Episode 12: RUNNING ON EMPTY

runningonempty11

RUNNING ON EMPTY – Jackson Browne – Asylum Records – 1977

Running on Empty was an album that wasn’t supposed to work. Ten new cuts, all recorded live, in various parts of the country, over the course of two months? To his label, this sounded like pure folly, but Jackson Browne knew this was not just a way to fill time between studio albums; it was to be his labor of love.

Since becoming a recording artist at the age of 18, Browne had experienced life both as Greenwich Village bohemian in the ‘60s with the likes of the Velvet Underground, and as an essential contributor to the emerging Southern California rock sound in the early ‘70s. By 1977, he was looking for something new to try, something he hadn’t yet done — so in August of that year, he took his favorite sessions players on the road and hit “record.”

The collection of recordings that became Running On Empty would be Jackson Browne’s greatest commercial success, going platinum within months of its release. Today, it remains a strikingly fresh portrait of the realities of touring life, and whether referencing the road to the next gig or the road to the next phase of life, it’s the album’s universal displays of humanity that keeps the songs in your head long after the needle hits the runout grooves.

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Episode notes and postscript corrections

    • We had a crazy busy two weeks full of music and things, so a quick debrief of stuff you should check out that we saw and did and loved:
      • Lulu Lewis — If you’re in the New York area, we highly recommend you come see them. We’ll probably be there, because we’re stans, but, also, they’re just a really good band out there making Harlem punk a thing.
      • Bowery Electric has been serving all summer long, from the Max’s Kansas City festival we hit up last month to the Johnny Thunders Birthday Bash. Check it out if you’re in the New York area — you’ll probably find something you like (and, also, you’ll probably run into us at some point).
      • Pitchfork Music Festival gets a solid two thumbs up from Carrie (which she can not say for every music festival she’s been to), so maybe check it out next year if you’re in the Chicago area or looking for a music adventure.
    • We got a little sidetracked this week by a Pitchfork-induced momentary rabbit hole of reasons why LCD Soundsystem is what we’ll call a “future classic” band. This included a nerd-out over their similarities to Talking Heads that resulted in this peak extra nerd playlist, because while we celebrate the past, we also think about the future.
    • Heyyyyy, here we are with another album from 1977 — you might notice its stark difference from our previous ‘77 episode on Marquee Moon.
      • The amount of iconic outputs from multiple musical genres in the ‘70s, but particularly 1977, never ceases to amaze us. Best year in pop culture. Fight us on this.
      • You can break down the differences and the reasons why they resonated with particular audiences in a million different ways, but at its most broad, let’s just say that Marquee Moon very much exemplified the East Coast/New York punk aesthetic, while Running On Empty can be held up as an example of the West Coast/Laurel Canyon/Cal Rock soft scene.
    • JB’s “These Days,” which was written when he was just a baby 18-year-old, will never cease to give the feels, and has been covered by everyone from Nico to, most recently, Drake. (Yeah.)
    • Let’s all get in a time machine and move to Laurel Canyon and hang out with the Jackson Browne/Glenn Frey/JD Souther crew, please and thanks.
    • Peep our further reading section to read that really well-written original review of Running on Empty from Rolling Stone in 1978 we talked about.
    • Running on Empty was initially just a way to buy time to conceive new material for another traditional LP, but it became a way to break the repetitive record-making pattern success brings. JB has said: “You go, ‘OK, great, let’s try to do something more like that.’ But that’s not what you were doing when you did it in the first place. You were just doing what you wanted to do next.”
    • Here’s that gorgeous Cameron Crowe essay from the 2005 re-issue that Carrie read an excerpt from. Read. Feel the chills. He’s the best.
    • Quick background info about the session players on this album:
      • The Section (Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar, Craig Doerge, Leland Sklar, and Russ Kunkel) were Asylum’s de facto house band and have played on a slew of ‘70s soft rock albums for everyone from Carole King to Linda Ronstadt to Warren Zevon. There’s a great article about them in our further reading section.
      • David Lindley and Jackson Browne have been long, long, longtime collaborators. You can read more about him in the links below, too.
    • Our bad. The author of that rad review comparing circa-1977 culture to “feeling like a trashed Holiday Inn room” was actually RJ Smith for Blender Magazine in a review of the 2005 reissue, not, as we cited in the pod, Robert Christgau.
      • Unfortunately, we can’t seem to find a working link for the full review — not even using Internet Archive’s Wayback machine — because Blender folded in 2009 and, apparently, took its archive with it.
    • Interested in the Nick Drake comparison “The Road” brings up? Follow us on Spotify, where we will lay it all out for you.
    • Sorry, parents. We couldn’t be a credible podcast if we didn’t bring up the “huh? really?” and not-so-PG-13 meaning behind “Rosie.” It’s not an internet theory we’re indulging in — it’s JB’s own words.
    • David Lindley is the real MVP on “You Love the Thunder,” bringing that gee-tar rock and roll edge to Jackson Browne’s soft piano rock.
    • @ Haim: Please cover “You Love the Thunder.” Thanks, bye.
    • Alright, buckle up. “Cocaine” has a LONG history.
    • CRAZY, right?
    • Wait, wait, wait. What’s this “bub” nickname? Welllll…. You can get a great little explainer of all the slang words and terms of endearment we throw around quite often on the pod in our handy, ever-evolving glossary.
    • They just recorded “Nothing But Time” in the tour bus and left in all the background noise from the road and the bus engine. Peak IDGAF goals.
    • If you have Running on Empty on vinyl, flip it over for some great Easter eggs in the track-by-track notes. Pro-tip: always read the liner notes.
    • If “The Load Out” doesn’t give you some feels, there’s a high possibility that you have an empty cavity in your chest where your heart is supposed to be.
      • Shoutout to roadies: we know you, we see you, we love you, we appreciate everything you do. Once again — bands are a sum of their parts, and that continues after the music is recorded and the performance begins.
      • Shoutout to Roadies, our beloved, now-canceled Cameron Crowe series. It wasn’t perfect, but it was earnest, and it had bucketloads of heart. Give it a watch if you haven’t seen it, and maybe give it a second watch (or even a second chance) if you already have.
    • “Stay” makes us the human version of the heart-eyes emoji, just so you know.
      • Head over to our master playlist on Spotify to hear the original Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs version that this is a reworking of.
      • Watch this fantastic version where JB and David Lindley perform it as a mashup with the Mickey and Sylvia song “Love Is Strange.” Swoon a little.
      • For the people in the back: We love concerts! We love live music! There are few feelings more magical and captivating.
      • We’ve experienced first hand — both as audience members and as performers — how integral the energy of an audience is for generating a great, on-fire performance. It’s a symbiotic relationship, and when you both give, MAN, is it good. MAN, do you want to ~stay just a little bit longer.~
      • Shoutout to JB for an almost too-perfect album closer, recognizing the under-recognized people on tour: roadies and good bub audiences.
    • Jackson Browne’s — and this album’s — legacy is long and ongoing.
      • Running On Empty, initially thought to be a crazy idea, ended up being his best-selling album and is on too many lists to count of the best live albums, best albums of the ‘70s, etc.
      • Some current artists who have Jackson Browne’s fingerprints all over them: Dawes, Wilco, Jim James, Jenny Lewis, Tristen… the list goes on and on.
    • Anyway, we love you JB Homie. You’re a good bub.

 

Favorite track(s): The Load Out (Carly) | Running on Empty and Stay (Carrie)
Least favorite track: Rosie (Carly) | Love Needs a Heart (Carrie)

Album credits:
Jackson Browne – guitar, piano, vocals
Rosemary Butler – background vocals, co-lead vocal on “Stay”
Craig Doerge – piano, keyboards
Doug Haywood – background vocals
Danny Kortchmar – lead guitar, harmony vocals (on “Shaky Town”)
Russ Kunkel – drums, snare drum, cardboard box, hi hat
David Lindley – lap steel guitar, fiddle, co-lead vocal on “Stay”
Leland Sklar – bass
Joel Bernstein – background vocals (on “Rosie”) & tour photographer

Further watching:
“One time I sued John McCain” interview segment | 2014
Jackson Browne’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction | 2004
“Running on Empty” (2004 induction ceremony) | 2004

Further reading: 
Session legend/producer Russ Kunkel on 13 career-defining records | Music Radar (April 2014)
The Section: Knights of Soft Rock | Rolling Stone (April 2013)
Behind the Song: Jackson Browne, “Running on Empty” |American Songwriter (December 2012)
Jackson Browne on Meeting David Lindley for the First Time | Fretboard Journal (March 2009)
Jackson Browne: The Rolling Stone Interview | Rolling Stone (August 1980)
Running on Empty (album review) | Rolling Stone (March 1978)

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