Jackson Browne – Reflecting on the 50th Anniversary of His Eponymous Debut | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Jackson Browne – Reflecting on the 50th Anniversary of His Eponymous Debut

The Album First Came Out on January 10, 1972

Jan 13, 2022
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Upon signing to David Geffen’s newly-founded Asylum label in 1971, young wanderer Jackson Browne, then a worldly twentysomething hippie balladeer from Orange County, helped to set into motion a sonic revolution, which would generate a fresh, distinctly American sound synonymous with Southern California. Browne’s eponymous debut—often referred to mistakenly as Saturate Before Using, due to the text upon the album’s water bag-inspired cover—saw the emergence of a great talent in the guise of a barefoot, boyish folkie with a heavy heart and old soul. His knack for penning perfect pop tunes had since earned him a cover by the likes of Nico, as well as a stint with The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. However, it was not until his debut release that his creative brilliance became known to a wider audience.

By 1972, the Adamite romanticism which had befallen a generation of moon-eyed youths had begun to fade, and along with his friends, Browne confronted unprecedented American plights—the carnivorous call of the war in Vietnam, increased political decay, and a general sense of rage and unrest across the homefront. Despite Browne’s easy going disposition, as well as the mellow folk rock of his ’70s output, there has always existed a sense of mournful despair in his lyrics, remaining especially apparent on Jackson Browne, rendering it a far more serious statement than it may have initially appeared. Here, the prolific singer/songwriter’s amiable young voice weaves tales of youths coming of age, struggling for their respective freedoms, and encountering the realities of mortality (“Song for Adam”) and trauma, with its resultant sense of alienation (“From Silver Lake”), in the previous decade’s immediate aftermath.

Despite its weary lyricism, the melodically upbeat “Doctor My Eyes” reached #8 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart and prophesied future freewheeling hits “Take It Easy” (co-written with Glenn Frey and recorded by Eagles the same year) and “Runnin’ On Empty,” but the vast majority of Jackson Browne, while cloaked in warmly accessible West Coast folk pop melodies, contends with the failures of modern society and the ensuing apocalypse. “It’s just a matter of time,” Browne seems to suggest, especially on the gospel-tinged “Rock Me on the Water” and thundering “Under the Falling Sky.” Such themes would be revisited on future songs “For Everyman” and “Before the Deluge,” with Browne once again playing the smirking suburban SoCal Angel of Doom.

Still, there remains time for adolescent folly here, and it is as beguiling and mystical as some may recall during their own respective teenhoods. The splendid “Jamaica Say You Will” tells an old fashioned love story of two hormonal youths being torn from one another prematurely. Browne’s warm piano keys conjure visions of the tale’s enchanted bay, its rippling surface aglisten with the final shards of a red setting sun, as the titular Jamaica is forced aboard her father’s boat, departing for god knows where. Similarly, album staple “A Child in These Hills” chronicles the sense of exile often felt when setting off on one’s own, as Browne, who has “[chosen] to be gone/From the house of [his] father,” feels that he has been “chased from the gates of the city/Where no one had touched [him].” The track’s dusky acoustic strumming, with its sleepy harmonica rippling through, paints a portrait of the strange ground one must navigate between ages 18 and 25 or so, Browne spouting its finest line: “Who will show me the river and ask me my name?/Is there nobody here who will do that?”

“Something Fine,” on the other hand, sees Browne content, sharing friend Stephen Stills’ English rental home with a young model. Opening lines “The papers lie there helplessly, in a pile outside the door/I tried and tried, but I just can’t remember what they’re for” convey the two’s exhaustion from a torrid love affair during their time together. Soon to become a fan favorite and remaining a key inclusion, “Something Fine” represents a chapter of Browne’s youth irretrievable within a year or two, once the trials and responsibilities of marriage and fatherhood had set in. Meandering piano ballad “Looking Into You” seems somehow to anticipate this, as Browne wistfully ruminates upon the changes and days lost in his life, gazing into a house he’d once inhabited several years prior. At his most raw on Jackson Browne, Browne’s young age cannot seem to account for the introspective experience present within his lyrics. This, above all else, was his ultimate strength in those early years, setting him apart from his peers and allowing him to remain prominent within the burgeoning Laurel Canyon music scene. Closing track “My Opening Farewell” sums the album up in its entirety with its forlorn poetry, Browne singing, “And you’ll soon be gone, that’s just as well.” With this, he bids the listener adieu, with yet another fragment of his boyhood disappearing into the encroaching night.

One of its decade’s strongest debuts, Jackson Browne is most definitely a musical relic of its time, but Browne’s piercing portrayals of innocence and the loss thereof remain relevant to any generation. While Browne would emerge with a tighter, fuller sound on the following year’s For Everyman, before realizing his ultimate masterpiece with the subsequent Late for the Sky, he entered the business a more proficient songwriter than many. Jackson Browne is, if anything, a chronicle of one major music scene’s glorious dawning, its early completion serving as 12 promises of what was to come.


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