Monday, March 1, 2010

Jukebox of Win Selection 1A: The Pretender by Jackson Browne

I'm back. I know I have this long list of blog posts to follow up on and I was trying to get this started but here I am. Enough bullshit. Let's light this candle.

Everyone has phases of music. Artists and bands have their phases. No one can say Bruce Springsteen recent phase touches that unusual hot streak from 1975-1985. More personally though, everyone has their periods which could be box sets of their own lives. Artists and bands come and go in your musical consciousness at will, either totally saturating your listening patterns or lost deep in your record or iTunes collection collecting dust. I definitely don't listen to as much Guster as I did in high school. The Beatles come and go as they please. My favorite moments though are when artists that have been around for a long time stroll in and knock you on your ass.
Recently, that artist has been Jackson Browne. Maybe it was his songwriting for the Eagles that turned me off earlier or I just hadn't reached a maturity to really enjoy his songs. I mean there was that one time in 1994 when I pulled out my dad's copy of Running on Empty after hearing it during Forrest Gump's Run Across America and played it on end but that was the end of that dalliance. Or again in high school when my friend Jeff loved to play his cover of Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs' "Stay" again another cut from Running. Of course, no one will forget Jennifer Jason Leigh getting busy to "Somebody's Baby" over and over again in Fast Times in Ridgemont High. Thanks a lot, Cameron Crowe.
There's one track in particular that has been on constant repeat in my mind that I hadn't really listened to until now. That track is arguably his most famous, "The Pretender". Browne so gloriously pines about probably the biggest choice in modern American life that caught in the crossroads you can feel as if he's singing right to you. To myself, being 27, right around the age Browne wrote and released "The Pretender," I can see through the eyes of the song's protagonist. I've felt a definite change in the last few years. I was once ready to strike out on my own. With Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road" as my anthem I wanted to be "pulling out of here to win" but now with a job creeping on 4 years this October, I can feel "caught between the longing for love and the struggle for the legal tender." Do I stay in it for the money and comfort or leave it all behind for my dreams? Browne's protagonist sells out for the money as most people do. It's the only way the song can end effectively. It has to be tragic. If he didn't, the whole story would be pointless of course.
The struggle of money vs. happiness also couldn't have been wrapped in such a lush song. As expected with a Jackson Browne song, the piano is the lead instrument but it locks in with a tight band. Fred Tackett plays a guitar texture lost on many recordings and Jeff Porcaro strikes a delicate balance, driving the song when needed and laying back not to over power. The main coup though is David Crosby and Graham Nash providing tight harmonies, giving the vocals a full sound that hammer home the words to the listener. A string provides some sophistication to the track but are not necessarily a must have on the track.
Either way, the song is very moving and if you're at a crossroads in your life, I highly recommend some headphones and taking a listen. Oddly, the song is not on Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" but the album did make #391. I'd give it another go and see if it makes the list.

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