The great rock groups of the sixties were followed by something new that started in the seventies: the emergence of the singer-songwriter. Unlike songwriters of the past, they were not writing songs primarily meant to be sung by others. Unlike writers of folk songs, they were not composing songs meant for anyone and everyone to sing; and unlike Tin Pan Alley and Brill Street songwriters, they were not writing songs to be performed by professional vocalists. Instead, this new generation of artists wrote songs that were such personal expressions of the songwriters that they had to be sung by these same people in order to be fully realized, and in order to achieve the desired level of authenticity.
At the same time, singer-songwriters in the seventies were not primarily interested in performing their works by themselves: they wanted the sort of rock accompaniment that had been delivered by bands in the sixties, in order to take advantage of the other elements of rock that had been well established by then.
Although not explicitly stated, there was a third role that these artists of the seventies fulfilled: they were not only the songwriters, and the singers of their own songs, but generally also the subjects of these same songs. That is, rather than being neutral observers of those around them – as Bob Dylan and Chuck Berry and Ray Davies had been – they sang about their own lives and loves and feelings. In many ways this fit the mood of the times, since by the disastrous end of the sixties, listeners were more interested in tuning out world events than in hearing more reports from the front lines.
Jackson Browne was one of the foremost artists to begin working in this new fashion. Like many of his peers, he was based in Southern California when he started his recording career, even though – also like most of his peers – he certainly wasn't a SoCal native.
Browne was known from the beginning as a tireless craftsman who worked and reworked his words and music until they were up to his demanding standards, focusing consistently on achieving concrete expressions of thoughts and feelings and images representing some particular artistic vision he was trying to encapsulate and convey.
Although Browne's songs are deeply reflective, and often inward-looking, his best songs connect his own experiences with larger themes concerning the zeitgeist of the times, as well as timeless elements of the human experience.
Although I've generally focused my detailed analysis on single tracks, for Jackson Browne I've written an extended piece on the the entire album titled Late for the Sky.
Original Release Date: 1974
Rating: 5 Stars (Essential)
Late for the Sky is one of the great albums by Jackson Browne.
Next: Late for the Sky