intimate and so great. It's stuff like this that keeps me going.
And then Jackson reunited with his old partner David Lindley for a tour and live album. I saw it, hope you did, I'm not sure it will ever happen again.
But Jackson does go out solo with his eighteen guitars. If he shows up in your neighborhood RUN to see him!
Once again, this is a slowed-down, reworked rendition of this song, nearly as infectious as the iteration on the solo acoustic album above.
I prefer the acoustic YouTube version with Dawes at the Occupy site downtown. It has an energy the studio take does not. Yet, this has got a great electric guitar sound and maintains its lyrical insight.
Which side are you on?
Do you think music is a sideshow, something casual that pairs with wine?
Or do you believe it can save your life, can move mountains, can exact change.
Used to be musicians used their power to right wrongs, to fight for not only themselves, but you. Back before the best and the brightest all went into tech and everybody became so narcissistic and most concerned with self-preservation. Jackson Browne has a long history of standing up for what's right, and still does, few have done as many benefits, he still believes.
And when you listen to his music, you still do too.