Episode 12: RUNNING ON EMPTY

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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.

Listen to Running on Empty: iTunes | Spotify | YouTube

Subscribe on iTunes

(ps — while you’re there, please rate and review us in the iTunes store so more people can discover us and we can all be friends who talk about music together!) 

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)

Episode 10: TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS

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TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Shelter Records – 1976

Before Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, classic American rock icons, they were just five kids from Gainesville, Florida who had driven cross country to Los Angeles with $200 and hopes of landing a record deal for their southern rock group Mudcrutch.

Their ascent would be a slow one; the group signed with Shelter Records in 1974 and released a single, only to be dropped from the label. The band broke up. The band got back together and found themselves with a new opportunity to release an album — this time with a better name: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Released in 1976, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ self-titled debut is an amalgamation of styles and influences. It travels from classic blues to swampy country to classic ‘50s rock in songs that are abruptly short and full of anxious, pulsing rhythms that weren’t too deviant from the emerging punk scene. It’s no wonder people didn’t know what to do with them or how to classify them when the album was released.

Though the album contains songs that are now staples of American pop culture, engrained in our collective consciousness — songs like “American Girl” and “Breakdown” — it would be a few years before Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers cemented their status as household name rock stars — but it’s a status they’ve held onto.

In this episode, we discuss the variety of musical influences on early Heartbreakers work, dive into Tom Petty’s sparse songwriting style, and talk about why Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ enduring, four decade long careers truly inspire us.

Listen to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: iTunes | Spotify | YouTube

Subscribe on iTunes

(ps — while you’re there, please rate and review us in the iTunes store so more people can discover us and we can all be friends who talk about music together!) 

Episode notes and postscript corrections

  • Hi, hello, welcome. We hope this podcast distracts you from the garbage fire that is the world for at least 50 minutes or so.
  • Shoutout to Bowery Electric for an awesome three night celebration of Max’s Kansas City. We weren’t alive to see it in its heyday, but this was a nice homage.
    • Hi to any new friends we made over the course of the weekend!
    • For real, check out any kind of East Village days-of-yore events Bowery Electric puts on.
  • We love almost anything and everything Tom Petty (with and without the Heartbreakers) has released, but we’re covering the Heartbreakers’ debut, rather an album as iconic as Damn the Torpedoes, because we want to have conversations about albums without just rehashing what everyone else has already said. Check out our FAQ page for more on our philosophy.
  • Here for Dad Rock, always and forever.
    • Traveling Wilburys are peak Dad Rock — just wait until we get to them down the line.
    • No, seriously, just file this picture in the dictionary as the sole definition of Dad Rock and call it a day.
    • You could probably play a drinking game to how frequently we drop the term “dad rock” in this episode, but we don’t recommend it. Podcast responsibly.
  • Peep our further watching and further reading links below for two tomes on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers that we cannot endorse more emphatically.
    • Petty is Warren Zanes’ incredibly in-depth, intimate, and breathtaking biography of Tom Petty that will make you feel all of your feelings and probably love Tom Petty more than you thought you could.
    • Runnin’ Down a Dream is Peter Bogdanovich’s epic, 4-hour long documentary of your dreams. It’s enthralling, candid, and thorough — so worth a binge session.
  • It all starts with Mudcrutch.
    • Listen to some of their original demos here or here.
    • Mudcrutch got back together in 2007 and have released two albums since. Listen to them here.
  • TBH,  we don’t blame the good people of 1976 for thinking Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were punk. It really doesn’t help that there was already a punk band — a staple at CBGB — who were also called the Heartbreakers…
  • We’re not going to get too too deep on lyrical analysis — Tom Petty’s songwriting is often sparse and without a lot of intentional metaphors to unpack; he’d probably roll his eyes and think we were really digging for bullshit if we went that route.
  • “Breakdown” is a fantastic combination of old and new. Seriously.
    • Listen to “Breakdown.” Then listen to Booker T. and the M.G’s “Green Onions.” Note the similarities.
    • Listen to “Breakdown.” Then listen to Ray Charles’ “Hit the Road Jack.” Boom.
    • Listen to a live version of “Breakdown” where they weave the aforementioned classic into their own song.
    • All that seem like a lot? Follow us on Spotify to listen to all the great songs we just mentioned (and more to come!) in order of discussion for your listening-and-nerding pleasure.
      • Except for Suzi Quatro’s cover. That one you can watch here.
  • We love all the Heartbreakers, but honestly, people don’t talk enough about how MVP Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench are.
  • All roads go back to Gainesville. (Watch this. Trust us on this one.)
  • Sorry, but Carrie’s going to say “I love the way Tom Petty writes” a lot in this episode.
  • And Carly’s going to call people “cats” a lot, too. Just go with us.
  • 500% here for this video of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers performing “Anything That’s Rock ‘N’ Roll” on Top of the Pops.
  • Want to talk about the symbiotic relationship and pop culture exchange between Britain and America in the mid-to-late 20th century? Talk to us.
  • “Strangered in the Night” could totally be a sister song to “Two Gunslingers.” If you’re a regular listener, you’ll know how much we love sister songs.
  • We went down a musical rabbit hole again, which is fun.
    • Listen to Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good.” Then listen to “Fooled Again.”
    • Listen to “Fooled Again.” Then listen to Sheryl Crowe’s “My Favorite Mistake.”
    • Did your brain melt a little bit?
  • Speaking of sister songs: “Luna” could easily be a sister song to “The Wild One, Forever.”
    • Tom made up “Luna” on the spot, which, like, not fair.
  • Listen, “American Girl” is a bop and we don’t have time for any haters.
    • Speaking of the Byrds… Roger McGuinn actually ended up covering “American Girl” in 1977. (It’s in our master playlist, hint-hint, nudge-nudge.)
    • Oh, and on that sister songs note: “American Girl” and “Free Fallin’” could be sister songs:
      • [sings] She was an American girl, raised on promises, loves Jesus and America, too. She’s an American girl, crazy ‘bout Elvis, loves horses and her boyfriend, too
    • Slow this song down and you’ve got a haunting (but good) ballad.
    • Seriously. Don’t be that person who hates “American Girl” just because it’s popular. Just don’t.
    • Also, don’t be that person who wears the band tee-shirt without knowing anything about the band. Follow this trusty rule: Can you name two non-singles and the bassist? Then you can wear the band tee.
  • We love Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers for myriad reasons. Just let us gush for a minute.
    • Okay, just a few: their never-ending hustle, their supreme musicianship, the fact that they’re just good human beans who got into music — and continue to make music — for all the right reasons, their humility, and total lack of egos.
  • If you missed the last (and only, so far!) Mudcrutch tour, we are truly sorry. (Carly feels your FOMO). If you did, and you’d like to talk about how magical it was with Carrie, hit us up.
  • Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are currently on a North American tour to commemorate their 40th anniversary.
    • No, it’s not a greatest hits tour; it’s full of deep cuts to be stoked about.
    • If you can go: GO. (And say hi to Carrie if you see her at Newark and/or Forest Hills — yes, she knows she has a problem.)
    • If you can’t go: Hit up this awesome live recording of their 30th anniversary tour.
  • Again, come say hi on Facebook, Twitter, or email. We always love making pod friends.

Favorite track(s): Breakdown (Carly) | American Girl, Luna (Carrie)
Least favorite track: Luna (Carly) | Mystery Man (Carrie)

Album credits:
Tom Petty – vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboards
Mike Campbell – electric guitar, acoustic guitar
Benmont Tench – piano, hammond organ, keyboards
Ron Blair – bass guitar on tracks 1–2, 4–5, 7–10, cello
Stan Lynch – drums on tracks 1–2, 4–10, keyboards

Jeff Jourard – electric guitar on tracks 2, 7
Donald “Duck” Dunn – bass guitar on track 3
Emory Gordy – bass guitar on track 6
Randall Marsh – drums on track 3
Jim Gordon – drums on track 6
Noah Shark – maracas, tambourine, sleigh bells
Charlie Souza – saxophone on track 3
Phil Seymour – backing vocals
Dwight Twilley – backing vocals

Further watching:
Runnin’ Down a Dream | 2007

Tom Petty MusiCares Speech: Rock & Roll Empowers America’s Youth | 2017
Tom Petty Q on CBC interview | 2014
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech | 2002

Further reading:
Petty (biography) | 2015
Conversations With Tom Petty (interview compilation) | 2005

Benmont Tench: The 40th Anniversary Interview | Keyboard Mag (March 2017)
40 Years Ago: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Release Their Debut Album | Ultimate Classic Rock (November 2016)
Tom Petty On Cheap Speakers And George Harrison | NPR (August 2014)
Tom Petty: Rolling Stones Were ‘My Punk Music’ | Rolling Stone (July 2014)
Tom Petty Knows ‘How It Feels’ | NPR (July 2006)
Mike Campbell Is More Than Just the Guitarist For Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | The Georgia Straight (August 1999)