It’s always driven Jackson Browne crazy that, as a songwriter known for his profound and insightful lyrics, his biggest-charting and enduring adult contemporary hit is the fluffy, lightweight “Somebody’s Baby,” from the soundtrack of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Artistically, it simply pales next to the deeper, socially conscious work of his best-known albums Late for the Sky, The Pretender, Running on Empty and For Everyman.
The quintessential idealistic Southern California singer-songwriter of the 70s, Browne’s hit “Running on Empty,” epitomized the baby boomer generation’s gradual shift into adulthood while still trying to hold onto the "brave and crazy" days of youth.
The earliest roots of his career lead back to the mid-60s L.A. folk circuit, where the German-born (his father was serving in the US Army as a writer for the Stars and Stripes), Southern California-raised singer drifted through a brief stint with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. At 17 years of age, a contract with Nina Music, the publishing arm of Elektra Records, resulted in several of Browne's songs being recorded by the label's acts, including Tom Rush and Steve Noonan. Browne then ventured to New York, where he accompanied Velvet Underground's singer Nico during her engagement at the Dom. The singer's Chelsea Girl set featured three Browne originals, but their relationship dwindled and he came home to California.
Browne began work on an early album in 1968, but had better success as a songwriter in the years leading up to his official self-titled debut in 1972, sometimes known as "Saturate Before Using." His 1973 follow-up, For Everyman, was described by Rolling Stone magazine as "brilliantly conceived" and "incomparably immediate;" the album included "Take It Easy," written with neighbor Glenn Frey, which became The Eagles' breakthrough hit. 1974's Late For The Sky - considered one of The Best 100 Albums of all time by Rolling Stone - was Browne's revered masterpiece of lyrical introspection. 1976’s The Pretender was Browne's first album to hit the Top Ten.
Browne released his top-selling album ever in 1977. As critic Paul Nelson pointed out at that time, the seven times platinum Running On Empty plays like a documentary film, with shifting scenes, a cast of supporting characters and a clear narrative arc. The album spun off two Top 40 hits, the title track and "The Load Out/Stay."
During the late 70s, Browne pursued a heightened political profile through his efforts on behalf of the anti-nuclear lobby. In partnership with Graham Nash and Bonnie Raitt he organized several cross-country benefits culminating in a series of all-star concerts at New York's Madison Square Garden. The best of these were later compiled on No Nukes.
Browne's momentum continued with 1980's Hold Out, his first #1 album, and 1983's Lawyers In Love, which spawned several hit singles including "Tender Is The Night." In 1986, Browne released Lives In The Balance, a highly-political album which questioned the ideas of cultural imperialism, foreign policy and the current state of the so-called American Dream. It was his second to be included on Rolling Stone’s top albums list. 1989's World In Motion was a call to action and even more explicitly politically charged. While his 90s recordings weren’t highly anticipated events like those he released in his heyday, they were still noteworthy. 1993’s I'm Alive was a striking return to the romantic subject matter that Browne seemed to have abandoned. On his 1996 release Looking East, Browne was looking less inward and focusing more on the troubles surrounding him. His longtime label, Elektra, released the single-disc overview The Next Voice You Hear: The Best of Jackson Browne in 1997.
Jackson was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame by The Boss and Elektra has released a Very Best Of CD concurrently.