There was a three-year interval between Running On Empty and Hold On. In those days, a three-year gap was risky, music styles changed quickly and radio moved on, but Jackson Browne had established himself as an artist who fans would wait for.
Running On Empty was one of the biggest albums of the decade, it sold and sold, and kept Browne on the road. Seven million copies is a big deal in any decade. Personally, I had a hard time warming up to that album, its style of recording, and subject matter had me scratching my head. Years later, it is one of my favorite albums. Go figure.
Where Running On Empty has a casual, almost rough production style of well-worn denim, Hold On is a slickly produced, tailored feel. These are vastly different albums that reflect more than just a three-year gap. There is a maturity and sophistication to Jackson Browne, the kid was now over 30 years old. You laugh, but he wrote “These Days” when he was 16.
Producers – Jackson Browne and Greg Ladanyi (also engineered)
Musically, these songs are solid, very professionally constructed. Lyrically, most of these songs lack the vision and deep reflection of his best work. I would climb out on a limb and say he was trying to write for the radio. Running On Empty raised the bar and the expectations for Jackson Browne. Hold On is a fine album, it has always been at the top of his albums that I have enjoyed. Even though I play these songs because they have snap in the arrangements and production, I find them highly commercial, but a bit empty.
Despite a few distinctive guitar solos and the riff of “Boulevard,” this is really more a keyboard album. David Lindley, who provides most of the guitar work on the album is more a slide, lap steel player, thought he can dial up a solo, he’s not Danny Kortchmar.
Hold On moved up the number one album in the country, a first for Jackson Browne, not even Running on Empty had accomplished that. Hold On would sell only a fraction of its predecessor, but it was greeted with great interest by fans, though critics scratched their heads.
“Running on Empty” may have been a solid rock song, but follow-ups like “Boulevard” sacrificed Browne’s lyrical potency in favor of power-chording. Who was this guy trying to be — Bruce Springsteen? – Rolling Stone
“In the Seventies,” said his friend and guitarist Danny Kortchmar, “you were supposed to be sensitive, poetic, introverted. But it gets boring walking around in Sixties prole dress, when sometimes you feel like putting on sleeveless T-shirts and slicking back your hair. I think Jackson was feeling burdened by the image of Jackson Browne as a tragic figure, a thoughtful, brooding guy who reads poetry and plays concerts for weepy college girls”
Hold On often sounds like his earlier work, though it is quick to not. In my opinion, Browne is in transition, is he the introspective balladeer or the easy-to-digest rocker? Here, he tries to be both, with mixed results. In the next decade, he would continue to grapple with this split personality. His 1982 mega-hit single, “Somebody’s Baby” would give him that rocker hit, but he found it a song “it was hard to write a song about so little.”
“Disco Apocalypse” – 5:08 This is a very interesting song, but I’ve never been able to figure it out. The music is great, it has an epic feel to it, a bit of an R&B feel to it. This is not a typical Jackson Browne song. Is it a love song? Not really.
“Hold Out” – 5:37 A very sad song, the piano and organ set the solitary mood. Some of the other songs on this album miss the mark, not this one. Browne can rap into a fountain of sorrow, to borrow the title of one of his songs.
“That Girl Could Sing” – 4:34 Another heavy hitting song, the piano riff sets the mood, then Lindley’s guitar jumps in. Maybe the best song on the album, it is certainly one of Browne’s best. A song about a girl with many talents but who didn’t stick around.
“Boulevard” – 3:15 Browne does not often write straight rock songs. This is one with a distorted guitar riff that repeats throughout. It doesn’t quite have the panache as “Running On Empty” as a rocker. It misses something to be truly a classic. It does not have a real guitar solo.
“Of Missing Persons” – 6:31 A more traditional Browne song, a slow, piano accompaniment with aching slide guitar. This is the laidback L.A. sound posing as a country song, except it is over six minutes long and takes a long while to unwind.
“Call It a Loan” (Browne, David Lindley) – 4:35 This is more of a guitar song, it has a lonesome melody, almost hopeful. I like this this song, it’s direct and the arrangement does not bury the heartfelt lyrics.
“Hold On Hold Out” (Browne, Craig Doerge) – 8:08 Every Jackson Browne album has an epic song, a story song that takes you on a long musical journey. “Hold On Hold Out” serves the purpose here. The music by Browne and Doerge is quite good. The keyboard work, especially by Craig Doerge and Billy Payne (Little Feat, Doobie Brothers) on this song is outstanding.