Jackson Browne at 70 – Looking Back at Ten Of The Songsmith’s Should Have Been Hit Songs

For an artist as prolific as Jackson Browne, a man who made such an indelible imprint on modern music and who practically defines that revered genre referred to as the singer/songwriter, it’s somewhat strange to find that his impact on the pop charts has been scant at best. Given the fact that his albums have been revered from the beginning, and that his songs have been covered by other artists so frequently since early on, it’s shocking to note that the number of songs he’s logged in the Top Ten stands only at two — that being “Somebody’s Baby” (number 7), was taken from the soundtrack for Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Doctor My Eyes” (number 8), culled from his eponymous debut. That’s a small sampling of the more than 40 songs that were released as possible chart contenders.

Indeed, besides the two that did make it to the upper reaches of the charts, only 16 others charted at all, and most of those didn’t even make the top 20.

Consequently, we offer up a list of those songs that should have made a more decided impact in the top 100. There are several undisputed standards in the list of his also-rans, so we’ll stick with those selections that should have done better due to their pop potential. Considering that Mr. Browne turns 70 this week (October 9th) let’s consider it a birthday gift from some fans…

“Take It Easy” (1973)
Granted, the Eagles got the early shot on this, and their version was the one that brought it to prominence. That’s fine of course, and Browne certainly reaped some riches in the form of royalties. Regardless, the song was so good — and such an acclaimed classic — that there should have been room at the top of the charts for both. The song was said to be autobiographical, at least in theory, and anyone who might brag about notice given him from “a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford turnin’ round to look at me,” deserves kudos simply for his cocksure confidence. The late Glenn Frey is credited as co-writer, and so we don’t begrudge him for helping to take it to number 12, but we also believe Browne deserved better than to have his version fail to chart at all. Indeed, when the city of Winslow opted to erect a statue on a street corner commemorating the song, it was made to depict Frey and not the man who was originally responsible for the song’s inception.

 

“Fountain of Sorrow” (1974)
One of the most personal and poignant songs in Jackson Browne’s repertoire, it may have been a bit too introspective to attain a wider reach. Regardless, based on its indelible refrain, it certainly did deserve to do better. A brooding ballad and excellent example of Browne’s ability to draw on remorse and pathos as prime elements in his songs’ set ups, it offers enough optimism to ensure at least a semi-happy ending. Consider this an inspiring anthem for our troubled times.

 

“Jamaica Say You Will” (1972)
It’s hard to believe that this lovely song of reflection and reminiscing wasn’t even offered up as a single, much less a chart topper. Drawn from Jackson’s debut, it admittedly had a lot of competition as far as other possible choices were concerned, but few equalled it as far as those longing sentiments were concerned. It also provided a universal connection, dwelling on memories of times well-spent, when trouble and turmoil were displaced by idyllic innocence. And here again, with the world wracked by uncertainty and sadness, thoughts about better days serve as a salve for hope and healing.

 

“Stay” (1977)
The fact that this song was never given any opportunity to vie for the public’s affection is indeed a mystery, given that it was one of Browne’s few covers and a proven hit as well. Originally recorded by Maurice Williams and his group the Zodiacs, it made a firm impression on the charts in its original incarnation, but when tagged as the refrain for “The Load Out,” Browne’s ode to his roadies and life on the road in general, it takes on new meaning entirely. This time around, it’s not a plea to a wandering lover, but rather an ode to stability and the need to linger for awhile before moving on.

 

“You Love The Thunder” (1977)
A sturdy rocker, “You Love The Thunder” only made it to number 109, barely more than a dent in the broader chart terrain. That hardly seems fair given that the song is a respectable rocker sung to a woman who seems prone to provocation and inciting a stormy relationship. Clearly the singer’s fed up and frustrated by her disagreeable behavior, and her sullen stance threatens to severely threaten their affair. Nevertheless, there’s barely any hint of despair in the delivery given its catchy refrain and spirited set-up.

 

“These Days” (1973)
Granted, as a tender ballad that dwells on musing and introspection, “These Days” isn’t exactly your typical choice for a single. Regardless, as one of Browne’s most oft-covered songs, it seems strange that it wasn’t at least given a shot. A tender tune written by a remarkably young man at the early stages of his career, the remorse and regret belie the fact that his life experiences had barely even begun. “I’ve been out walking, I don’t do too much talking, these days these days … These days I seem to think a lot, About the things that I forgot to do, And all the times I had the chance to…” The sadness is palatable, but it might be better expressed by someone in their twilight years when a look back at life seems only natural.

 

“Let It Be Me” (1995)
A remake of the popular Everly Brothers song recorded with Timothy B. Schmitt for the soundtrack to “By Bye Love,” a film that all but escaped notice all on its own, “Let It Be Me” deserved much more than the ignominious fate it received. With Browne and Schmitt’s voices locked in seamless harmony, they not only did justice to the Everlys’ original rendition but also to themselves as timeless balladeers of the highest order. Radio ought to wake up and give this another shot.

 

“I’m Alive” (1993)
Here again, a Browne classic fails to achieve all its emotional intent would seem to suggest. An exuberant affirmation of passion and purpose, it had a ready refrain that should have made it an excellent candidate for the top 40. Surprisingly, it found only modest success on adult contemporary playlists, while only lingering on the fringes of the mainstream market. Granted, as a sensitive singer/songwriter, that might have made sense, but given the song’s exhilarating energy, it seemed the perfect candidate to also mobilize the masses.

 

“The Barricades of Heaven” (1996)
A classic Browne ballad imbued with the emotion and sentiment that belies his trademark tenacity, this mid tempo track offered a perfect combination of optimism and anguish. It echoes many of the same themes found in “Fountain of Sorrow” and “These Days,” capturing the sentiments of a young man still in pursuit of his destiny, while hoping for redemption once that it’s found. Clearly autobiographical, it details the initial pursuit of his muse. “Running down around the towns along the shore/When I was sixteen and on my own/No, I couldn’t tell you what the hell those brakes were for/I was just trying to hear my song.” Fortunately for the rest of us, he heard it soon after.

 


“The Rebel Jesus” (2005)

A lesser-known entry in Browne’s vast catalog — and with a title one might consider unlikely at best — “The Rebel Jesus” is nevertheless an inspiring song, imbued with a Celtic flavor and an uplifting, anthemic approach. A classic in both its designs and delivery, it’s well worthy of rediscovery. We suspect that that is what Jesus would do…

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