Running on Empty

Author: Janet


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“Running on Empty” is a song written and performed by American singer-songwriter Jackson Browne. It is the title track to his Running on Empty live album, recorded at a concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland on August 27, 1977. It was ranked number 492 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list and is one of Browne’s signature songs.

The song may be meant to describe the rigors of a musician’s day-to-day life on the road, and its effect on his life as a whole, in connection with the themes of much of the album. But the lyric is more general:

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels —
Looking back at the years gone by like so many summer fields.
In ’65 I was seventeen and running up 101
I don’t know where I’m running now, I’m just running on …

The song starts off with an immediate, propulsive backbeat, with the melody carried by piano and throughout laced by David Lindley’s distinctive pedal steel guitar work. Browne’s vocal is emphatic, with strong backing vocal parts from Rosemary Butler and Doug Haywood; the arrangement overall conveys a headlong existence. The lyric’s ages and years match up with Browne’s, yet still the puzzled sentiment is universal:

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.

Rolling Stone writer Paul Nelson saw “Running on Empty” as embodying a “tenacious, win/lose duality” and being “what daydreamers have nightmares about”:

You know I don’t even know what I’m hoping to find …
Running into the sun, but I’m running behind.

“Running on Empty” was Browne’s third-biggest hit single in his career (trailing only “Doctor My Eyes” and “Somebody’s Baby”), reaching number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 in spring 1978, and subsequently became his most-played song on classic rock radio formats. It became a staple of Browne’s concerts, and whenever Bruce Springsteen has guested at such shows, they have shared vocals on “Running on Empty”.

This song appeared in the 1994 film Forrest Gump, famously featured in the scene where Forrest was running across the United States. As a result, this song has become a popular addition to the iPod catalogues of many avid distance runners. – adapted from Wikipedia

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