When I was a kid in the late 1970s, Jackson Browne was already ever-present on the radio. I really loved “Doctor My Eyes.” And The Load Out was one of those gargantuan live albums, along with Cheap Trick At Budokan, and Frampton Comes Alive! But I was pretty agnostic on the guy, sorta liking him, just enough to leave the songs on the radio, and remained that way through the 1980s until he took a turn for the worse, as many errant 1970s rock & rollers did in the 1980s. After “Somebody’s Baby,” I started turning off the radio. It was only later that I went back and discovered older material like “These Days” (via Nico’s version), and For Everyman.
Around that same time, 1980 or so, when we were ramping up our first band, the Plastic Peach, our singer, Danny Nolan, who went on to be my best man, was our main asset. The girls used to gush, “he sings like Neil Young and looks like Jackson Browne.” Clearly, this proved to be a lethal combo. When teenage girls’ hormones were raging and your front “man” has such enormous powers, well, it laid the groundwork for many fun nights on the beach. For Danny, not so much me, the shrimpy, wiry redhead with an oversized Les Paul. What would an analogous combination be nowadays for high school freshman girls? I really have no idea. I think music is already too fragmented for 2010 kids in early high school. Back then, we had top 40 pop stars on the one hand and rock stars on the other. That was pretty much the choice.
Jackson was OK by me, but never felt compelled as a kid to spend my allowance on his records. I was too busy collecting the catalogs of the Stones, Who, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Neil Young, the Dead, Stevie Wonder, and then onto the punk rock years. But I always loved, loved, loved this week’s selection for CoTW. When we would be sitting around in dorm rooms in college and someone had the other gigantic record, The Pretender, I would always play this song in my role as dorm-room d.j. I started to realize around this time that one of the common threads in much of the music I loved is the gospel influence, specifically those huge gospel piano chords, where you play and keep the root notes and switch chords over them. As well, the call-and-response vocals. Not that Buff Tom betrays much direct gospel influence (maybe only on “Treehouse”), the indirect call-and-response and root and changing chords are borne out from that strain of music, via the Stones, Stevie, Ray Charles, etc.
I only have learned today that the song was written in the wake of the suicide of Browne’s first wife. It was co-written with her mother.