Posts Tagged ‘Jackson Browne’

In 2012, in its third attempt to add order to rock history, Rolling Stone ranked the Top 500 Albums of All Time. Jackson Browne’s 1974 LP Late for the Sky came in at 375. I rate it much higher in my own Top 10, where it’s tied somewhere near the top with 100-or-so other albums. His lyrics are elegiac, knowing and human, akin (somewhat) to Robert Lowell poems set to music.

At the time of its release, I was a 9-year-old lad living in an arid foreign land. Although stark memories of various pop and rock songs from that era – including Jackson’s “Doctor My Eyes” – ricochet around my brain, my first remembrance of Late for the Sky comes from four years later, when my family lived in suburban Philadelphia. By then, an apprenticeship with Top 40 WIFI-92 had led me to the heavier rock sounds found on WMMR and WYSP, as well as the adult-oriented WIOQ; it was on those stations that I first heard the title cut, “Fountain of Sorrow,” “For a Dancer” and “The Road and the Sky.”

In short order, I picked up a few of his albums – beginning, in 1978, with his self-titled debut, the album home of “Doctor My Eyes,” which I’d already picked up on 45. I could lie and say I found the albums the best thing since sliced bread (or just Bread), but as I noted in this 2012 review of his concert at the Academy of Music, “lyrically speaking, Browne deals with subjects – love, disillusionment and death among them – that were beyond me at that point in my life. Yet there was a song or two on each of those albums that led me to buy the next, regardless, and through the years – and decades – I came to treasure the heartfelt insight of the songs I once dismissed.”

I remember listening to Late for the Sky for the first time and not knowing quite what to make of it. As I said above, many of its songs were beyond my 14- or 15-year-old comprehension – and yet they struck a chord, nonetheless. The uptempo “Road and the Sky” was my initial favorite.

As the years progressed and adulthood settled in, however, I came to hear those other songs for what they were: Adroit treatises on this thing called life. It’s often melancholic and wistful, but never downright depressing.

The title cut captures the final embers of a relationship, when the realization that it’s over has set in: “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.” From what Jackson told Uncut magazine in 2010, prior to writing the song, the phrase “late for the sky” had been clanging around his head for quite some time. “I wrote that whole song in order to say that one phrase at the end of it.” In his speech welcoming Jackson to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, Bruce Springsteen listed it among the Jackson songs he’d wished he’d written.

In “Fountain of Sorrow,” finding a photograph of an old lover sends him spinning through the realities of the relationship that he didn’t recognize or understand at the time. “When you see through love’s illusions/There lies the danger/And your perfect lover just looks like a perfect fool/So you go running off in search of a perfect stranger/While the loneliness seems to spring from your life/Like a fountain from a pool.” In an interview with Mojo, he explained that “[i]t acknowledges that people are always looking for something in each other that they may not find, and says that not only is that OK, but what’s more enduring is the goodwill and acceptance of each others’ right to be on this search and to make your own choices, and that one’s longing or sorrow is part of your own search, not a byproduct of somebody else’s.” 

Another favorite song is “For a Dancer,” which he wrote for a friend who died in a fire. I’d wager that it’s been a song that’s sent off many souls in the decades since Jackson shared it with the world. It astounds me that it was written by a 26-year-old kid.  

Late for the Sky spent 24 weeks in the Billboard charts, topping off at No. 14. It went gold by the end of 1974, and achieved platinum status 15 years later. Sales alone, both short- and longterm, don’t signal an album’s greatness, of course, and such is the case here. No, these are songs that reflect the human experience like few others – for that reason alone, they should be a part of the soundtrack to everyone’s life.

The song list:

In many respects, the magic and mystery of music has melted away much like a tape left atop a dashboard on a hot summer’s day. And since most folks never bought pricey blocks of Maxell XLII-S and TDK-SA cassettes, or even the cut-rate packs of Realistic wonders, they don’t care. Tapes, and the music therein, hold little value to them. (This is a half-assed metaphor, I know, but bear with me.) To them, mixtapes (and even mixCDs) are a thing of yore that they never bothered with except, occasionally, as unwanted gifts.

Growing up, I believed there were two types of music fans: AM and FM. The AM set enjoyed the hit singles, while the FM variant immersed itself in albums, and that belief held even when, for music, the AM band faded to staticky silence. I’ve come to realize that I was wrong. Simply put, there are those who care deeply for music, be it the latest hits or yesteryear’s album tracks; and there are those who care deeply for background noise.

A college professor of mine, way back in the early ‘80s, observed that many people are afraid of silence – and not just when around others. He said they turned on the TV or radio when they arrived home out of an unconscious fear of being alone with their thoughts. It makes sense. In today’s world, of course the “TV or radio” usually translates to a smart phone or computer, and the noise accompanies them while they surf the modern equivalent of tabloid newspapers (aka social media).

They don’t buy music. They don’t rent it via subscription tiers. Instead, they click-click-click into readymade playlists on ad-supported streaming sites and leave it at that. A simple search within those same sites often gives one the ability to hear specific songs after commercials, too, so music – at the top tier, at any rate – has become commercial bait. (In a way, the illegal-downloading boom spurred by Napster and its clones assured that entire generations would know of no other experience.)

That my Top 5s feast at the same trough I decry is an irony not lost on me. And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Relics of a Bygone Age…

1) Bruce Springsteen – “Thundercrack.” A 1973 performance by Bruce and an early incarnation of the E Street Band from the Ahmanson Theater, Los Angeles.

2) Jackson Browne – “Running on Empty.” A Joel Bernstein photo montage set to the classic song, which – along with its album namesake – was reissued in remastered form on July 5th.

3) Lucy Rose – Live at Decoy Studios. Lucy’s artistry harkens back to a time when fans dropped LPs onto their turntables and studied the lyric sheets. This short set of No Words Left songs features “Conversation,” “Solo(w),” “Song After Song” and “Treat Me Like a Woman.” 

4) Caroline Spence – “Who’s Gonna Make My Mistakes.” The sterling singer-songwriter owes a big debt to ’90s-era Sheryl Crow on this Mint Condition tune. (The video was released on July 9th.)

5) Anna Calvi – Live at Salle Pleyel. The fine folks at ARTE Concert have shared this intoxicating concert, filmed earlier this year in Paris, from the always mesmerizing Ms. Calvi, who seems to have stepped through a time portal from an era when music mattered for art’s sake, not commercial gain. (It helps, of course, that she channels everyone from David Bowie to Maria McKee (circa Life Is Sweet). 

On April 14, 1978, a Friday, I woke, got ready for school and was out the door at what seemed like an ungodly hour, but not before eating breakfast and downing some orange juice. I was a 7th grader, i.e. 12 years old, and finishing the last of two years at Loller Middle School in Hatboro. (Unlike many other school districts, the Hatboro-Horsham School District had two middle schools: one for 6th- and 7th-graders, and one for 8th- and 9th-graders.) Anyway, given that the temps were chilly that morn – the day’s low was 44 degrees Fahrenheit – and I had a near mile trek, I likely wore my winter coat, as well as a button-down shirt. I was also bedecked in corduroy pants (denim jeans were banned by the school principal).

The biggest concern in my life: making the Honor Roll, which I’d done in all the previous marking periods at Loller. The second concern, as I charted here: A little thing called rock ’n’ roll. I’d just caught the bug, though my idea of “rock ’n’ roll” was more pop-oriented.

But my concerns were not the concerns of the nation. Inflation and the ever-increasing cost of living dominated the news. Here’s the ABC Evening News from eight days prior:

I’ve written about 1978, and many of the issues that dominated the headlines before, so won’t go in-depth here. Suffice it to say, however, that times were tough, and getting tougher. (Not much had changed since January, in other words.)

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: 40 Years Ago Today… (courtesy of Weekly Top 40; the chart is for the 15th).

1) The Bee Gees – “Night Fever.” The Brothers Gibb ruled the singles charts this week – as they had for much of the year, just as Saturday Night Fever ruled the albums chart. “Stayin’ Alive” had hit No. 1 on February 4th, and remained there for four weeks, when it was displaced by younger brother Andy’s “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water.” That tune was bumped out two weeks later by “Night Fever,” which held onto No. 1 for eight weeks. (And, as with most of the previous weeks, “Stayin’ Alive” was No. 2.)

2) Yvonne Elliman – “If I Can’t Have You.” Entering the Top 5 is this addictive pop gem, which was written by the elder Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb. (It and “How Deep Is Your Love” are my favorites of the Fever songs, for what that’s worth.)

3) Jackson Browne – “Running on Empty.” Rising to No. 15 (from 18) is this classic tune, which I never tire of.

4) Wings – “With a Little Luck.” Jumping from No. 57 to 17 is this ode to optimism and love. As I’ve noted before, this is the song that fast-tracked my music fandom. I still love it.

5) Dolly Parton – “Two Doors Down.” The country legend wasn’t a legend at this point in her career. The previous year, however, she’d finally found success on the pop charts with the title track to her Here You Come Again album. This song, the follow-up single (which ranks at No. 36), is actually a re-working of the original album version, and eventually replaced the original on the album itself, as well. (It has more of a pop sheen.)

The original:

The remake:

And one bonus…

6) The Patti Smith Group – “Because the Night.” Entering the charts at No. 82 is this timeless tune written by Bruce Springsteen and recast by Patti Smith.

It’s early morn on Thanksgiving Day as I write and, all through the house, not a creature is stirring – aside from the feline who’s stalked me since his breakfast at dawn. Just now, he poked his head up beside me and bellowed a mew. It’s his version of “please, sir, may I have some more?” but instead of “sir” it’s “serf,” and he’s added and subtracted a few other words, too. “Serf, I want seconds. Now!”

I jest, of course.

Thanksgiving is, as its name makes clear, a time for giving thanks, and there’s much to be thankful for this year, as there is every year, even though – as a whole – 2017 will go down in the history books as one of the all-time worst. It sometimes feels as if horrors from a parallel universe are bleeding into ours.

But here’s one reason (of many) to give thanks: Tomorrow, sisters Jessica, Camilla and Emily Staveley-Taylor, aka the Staves, release a new album, a collaboration with the chamber sextet yMusic titled The Way Is Read. The three tracks they’ve released to promote the project are breathtaking. “Silent Side,” which they shared last week, is aural beauty personified:

Their show at the World Cafe Live in March, I should mention, was a highlight not just of this year’s concert slate, but of all my years’ concerts. It was akin to stepping through a portal to a magical, mystical land where everything’s groovy and everything’s alright. In other words, it’s in the running for the Old Grey Cat’s esteemed Concert of the Year Honors.

One of the things I like about them, aside from their songs and vocals, is their knowledge of music past, which they obviously use to inform their music present. One can hear it in the borrowed tunes they sometimes sing – as I’ve written before, a well-chosen cover song is like a glimpse into the soul of the singer(s); and the sisters’ picks, which range from the sublime to silly, are illuminating.

Here’s today’s Top 5: The Staves – Borrowed Tunes.

1) “After the Gold Rush” (Neil Young)

2) “These Days” (Jackson Browne)

3) “A Case of You” (Joni Mitchell)

4) “I’m on Fire” (Bruce Springsteen)

5) “Long Time Gone” (Dixie Chicks)

And two bonuses…

6) “Helplessly Hoping” (Crosby, Stills & Nash)

7) “Afternoon Delight” (Starland Vocal Band)