Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

It’s Wednesday again and, as such, time to take a closer look at another tune I haven’t covered or only mentioned in passing. This week, I decided to dig into the catalog of Jackson Browne. Since the singer-songwriter entered my radar screen with Running On Empty many moons ago, I’ve enjoyed listening to him on and off over the decades.

Rock Me On the Water is a great tune from Browne’s eponymous debut album, which came out in January 1972. Penned by him like the remaining nine tracks, the song also became the record’s and Browne’s second single in July of the same year. Like his debut single Doctor, My Eyes, it made the U.S. charts, reaching no. 48 on the Billboard Hot 100, not as high as its predecessor that peaked at an impressive no. 8.

Like on the album overall, Browne had impressive guests. In the case of Rock Me On the Water, David Crosby and Graham Nash provided backing vocals. Among others, the recording also featured top-notch session musicians Craig Doerge (piano), Leland Sklar (bass) and Russ Kunkel (drums), who would play on many other Browne albums as well. They were all part of The Section, the de facto house band of record label Asylum, whose members collectively or individually played on countless records by artists, such as Carole King, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell and Warren Zevon.

Jackson Browne is the first of 15 studio albums issued to date by Browne who continues to go strong 50 years into his recording career. His most recent album Downhill From Everywhere, released in July 2021, earned a 2022 Grammy Award nomination in the Best Americana Album category. Los Lobos’s Native Sons, a great album I reviewed here, ended up winning the category – certainly a worthy winner!

Following are some additional tidbits from Songfacts:

Jackson Browne uses biblical imagery in this song, where he makes a point that salvation can be attained outside the church.

“It’s got an apocalyptic theme running through it and it’s meant to be kind of a gospel song,” he said in a radio interview. “I employ this gospel language: ‘stand before the father,’ ‘sisters of the sun.’ But it’s turning that around 180 degrees so it’s not about religion, it’s about society.”

“You have to have an idea in a gospel song,” he added, “and if it’s not going to be Jesus, it has to at least be salvation. It’s a way of lovingly, and in a friendly way, refuting the traditional and conventional messages of redemption having to do with the straight and narrow. I staked a lot on that song because it was that combination of social awareness and paying attention to what’s going on around you with that inner search for spiritual meaning.”

Browne wrote this song around 1970, before he started work on his debut album. He was well known as a songwriter at this point, with songs recorded by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, The Byrds, and Nico. “Rock Me On The Water” was first recorded in 1971 by Johnny Rivers, then later that year by Brewer & Shipley.

Linda Ronstadt released this song on her self-titled third album early in 1972, around the same time the song appeared on Browne’s album. Her version was the first released as a single, and it went to #85 in March, making it the first song written by Jackson Browne to reach the Hot 100.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

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