#98 … SPB’s Top 100 Records

# 98 Runnin’ On Empty by Jackson Browne

I was one of those kids who, through music, experienced nostalgia—or wanted to, or tried to—way before I even knew what the word meant. Maybe it was my adolescent flair for the dramatic that made nostalgic songs appeal to my developing brain and heart, but I always liked autumnal sounding songs about regret or lost youth or fading dreams and reveled all up in them like a warm blanket. Nothing captures those themes, that vibe, like a good road song (see #99, for instance), and there aren’t many road songs as good as this one. Perhaps cause it was recorded, literally, on the road, in 1977 in Maryland? I think it also appealed to the autobiography lover in me: Singing along to lyrics like “In ’69 I was twenty-one and I called the road my own/I don’t know when that road turned onto the road I’m on” made me feel like I was living some jaded, sexy life far away from the Long Island burbs, learning about love and life and lethargy. Maybe I thought the propulsive jolt of the music could push me closer to the adulthood that would give that nostalgic desire real heft? Maybe. But the tangle of lead and rhythm guitar, the plunk of the roadhouse-style piano, Jackson’s exhausted man-on-a-mission growl also did the trick. Not to mention the glorious backgrounds of Rosemary Butler (who I always imagined was black!), grinding down on that “runnin’ blind” line, punctuating the choruses like the very lived-in voice of experience informing, and hovering above, it all.

Here’s the tune:


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