In our first two articles of this series featuring Singer/Songwriter Jackson Browne’s Grammy-nominated album The Pretender we highlighted the title track and other songs including “The Fuse”, “Only Child” and “Daddy’s Tune”. In our final article we will focus on the shortest cut on the album and the musicians and singers who were called into the studio to help this album become one of Rolling Stone magazine’s “Top 500 Albums of All Time”.
The song “Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate” clocks in at just two minutes and thirty-five seconds. It is strategically placed second-to-last on The Pretender as the lead-in to the album’s title (and final) track. The tune opens with the bright sound of acoustic guitar and under-stated strings leading into the first verse where Browne sings (accompanied by acoustic piano): “Sometimes I lie awake at night and wonder where my life will lead me. Waiting to pass under Sleep’s dark and silent gate. I found my love too late.” At the final line of the opening verse (“I found my love too late…”) the band kicks in and lifts this meditative piece. While the music (courtesy of Jon Landau’s tasteful production) treads into a pop-like waters the lyrics stay consistent with the opening lyrics: “Never should have had to try so hard to make a love work out, I guess. I don’t know what love has got to do with happiness. But the times when we were happy were the times we never tried.”
After a brief (and stunning) counter-song at the end of the piece “Sleeps Dark and Silent Gate” closes with the lyrics “Oh God this is some shape I’m in. When the only thing that makes me cry is the kindness in my baby’s eyes. Sometimes I lie awake at night and wonder where the years have gone. They have all passed under sleep’s dark and silent gate.” This song in and of itself could have closed this album. It is that strong. But waiting in the wings to provide the album’s exclamation point is the song “The Pretender”. This tune brings the album full-circle leaving the listener in a position of being completely satisfied yet, at the same time…wanting more. The ultimate accomplishment for a songwriter.
As discussed in the first two articles of this series the masterful production of this album by Jon Landau (known as a writer for Rolling Stone magazine and as Bruce Springsteen’s manager) was a result of Landau and Browne knowing who to call. In addition to David Crosby and Graham Nash (of Crosby, Stills and Nash fame) the total number of musicians contributing to The Pretender exceeds THIRTY.
This virtual “who’s who” of the music industry includes Browne’s long-time guitarist/violinist/slide guitarist and fret board wizard David Lindley in addition to Browne’s usual studio and touring mates: Craig Doerge (piano), Leland Sklar (bass), Russ Kunkel (drums), Rosemary Butler (vocals) and guitarist Waddy Wachtel. Rounding off this impressive list, to name a few, were Lowell George (of Little Feat,) John Hall (of Orleans,) Don Henley (of The Eagles,) guitarist Albert Lee, keyboardist Billy Payne (Little Feat), singer Bonnie Raitt and singer/guitarist J.D. Souther.
With the near-perfect combination of impeccable songwriting, production and over thirty musical artists contributing to the cause, Jackson Browne’s album The Pretender is the finest of Browne’s career and (as stated in Rolling Stone magazine) one of the greatest albums of all time.