There are so many things to say about this album. Firstly, it’s not clear what the title is. On the original vinyl record, it’s simply called “Jackson Browne”. However, when the album was issued on CD, the title on the spine of the CD was “Saturate Before Using”. I have this on vinyl but not on CD and wondered if I could pick up a cheap second hand copy on eBay. When I looked, someone was advertising it as “Los Angeles, California” by Jackson Browne. The confusion arises from the picture on the front. Jackson Browne had a phone conversation with the album designer, Gary Burden, about what picture to use for the front. Jackson Browne suggested using a water bag but Gary Burden pointed out that people would think that the album was called “Saturate Before Using” to which Jackson Browne said “Don’t be ridiculous. Who would think that was the title?”.
I heard about this album by reading the review by Bud Scoppa in Rolling Stone in early 1972. If ever a review was going to make me buy an album, this was it. Firstly, Bud Scoppa references “Astral Weeks” and “After The Goldrush” – he doesn’t pretend this album sounds the same as these two classic albums, but that the release of the album places Jackson Browne in “the first rank of recording artists” in the same way that Van Morrison’s and Neil Young’s albums did. He goes on to use words like “awesome” and “excellence” and I’m always a sucker for hyperbolae. He compares Jackson Browne’s vocal delivery to Van Morrison’s – “with those mid-phrase halts, word-packing and spreading, and drawn-out syllables.” Bud Scoppa then writes five hundred words about the opening song, “Jamaica Say You Will”, describing the brilliance of the song in detail and he then begins the last paragraph of the review by writing “What’s astounding about this record is that there are a half dozen tracks of equal beauty and none of the ten songs is any less than brilliant and lovely.” I mean, how could I resist?
Reading this review again, nearly fifty years later, Bud Scoppa has accurately analysed why the chorus of the song sounds so “gorgeous”. The first part of each line is “packed tightly” while the second part stretches the syllables out. Luckily, Jackson Browne performed the song on “The Old Grey Whistle Test”.
That eighteen year old going to University in 1972 doesn’t really seem like me but there I was clutching my albums by The Eagles, Van Morrison, Tim Buckley and Jackson Browne. It became common amongst my friends for us all to finish an evening by going to someone’s room after a few beers to listen to music with a solemn look on our faces and this album was a favourite. In particular, listening to “Song For Adam” was a very serious thing to do and further comment at the end of the song was impossible. It is one of the few songs on the album which does not feature a piano. It concerns the death of a friend called, er, Adam, who left his friends to travel to India and find himself. In the meantime, Jackson Browne sits at home, contemplating what his life has in store for him. The news that Adam has died causes discussion amongst his friends as to whether he killed himself or not. In the final verse, Jackson Browne is finding it hard to receive guidance but he hopes it will come. It’s a beautiful song.
The good news is that Jackson Browne is intending to release a new album in 2021. He is now 72 years old which is young by the standards of Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan. He has already released a couple of singles, one of which “A Little Too Soon To Say” is great. It reminds me of “The Kids Are Having None Of It” by Frazey Ford. He is quoted as saying “I look around every day at younger people and wonder how the fuck they’re going to deal with what we’ve left them.” His last album “Standing In The Breach” was released six years ago and it’s excellent. One of the things that is great about that album is that three of the songs feature long instrumental fade outs. I hadn’t noticed this about his songs before but “Doctor My Eyes” and “Under The Falling Sky” from this, his first album, also have long instrumental fade outs. It’s quite unusual – in fact I can’t really think of any other artist who likes to do this. Jackson Browne co-wrote “Take It Easy” and his version on “The Pretender”, his second album, also features a long instrumental fade out.
“From Silver Lake” is simply wonderful. It’s a sad song about a friend who visited recently to say that he was leaving. Only two tracks after “Song For Adam”, it sounds like a companion piece, as if his friend has gone to seek meaning in his life. In the song, Jackson Browne has been remembering a blissful afternoon when his friend said that he had to leave. A “middle eight” features more intense instrumentation with crashing drums as he sings about how he had been in an earthquake and he ran out of his house in a panic. In the final verse, he decides that he too may leave. In the last verse, a beautiful counter song is sung by Leah Kunkel who was Mama Cass’ sister and married to Russell Kunkel, who plays drums on the album and is a noted session player, appearing on albums by Bob Dylan, Art Garfunkel, Carole King, Neil Young, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt and Carly Simon.
Every song on this album is terrific but my favourite song on the album is “Looking Into You”. It’s a typical Jackson Browne song insofar as it starts with something relatively humdrum (he goes to visit a house he used to live in) and he uses this experience to reflect on how his life can be bettered. In the last verse, he considers how he used to look to Bob Dylan (“the great song traveler”) for answers but he realises that he is on his own and he needs to work things out for himself. He has found some beauty in making music but “words and music will never touch the beauty I’ve seen looking into you.” I love it. It might be a little naïve but I yearn for those naïve days when all we had to worry about was what our lives had in store for us.