Listen To The Band 5: Jackson Browne

It’s been a couple of months since I last posted in this occasional series – that one was Cat Stevens – and I think it’s time for another. This is another of those artists whose music has been a large part of my listening since his first album was released in 1972, and as he gave us his latest offering last month it seems right to feature him.

Jackson Browne was born on October 9, 1948, in Heidelberg, Germany, where his father Clyde Jack Browne, an American serviceman, was stationed for his job assignment with the Stars and Stripes newspaper. Jackson’s mother, Beatrice Amanda (née Dahl), was a Minnesota native of Norwegian ancestry. When he was three the family moved to his grandfather’s house, Abbey San Encino, in the Highland Park district of Los Angeles. In his teens, he began singing folk songs in local venues such as the Ash Grove and The Troubador Club. After graduating in 1966, Jackson joined the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: he wasn’t with them for long, but they later recorded a number of his songs, including These Days, which was also covered by Nico, of Velvet Underground fame, with whom he was in a relationship after moving to New York. In 1968, following his breakup with Nico, he returned to Los Angeles, where he first met Glenn Frey. These Days would later appear on his second album, For Everyman.

That new album that I mentioned is his fifteenth, so he can’t be described as prolific over his forty nine year career, but he takes his time to ensure that everything he does matches his own high standards. He has also released five live albums, plus a couple of compilations, he has been involved in many collaborations, and there has also been a tribute album on which others covered some of his songs: this was Looking Into You, a 23 track double album released in 2014, featuring a range of great acts, including Bruce Springsteen, Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt, Marc Cohn, Shawn Colvin, Bruce Hornsby, Lucinda Williams amongst others. For me, that stellar cast list reflects the esteem in which he is held by his fellow performers.

Now for some music. The first of his songs that I’m sharing has become a kind of signature song for him, having been a massive hit for the Eagles, who released it on their 1972 debut album. Jackson’s own version appeared on that second album, For Everyman, which was released in November 1973. It has since become a rock standard, and has even been used as a blog title:

That song was begun by Jackson, but he got stuck on the lyrics and asked for help from Glenn Frey, of the Eagles, who was a neighbour in the same apartment block. The rest, as they say, is history. Jackson’s version is a little more laid back, and I’ve always liked it. It was released as a single but didn’t hit the charts: the album, though, reached #43 in the US and has sold over a million copies.

The next two songs both come from his follow up album, Late For The Sky, which came out in September 1974. As one of my favourites of his, that seems only right. This one is lovely:

The song was written for a friend of Jackson’s, who died in a house fire. The friend was a dancer and ice skater, and Jackson has explained the song’s meaning:

“When I wrote him the song – it’s a song I’ve sung many times, other times when people have died – but I was making a metaphor out of the dance. Just the idea that your life is a dance. And there’s a line in it, ‘In the end, there is one dance you do alone.’ That’s one of the songs I’ve sung all through the years, and for me, it’s like going to that place, and dealing with the fact that life will end. It’s a sad song, but at the same time, it feels good to sort through that reality and touch base with it, and then go on.”

The song has a special link to Saturday Night Live, having been performed at memorial services for John Belushi and Phil Hartman (on the latter occasion, Jackson himself sang it).

My second choice from this album is, perhaps, one of my all time favourite songs – by anybody. It is a typical Jackson Browne song, following the thread of a strong social conscience which has always run through his music. This is a fantastic live performance of a wonderful song:

Late For The Sky reached #14 in the US but didn’t chart in the UK. My only regret about this song is that when I saw Jackson live in concert in 2010 he didn’t do this one, but I’ve seen a video on YouTube of him playing it three days before I saw him. Do I feel short-changed? No, it was still one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen, so I’ll forgive him!

It would be another two years until his next album, in November 1976, which gave him his highest position thus far in the US albums chart, and was also his first to break into the UK chart. This album was The Pretender, and this is its title track, which is another piece of magnificence:

That live performance, backed by CS&N, is magical. Mutual respect abounds, and the beauty and power of the song and its wonderful lyrics shine through. Simply amazing. As I said, the album performed well: it got to #5 in the US and #26 in the UK, and this song was a #58 single in the US.

I’m jumping forward a good bit for my next selection, which takes us twenty six years and seven albums on from that last one. Again, I’m giving you the title track, which is another of my JB favourites:

That was, as the video shows, The Naked Ride Home. I couldn’t find a live performance with good sound quality so decided on the official audio only version: there was no way I was leaving this one out! Whilst many of Jackson’s songs display a deeply felt social conscience, he has also written many with a wry take on affairs of the heart, and this is one such. Regrets at missing the signals are very much a part of what we feel after a relationship ends, and this is a perfect description of them. The album peaked at #36 in the US and #53 in the UK, but this song wasn’t released as a single. I think it should have been!

I’m going back to 1986 for my next choice. That was the year of Jackson’s eighth album, Lives in The Balance, which was probably the first where his social and political views were to the fore on the majority of the tracks. However, there was still room for another of his love songs, which was about his first wife:

You can almost see him thinking back to the days he was writing about as he sings the song – the thoughtful looks, the memories coming back to him, as he alludes to in the little piece at the end of the video, before it was unfortunately cut off by the uploader! The album reached #23 in the US and #36 in the UK, and as a single this track got to #70 in the US and #66 in the UK.

As well as his own records, I mentioned earlier that Jackson has been involved in a number of collaborations over the years, and I thought I’d share a couple of the more recent ones with you. Again, his social conscience is very much on display in these. The first one is The Dreamer, from 2017:

As background to that, in 2017 the newly installed Trump administration was waging war on the ‘Dreamers.’ From Wikipedia:

“Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a United States immigration policy that allows some individuals with unlawful presence in the United States after being brought to the country as children to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and become eligible for a work permit in the U.S. To be eligible for the program, recipients cannot have felonies or serious misdemeanors on their records.”

Those who had taken advantage of this scheme became known as ‘the Dreamers,’ as dreams are what their families had when they first came to the US. The scheme was started under the Obama administration, and it was hardly a surprise when Trump, as part of his programme to overturn everything Obama had done, announced his intention to close the scheme in September 2017. This song, written by Jackson with Eugene Rodriguez, describes how such young people were affected by notification of their impending deportation and the destruction of their lives. I think this is a heartbreaking piece of music. As far as I can tell it hasn’t been released by Jackson on record, either as a single or on an album, and the video is the only incarnation of it that I have found. I’m guessing this may, therefore, be the first time you’ve heard it. A further search of Wikipedia does, however, give some information about the band singing with Jackson on this one, and the article does go on to mention this collaboration:

“Los Cenzontles (Nahuatl for The Mockingbirds) is a Mexican American group, cultural arts academy, and media production studio, that promotes Mexican roots music through research, performance, education, musical recordings and videos. They are based in the working-class city of San Pablo, California where they form the core of Los Cenzontles Cultural Arts Academy, where the members of the group were trained. Los Cenzontles have revived and promoted little known styles of Mexican regional music since 1989.”

The other social conscience song I’m sharing is A Human Touch, which was written in 2019 by Steve McEwan, Jackson, and Leslie Mendelson for 5B, a documentary about the hospital workers who cared for AIDS patients in the early days of the illness. This has been included on Jackson’s new album, and it is stunning:

The song was released as a single, but didn’t chart. For me, that doesn’t really matter: this video is incredibly moving, both in the clips it shows from the 1980s and in the obvious impact it has on Jackson and Leslie.

I thought I’d close this piece by bringing it right up to the present, with another track from the new album, Downhill From Everywhere. This one shows that amongst all of his heartfelt lyrics, Jackson also has a sense of humour. And a heart:

In case you were wondering, there is a medical technology company called Cleveland Heart with offices in that area. It works with the Cleveland Clinic to develop “mechanical cardiac circulatory assist devices,” according to the company’s website. As far as I know Jackson hasn’t required their services! The nurse who devours the removed heart is played by the singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers, who looks like she was enjoying herself. The album has only been on release for four weeks, so chart positions may end up becoming misleading. So far, though, it has reached #86 in the US and #35 here in the UK. I hope it sells more!

This piece has somehow developed into quite a long one, and I could go on for much longer, as Jackson Browne’s catalogue is filled with superb songs. I’ve given you a selection of nine of them which I hope give you a feel for his music and why I rate him so highly. If your memory serves you well, you may recall that when I posted R.I.P Nanci Griffith last Saturday, I mentioned that I was deferring one in this series to make way for my reminiscence of a wonderful singer-songwriter who had, sadly, just passed away. I hope the wait was worthwhile for you.

I’ll see you again for the next one in this series, possibly with a shorter gap between them!

33 thoughts on “Listen To The Band 5: Jackson Browne

  1. Pingback: Monday InLinkz Join us at 178 Senior Salon

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  3. Hi Clive, I wanted to let you know that you have achieved ‘silver’ for this post at 178 Senior Salon and your post will be featured with the publication at 2 am PST on Monday, Aug 30th. Congrats

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  4. I have always loved Jackson Browne’s music, and I love this post. I prefer the Jackson Browne version of Take it Easy too. My 30 year old son is a Jackson Browne fan also (he’s a huge music buff, and has a website), and he tells me all the time that Glenn Frey ruined Take it Easy! (He has his reasons!) I stopped by from Esme Salon. Have a great day!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for dropping in and commenting, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post: it’s always good to find a fellow fan of Jackson’s great music, especially one who has achieved what I never managed and has passed that on to her son! You have a great day too 😊

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  5. Great post Clive. I love Jackson Browne’s songs, I’ve been a fan since the late 70’s and you’ve introduced a couple here I wasn’t aware of (I’ve lost track of his more recent albums), so thanks for that. Funnily enough, I do plan to feature Jackson in an upcoming blog.

    There was a great double documentary a few years ago on the California singer-songwriter scene of the 70’s and part of it features Jackson. One of the participants mentions the line in These Days; ‘please don’t confront me with my failures, I had not forgotten them’. The participant (I forget his name) says, ‘he wrote that when he was 17. Who the hell writes a line like that at 17?’ Too true!

    I got to see him for the first time about 4 years ago and it was perfect, he did pretty much everything I wanted to hear and everything was right on the mark.

    I could wax lyrical about Jackson Browne, a great song-writer, thanks for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Paul. It’s always good to find a fellow fan! Looking forward to your blog on him too!

      I think I know the documentary you mention, or I’ve seen something similar – BBC4 Friday evenings fare. I mentioned These Days in the piece and would (should) have included it, but I thought nine songs were enough for one post! As you say, it’s a good example of how young songwriters can produce meaningful lyrics: Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny also come to mind.

      I’m glad you’ve seen him live too – it’s a fantastic experience. I saw him in 2010 and came away feeling I’d been in the presence of greatness. It was only later that I realised he hadn’t played either The Pretender or Before The Deluge, which shows to me just how good he is.

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  6. Pingback: CarolCooks2 weekly roundup…August 15th-21st 2021…7th Avenue, Music, Environmental A-Z, Dragon Eye Fruit and Banana Ketchup.… | Retired? No one told me!

    • I’m pleased you like him too, Stevie. Stay was by far his biggest hit single here (of the three he has had) but isn’t one of his own songs. I kept this piece to those he either wrote or co-wrote, or I might have included it.

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  7. Some great songs there Clive. I am a fan of his music but I didn’t know much about him and his career so your post was fascinating. I enjoyed all the videos! Another version of ‘Take it Easy’ with David Lindley is a favourite of mine.

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    • Thanks, Paul. I’m glad you found it interesting : I see this series as a chance to delve deeper than the usual weekly fare. I took a while to write this one – spent a lot of time watching the videos too! If you mean the version on Love Is Strange I’m with you on that – slightly faster than his early version, and that adds something to it.

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    • Thank you, Robbie. I’m glad you’re enjoying the series and that I’ve introduced you to JB’s music – he deserves a bigger audience, though he has a loyal following.

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    • I’m glad to have made the introduction for you, he deserves to be more widely heard. You’re right, that one is very special, and the video is very moving. You have a great weekend too 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  8. another Take It Easy connection to your blog title. You may have mentioned it before, and I forgot, but I was not aware that Jackson Browne had also recorded a version of this classic song.

    I am a fan of Jackson, but I did not some of these songs, such as For a Dancer, Naked Ride Home, and In the Shape of the Heart, but I am not surprised how wonderful each one is.

    great performance with CSN.

    I was not familiar with the last two, but Human Touch was just beautiful, the words, the images, and the voices. Leslie Mendelson has such a lovely voice, I’ll have to check out more of her work.

    and the last song was a fun one to watch… I wonder if he could get free medical care in exchange for singing a song or two for the hospital staff…

    and how lucky you are to have seen him in concert!

    great post, Clive. Now I need to listen to some more Jackson Browne!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have mentioned the JB connection to Take It Easy before but I don’t expect people to remember anything I write, so no problem!

      I went for a mix of my favourites of his, plus a few that I thought people might not have heard before. It sounds like I achieved that! Looking back on the post, I know I’m biased because I love his music but these are, for me, possibly the best set I’ve shared to date, in any context. They are all masterpieces, in their own way, except maybe the last one, which is just a bit of fun at the expense of an easy target!

      I agree on Leslie Mendelson. I’d not come across her before, but this is a wonderful song, beautifully written and sung, and the video is very moving.

      The concert was great – it was at the Royal Albert Hall, which is one of our most prestigious venues and they book him every time he tours here.

      There’s never a bad time to listen to his music…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Once again, mission accomplished with amix of the familiar and the not so familiar. I’ve watched a few videos of concerts from the Royal Albert Hall – it looks like an amazing venue.

        A couple of my favorite Jackson Browne songs are, as you might guess, some of the more mainstream ones: The Load Out/Stay and Running on Empty…

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, always good when a plan works! The RAH is a lovely venue and has great acoustics. I’ve seen rock, folk and country concerts there, as well as some classical ones. And tennis. I love the place.

        Those are two of the ones I considered but then went for the less familiar. Stay was ruled out as it isn’t one of his own songs.

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