Jackson Browne is one of the most prolific songwriters of his generation, with a catalog that includes over 50 albums. This year, he released “Doctor My Eyes,” which has been called one of the best songs ever written about addiction.
Jackson Browne’s Doctor My Eyes is a song that talks about the life of a doctor. The lyrics talk about how he sees what people go through and how they suffer.
Jackson Browne, a 22-year-old singer-songwriter, was going to play a pivotal part in the development of Southern California’s country-rock movement in 1971.
“Jackson Browne,” his debut solo album, was recorded that summer and released in early 1972. “Doctor My Eyes,” the song, reached No. 8 on Billboard’s pop list. The Grammy Hall of Fame inducted the album into the Hall of Fame in 2019.
Mr. Browne commented on the composition, recording, and production of “Doctor My Eyes” fifty years later. Mr. Browne’s latest album, “Downhill From Everywhere” (Inside Recordings), will be released on July 23. An interview has been edited.
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Jackson Browne: In mid-1969, I was living in a basement apartment in Echo Park in Los Angeles.
I used to have my grandfather’s upright Fischer piano, which was made in the early 1900s. He was a printer and artisan who had painted wildflowers on the front and sides of the book.
My close friends, songwriter Greg Copeland and his wife, songwriter Pamela Polland, stopped over one day. She sat at my keyboard and performed “Mind Snap,” a song she had just composed.
I used her piano riff in a song I was working on, which became “Doctor My Eyes.” My thumbs were an octave apart when I performed the piano section. Although no professional pianist would do so, I thought it was a fun approach to indicate the song’s rhythm.
My eyes got inflamed and severely encrusted throughout the writing process. I could hardly see anything. I was baffled as to what was wrong with them.
I went to the doctor and he prescribed some medication for me. My eyes took a long to adjust back to normal. The words for the song were inspired by my eye problem. However, while I was writing them, the eye problem became a metaphor for lost innocence and too much seeing:
“Doctor, my eyes have seen the years / And the gradual procession of worries / Now I want to understand,” she says.
I’m not sure what drives me to write. A lot of my songs are made up. They have a source of origin. This song isn’t about going to the doctor to have my eyes repaired in the literal sense. It’s a little more casual than that:
“Doctor, tell me what’s wrong with my eyes / Was it foolish of me to keep them open for so long?” The lyrics are an understated comment on the erosion of idealism.
I don’t believe I ever played “Doctor My Eyes” for anybody back in 1969. I simply set the song away since the clubs I was playing in at the time didn’t have a piano.
In the summer of 1971, I recorded “Jackson Browne” for David Geffen’s Asylum Records at Crystal Sound in Los Angeles.
James Taylor had recorded his third album, “Mud Slide Slim,” in Crystal earlier that year.
Along the way, I met Richard Orshoff, James’s recording engineer. His engineering was excellent, and he was a kind and sympathetic person.
If James’ producer, Peter Asher, enjoyed working with Richard, I figured he’d be perfect for me.
I believed “Doctor My Eyes” was the album’s only song that was short enough to be a single from the start. I also felt that recording a song would be a great way to try something new.
A buddy, David Crosby, volunteered to sing background harmony on a few of the songs on the CD. David Geffen heard Graham Nash’s “Doctor My Eyes” during the recording process and asked if he felt it might be a hit.
Graham suggested that adding a high harmony voice may help. Crosby and Nash performing with me at a time when I was a completely unknown songwriter was the album’s big break. At radio stations, it was quite a calling card.
I met drummer Russ Kunkel via a buddy before we began. Russ was a brilliant, forward-thinking drummer who had worked with James Taylor on recordings. He knew how to arrange tunes for acoustic players and how to make percussion seem natural.
Russ expressed interest in my music and encouraged me to contact him when I got into the studio. That was a fantastic windfall.
Jackson Browne, front, with Craig Doerge, left, Russ Kunkel, Bob Glaub, and David Lindley, playing at Mountain Aire in Angels Camp, California, in 1978.
Larry Hulst/Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives
I played piano, Leland Sklar played bass, and Russ played congas instead of drums as we started recording the basic rhythm track for “Doctor My Eyes.”
My piano part has to be changed. I had been playing that stupid two-thumb section throughout the song up until that point. With these two incredible musicians, I needed to create a piano part that would complement what they were performing and the song as a whole.
I chose to play straight fours on every beat, like the Beatles did on several of their songs.
I recommended that Russ overdub a shuffling beat on the drums to broaden the sound of his congas after we got the fundamental rhythm track down.
Jesse Ed Davis, a guitarist, was also brought in to overdub a solo. I was fortunate to have him in my life. He was a member of a talented group of session musicians from Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Pamela Polland introduced me to him, which is hilarious now that I think about it. The song’s basis was her riff.
Jesse was initially contacted to perform on my song “Nightingale.” However, after hearing that, he asked if I had anything else. “Doctor My Eyes” was the song I played for him. “Yeah, I can play on that,” he replied.
I put the cassette of our basic rhythm track in Jesse’s headphones once he arrived in the studio. Richard was already recording him as he tuned up to the track.
Richard, thankfully, captured everything Jesse did, even the tuning riffs we ended up utilizing.
Jesse started packing up his instrument after overdubbing his solo in the midst of the song in one take.
As the song was finishing up, I walked into the studio and asked if he could add his guitar at the end. Jesse reconnected his guitar and added that section.
Richard walked into the studio as he was packing up and asked if he could add some large whole notes beneath his solo and at the conclusion for depth.
That was also something Jesse was happy to do. Then he vanished. Every note he played was put to good use.
Prior to its release in January 1972, I went on the road after finishing my record. I didn’t perform “Doctor My Eyes” before the album came out, or even after the song became a success. It was only myself and David Lindley, a multi-instrumentalist.
I returned to L.A. from the tour one day after the single hit the top ten. At the airport, the girl I was seeing picked me up.
“Watch this,” she remarked as we drove up La Brea Avenue. “Doctor My Eyes” was playing on the radio when she switched it on. I’m not sure how she did it, but it made us both laugh.
It was incredible to hear one of my songs in that context. I had been concentrating on finishing an album.
I didn’t think much of the music for a long time. It didn’t accurately reflect what I’d accomplished. But then I heard a test-pressing of the master for the album’s release recently. It knocked me out when “Doctor My Eyes” came on. “That’s fairly nice, that’s not bad,” I thought.
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Jackson Browne’s Doctor My Eyes is a song that has been released in 1978. It was an instant hit and is now considered one of the best songs by the singer. Reference: jackson browne net worth.
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