Song of the Day #4,682: ‘The Pretender’ – Jackson Browne

Jackson Browne’s 1976 album The Pretender was his first to reach the Top Ten on the albums chart (it made it to #5) and it scored his highest-charting hit since ‘Doctor My Eyes’ in ‘Here Come Those Tears Again.’

Browne’s wife, Phyllis Major, took her own life during the recording of this album, but that loss isn’t really reflected in the music. One track, ‘Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate,’ addresses the suicide, but the album is otherwise much more upbeat than its predecessor.

On the hit, ‘Here Come Those Tears Again,’ Browne shares a co-writing credit with Nancy Farnsworth, the mother of his late wife, who contributed to the lyrics.

The Pretender is a brief album, running only eight songs and 35 minutes long. The production is slicker than on his previous albums, with Bruce Springsteen’s longtime pal and producer Jon Landau taking the reins, making this Browne’s most pop-rock record to that point.

Standout tracks include opener ‘The Fuse,’ ‘Your Bright Baby Blues,’ and the aforementioned ‘Here Comes Those Tears Again.’

The album ends with the classic title track, a 6-minute screed against the “happy idiots” who would be branded as yuppies a few years later.

Blog visitor Rob has sung the praises of The Pretender several times over the years, and I’ll admit I feel a little bad that it didn’t wow me to the same degree. I probably owe it more than the couple of listens I gave it.

I don’t find the record lacking, by any means, but I would rank it below Late For the Sky and possibly For Everyman.

I’d love to hear Rob’s take in the comments, though.

[Verse 1]
I’m going to rent myself a house
In the shade of the freeway
I’m going to pack my lunch in the morning
And go to work each day
And when the evening rolls around
I’ll go on home and lay my body down

And when the morning light
Comes streaming in
I’ll get up and do it again
Say it again

[Verse 2]
I want to know what became of the changes
We waited for love to bring
Were they only the fitful dreams
Of some greater awakening?
I’ve been aware of the time going by
They say in the end it’s the wink of an eye

And when the morning light
Comes streaming in
You’ll get up and do it again

[Verse 3]
Caught between the longing for love
And the struggle for the legal tender
Where the sirens sing
And the church bells ring
And the junk man pounds his fender
Where the veterans dream of the fight
Fast asleep at the traffic light
And the children solemnly wait
For the ice cream vendor

[Verse 4]
Out into the cool of the evening
Strolls the Pretender
He knows that all his hopes and dreams
Begin and end there

[Verse 5]
Ah the laughter of the lovers
As they run through the night
Leaving nothing for the others
But to choose off and fight
And tear at the world with all their might
While the ships bearing their dreams
Sail out of sight

[Verse 6]
I’m going to find myself a girl
Who can show me what laughter means
And we’ll fill in the missing colors
In each other’s paint-by-number dreams
And then we’ll put our dark glasses on
And we’ll make love until our strength is gone

And when the morning light
Comes streaming in
We’ll get up and do it again
Get it up again

[Verse 7]
I’m gonna be a happy idiot
And struggle for the legal tender
Where the ads take aim and lay their claim
To the heart and the soul of the spender
And believe in whatever may lie
In those things that money can buy
Though true love could have been a contender

Are you there?
Say a prayer for the Pretender
Who started out so young and strong
Only to surrender

Say a prayer
For the pretender
Are you there
For the pretender?
Say a prayer
For the pretender
Oh, are you there
For the pretender?
Are you prepared
For the pretender?

5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,682: ‘The Pretender’ – Jackson Browne

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    The title track, while perhaps never a big hit, is one of Browne’s songs that has received steady radio play on classic mellow rock stations and is a fan favorite, somewhat similar to Billy Joel’s “Vienna” or Elton John’s “Mona Lisa and Mad Hatters” or perhaps Ben Folds “Landed.”

    I haven’t heard the rest of the album (except “Here Comes Those Tears”) in decades, but I recall it being quite solid.

  2. Rob says:

    I’m enjoying your deep dive into Jackson Browne’s catalogue a great deal, and I was curious as to what song on “The Pretender” you would showcase. I think the title track is the obvious pick – as Dana point’s out classic radio spins the track a fair bit. I think the reason why that LP hit me hard was the subject matter and the other tracks on the LP, like “Daddy’s Tune” and “The Only Child” – to my ears the only song that doesn’t fit the theme of the LP is “Linda Paloma” – I typically pass over that track when I spin the LP. There are many reasons why the LP spoke to the 16 year old in me when I received the LP for my birthday. I played the LP white that summer, I just couldn’t get enough of it. It’s well-rounded, beautifully arranged, andproduced with respectful hands and ears.
    Keep up the great work Clay!

    • Clay says:

      Agreed about ‘Linda Paloma’ — that one feels out of place here.

      The one that has grown on me the most is ‘The Fuse.’ It’s a great opener that goes to a lot of interesting places musically.

  3. Amy says:

    Thanks to you and Rob, I’m going to deviate from my practice of listening to playlists over albums and give this one a good old-fashioned “spin.” I am troubled to hear his wife took her life. I’ll be interested to learn whether Browne wrestles with that tragic loss on future albums.

  4. Russ Paris says:

    Per the comments on “Linda Paloma,” I’d like to say that while I agree it doesn’t quite fit the rest of the album, it’s actually a really great song, that has grown on me through the years. I was one of those who would skip it when playing the album back in 1977, but now appreciate it.

    Jackson’s first wife apparently had postpartum depression that eventually led to her suicide, leaving Jackson with their young son. The song “Ready Or Not” from his second album is loosely based on their meeting at The Troubadour in L.A. Jackson has stated that most of the songs on The Pretender were written before his wife’s suicide.

    Also of note: Little Feat’s Lowell George, Billy Payne and Fred Tackett play on the album. John Hall (of the band Orleans) takes the guitar solo on “Here Come Those Tears Again”. Bonnie Raitt sings harmonies. David Crosby and Graham Nash sing harmonies on the title cut.

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