50 Years Later: Revisiting Jackson Browne’s Distinguished Self Titled Debut LP (Saturate Before Using)

Over the course of the fifty years since it came out (January 1972), Jackson Browne’s first album is not often mentioned in discussions of landmark debut albums. But it should be. On this collection of ten original songs (often referred to mistakenly as ‘Saturate Before Using’ based on its cover graphic), the California poet laureate fulfills both the promise and the expectations that arose prior to its release. 

Accordingly, moments like the performance of “Song For Adam” sound completely personal. Yet upon repeated listenings, such instances take on more universal meanings. Therein lies Jackson Browne’s greatest gift as a composer, but he would also come to hone a remarkable feel for those moments in life that become pivotal in the very instant they occur. “My Opening Farewell,” for example, sounds so intimate, it’s as if time has frozen to allow the undercurrent of passion in play to flow freely from the author’s voice, then sink in with the listener. 

Likewise, with its earthy undertow, “Under the Falling Sky” paints a vivid and thus readily-identifiable image of deep human connection. And, it’s all without cliché in composition, arrangement, or musicianship. Browne also reveals an equally nuanced eye for emotional detail on “Something Fine” and “A Child In These Hills.” Of course, that’s all in keeping with his sure grasp of the English language: the sophisticated intricacy of those virtues finds its counterpart in the production of the record by producer/ engineer  Richard Sanford Orshoff.

To that end, the musicianship is as subtle and sensitive as the songs. The rhythm section of bassist Leland Sklar and drummer Russ Kunkel is more felt than heard. Virtually as unobtrusive is Jesse Ed Davis’ finely-honed guitar work on “Doctor My Eyes” one of the most well-known cuts here, as well as the late Clarence White’s acoustic picking on “Jamaica Say You Will.” Flying Burrito Brother Sneaky Pete Kleinow inserts suitably slinky lines into “Looking Into You,” while Browne’s own piano playing adds the proper solemnity to the proceedings: it echoes the somber delivery of his singing as do vocal harmonies of  David Crosby and Graham Nash at various junctures. 

Based on Jackson’s previous work on behalf of others, including Andy Warhol’s contemporary Nico and collaborations with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, anticipation grew to be quite high for Jackson Browne. And certainly, as one of the inaugural releases on David Geffen’s Asylum Records (also home to Joni Mitchell and the Eagles, among others), it received its due attention and then some. Partly as a result of that fanfare, its successor, For Everyman, was something of a disappointment, at least initially: the inclusion of  “Take It Easy”–co-authored by Browne with the late Glenn Frey in one of his many such collaborations with that mega-successful band–rendered this sophomore LP somewhat overly familiar. Meanwhile, “Redneck Friend” was a homage to Browne’s former LA roommate Gregg Allman that seemed out of character in its high-spirited and (at least) slightly tongue-in-cheek tone. 

But the alternately forlorn and resolute “These Days” is a quintessential piece of lucid introspection—which the aforementioned Southern rock icon himself would cover on his own solo debut Laid Back the next year—and this title song is actually a bridge to the topical material Jackson would favor in his middle period work (albeit often to its detriment at those points).  And Jackson still performs “Our Lady of the Well” to great effect these days–see the 2021 Austin City Limits appearance—a tangible indication of the durability of his best work.

With his eponymous debut, Browne certainly set high standards of craft, not just for himself, but for the singer-songwriter genre as a whole. It’s an elevated level of excellence he wouldn’t maintain through all fifteen of his albums, but one to which he would return ascendant later in his career—nearly a decade after a flash of the old brilliance that was 1993’s I’m Alive— beginning with 2002’s The Naked Ride Home. Even so, with a half-century’s retrospective now, the initial long-player, like the artist who made it, has few if any equals.

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6 Responses

  1. Few if any equals- agree 100%. Jackson is the best at reflecting on his own experiences that completely connect with our own experiences and memories. He deserves a Kennedy Center honor not only for his talent but for his commitment to saving mankind and the planet.

  2. Sometimes I lay at night and wonder, where my life will lead me……
    Waiting to pass under sleeps dark and silent gate…
    Let the disappointments pass.
    Let the laughter fill your glass.
    Let your illusions last until they shatter.
    Whatever you might hope to find
    Among the thoughts that crowd your mind. There won’t be many, that ever really mattered..
    His way of not only using our feelings of youth, disillusionment of social status quo’s, but of internal and eternal struggles of good and evil in our thoughts. Racing out of him onto paper, his lyrics ring true for every man, woman and child who hear them.
    Nearly 61 now. A 10 year old version of me heard Doctor My Eyes on my little white ear piece transistor radio shooting hoops alone on an elementary school yard. When I heard for the first time, the drum and conga beat of Doctor My Eyes.
    I agree, Jackson need a Kennedy Honors award for his contribution to humanity, concern for the environment, political awareness and for his outstanding musical talents and poetry of sewing beautiful hems of words and feelings in song for the listener to close his eyes drift inwards and upwards to become a better self upon reflection.
    God bless Jackson Browne.

  3. I’ve been listening to Jackson Browne for 45 years and have seen him in concert at least 6 times including the Main Point the last time in 2003,I took my daughter she had just turned 18. He is the best and you can relate to his songs from his life. He definitely deserves a Kennedy Center award.

  4. Nashville songwriter Hugh Prestwood wrote a song called “The song remembers when”
    It sure is true. This album is a perfect example.
    Great writing Doug Collette.

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