Jackson Browne started the new decade with 1980’s Hold Out, an album considered his first dud by most critics. Nevertheless, it was also his first (and only) album to reach #1 on the Billboard chart, powered by his newfound popularity post-Running On Empty and a couple of minor hit singles.
I remember seeing this album in cut out bins back when I used to spend much of my free time CD shopping. Between that fact, the critical consensus, and the cheap-looking cover art, I did not have high hopes for this record.
The Jackson Browne album people know best, and the one that has sold more than any other by far, is the one least representative of his overall output.
1977’s Running on Empty, Browne’s fifth release, is a concept record about life on the road, with all of its tracks recorded during live shows or in hotel rooms, buses or backstage. Browne has solo writing credits on only two songs (the two best, as it turns out) and four are covers. The mood and style of this album is a long way from the cerebral folk rock of his earlier releases.
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.
Doing this deep dive, I’ve been surprised to realize how few “hits” Jackson Browne has recorded. ‘Doctor My Eyes’ and ‘Somebody’s Baby’ are the only two to reach the top ten, with ‘Running on Empty’ a little ways behind. But that’s about it, in terms of Jackson Browne songs your average music fan can name off the top of her head.
You can throw ‘Take it Easy’ into the mix, but that was a hit for the Eagles, not Browne himself. Even his ‘These Days’ is better known as a Nico recording.
Jackson Browne brought out the big guns for his sophomore album, 1973’s For Everyman, enlisting a star-studded cast of musical peers. Elton John, David Crosby, Joni Mitchell, Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Bonnie Raitt all make appearances on this collection, a more confident and resonant album than his debut.
Browne also delivered his own versions of two of his most celebrated early compositions. The album starts off with ‘Take It Easy,’ which Browne co-wrote with Glenn Frey, whose Eagles made it a Top 40 hit. And he offers up a plaintive version of ‘These Days,’ previously released by both Nico and Gregg Allman.