It is true that I bought every Jackson Browne album I could get my hands on when I started collecting vinyl again, but there is only one that I really need.
“Jackson Browne – Running On Empty”
I have flipped past it several times in moments of vinyl culling, and considered it, then moved on. Once I even really did pull it and put it in a pile to make art out of, but when I worked my way down in the pile to it, I held it in my hands and smiled and set it outside the door of the music room to be returned to the rack. I just can’t get rid of it. There are other Jackson Browne albums that have some great songs… but this one has a special place in my consciousness. It gets to me in ways that I think I only really just realized today when I played it while working at home alone.
First of all, Paul Beck introduced it to me and we would listen to his tape of it when we were hanging out in my rented room in Milwaukee in my college days. At the time I didn’t really appreciate it and was confused by the sometimes live, sometimes studio, sometimes mixture sound quality of it all. At times it sounds like they are sitting in your living room pickin’ on some songs, and other times you are hearing the crowd. There are moments where they are talking to each other as they play and as the tracks fade out as if they were recorded impromptu. It is a strange effect. Paul loved it. He claimed that this was the album that he and his dudes listened to back home while they were drinking and hanging out at his friends farm with this playing on the car stereo loud. I came from Illinois where the drinking age at that time was 21, so imagining that scene always comes with the playing of this album. It’s as though there is some inherent freedom that is associated with these tracks. I thought Paul was very worldly and it just rubbed off on this album for me.
Second, it kind of epitomizes that late 70’s feel, sounding a bit like Eddie Money meets The Eagles meets Fleetwood Mac. I can imagine Jackson Browne on stage in Hagar slacks and open collar button up shirt in his flip flops. This was before the 80’s when things went plastic and neon and has I think weathered the test of time. When I listen to this I hear the best of the late 70’s and not the pulp that later became the worst of the 80’s. There is a laid back feel to it that makes it perfect almost anytime.
Also, noteworthy, these songs are not on any “studio” albums. I thought a studio version of “You Love The Thunder” and “Running On Empty” would be a great tracks and looked for them when I was buying vinyl, but it turns out that these songs were all recorded for the first time as he toured with them. Which explains the jumble of sonic backdrops. Some were recorded on the tour bus, or in hotel rooms as well as on the stage. I think that this definitely helps craft that impromptu feel.
Songs from this album were rock enough to get to the rock and roll radio stations without having screeching guitars and despite having violin on some tracks. This was largely before what TYPE of rock you played helped determined where you were heard. The soft rock station vs the hard rock station. This album was sort of every man’s rock. Music at home on the car stereo, heard drifting over the water at a lake, or in a dim room lit only by stereo components playing only so loudly that you can exchange stories with your friends over it and let it pleasantly fill the short silences.
Lastly, the music on this album, largely about travel and being away from the ones you love and living life on the road means even more to me now that I have grown and matured. “If it’s too loud, your too old!” Maybe so, but there is a lot of wisdom and strife in these songs that it takes time in a life to be able to appreciate. So the radio friendly songs will grab you and pull you in for your first listen, but it’s the other songs that will keep you coming back.
I have purchased about the first 10 Jackson Browne albums and there are about 2 songs on each that would make an excellent “Greatest Hits” album for me, but “Running On Empty” is complete in and of itself.
Paul turned me on to a lot of bands, like old AC/DC, April Wine and George Thorogood, but it was this one, that he always played casually, that has stuck with me in a little corner of my mind to become a classic of my collection.