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With His Credits, Jackson Browne Deserves to Be Rock Hall of Famer

October 02, 2000|RUSS PARIS

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recently announced the nominees for its next class of inductees (Morning Report, Sept. 20). Returning to the list from previous years are Aerosmith, Queen, Black Sabbath, Lou Reed, Steely Dan, the Flamingos, Solomon Burke and Ritchie Valens. First-time nominations went to Paul Simon, Michael Jackson, AC/DC, Patti Smith, Bob Seger, the New York Dolls, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Brenda Lee.

Over the years, the Hall of Fame has done a credible job of recognizing some of the greatest performers and most influential pioneers in rock 'n' roll. But for the past several years, as artists from the 1970s have become eligible, the nominating committee has continued to make one oversight that I am at a loss to understand. It's hard to even begin to recognize '70s rock 'n' roll without acknowledging the profound influences of singer-songwriter Jackson Browne.

Browne's music was an essential part of the '70s singer-songwriter movement and an integral part of the "California Sound" that influenced so much of the music of the day. The Hall of Fame has already inducted such artists as the Eagles and Joni Mitchell. To honor them without recognizing Jackson Browne is like building a home and forgetting the foundation.

Browne's musical career of more than 30 years has reached the hearts and souls of millions of fans around the globe. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Browne's songs were recorded by artists such as Nico, Tom Rush, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Eagles, Bonnie Raitt, the Byrds and Greg Allman. He then began performing his own work and spent the rest of the decade selling millions of albums while performing endlessly. Hit singles such as "Doctor My Eyes," "Rock Me on the Water," "The Pretender," "The Load Out/Stay" and "Running on Empty" remain staples of rock 'n' roll radio.

Browne started the 1980s with a No. 1 album in "Hold Out," the hit singles "Boulevard" and "That Girl Could Sing," and followed up with the Top 10 hit "Somebody's Baby." In the 1990s, he continued to release music that reached his fans at a deeply emotional level--with songs such as "I'm Alive" and "Everywhere I Go"--while still responding to a value system that shows true caring for the world around him with songs such as "Some Bridges" and "Alive in the World."

In the past 25 years, no rock 'n' roll musician has done more benefit concerts or has worked harder against social injustice than Browne. With Raitt, John Hall and Graham Nash, he founded Musicians United for Safe Energy, the antinuclear group that sponsored the No Nukes concerts of 1979 and continues to this day. He has been performing benefits since way before it became fashionable and continues to fight for social causes as part of his daily life.

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So how can a panel of judges, knowing this history, not even put Browne on the Hall of Fame ballot? The voters have certainly embraced others with fewer hits: Their commendable decision to induct the Velvet Underground--a group without a single Top 40 hit--proves that. Certainly they couldn't be dismissing Browne as more of a folk artist and social activist than a rock 'n' roll musician; the inductions of Mitchell and Bob Dylan demonstrate that these descriptions are not roadblocks to entry.

Browne's dozen albums and dozen Top 40 singles speak for themselves. He may always be best known for his '70s output, but the quality of his work--his songwriting in particular--has remained exemplary for more than three decades--a claim very few other pop music artists can make. Rolling Stone named "Lives in the Balance" one of the top 100 albums of the '80s, and music critic Dave Marsh has written that "Sky Blue and Black" (1993) is "one of the most beautiful love songs Browne--or anyone else--has ever written."

Indeed, Browne's lyrics are among the most profound and insightful in all of rock 'n' roll. Delivering his message in words that are both poetic and deeply meaningful, his songwriting talents have long since put him in the elite company of lyrical masters such as Woody Guthrie and Dylan. It's time that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame acknowledge its oversight and give Jackson Browne a long overdue honor.

Russ Paris runs a graphic design company in Oak Park, Calif. He is Web master for a number of music-related Web sites, including one for the fans of Jackson Browne. In their spare time, he and his wife host a monthly house concert series in their living room.

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