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"Running on Empty"

Japanese cover
Single by Jackson Browne
from the album Running on Empty
A-side Running on Empty
B-side "Nothing But Time"
Released Early 1978
Format 7"
Recorded August 27, 1977
Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia Maryland
Genre Rock
Length 5:20
Label Asylum Records
Writer(s) Jackson Browne
Producer Jackson Browne
Jackson Browne singles chronology
"The Pretender"
(1977)
"Running on Empty"
(1978)
"Stay"
(1978)

"Running on Empty" is a song written and performed by American singer-songwriter Jackson Browne. It is the title track to his 1977 live Running on Empty album, recorded at a concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland on August 27, 1977. A number eleven hit on the Billboard Hot 100 when it was released as a single, Rolling Stone ranked it at number 492 on its list of the 500 greatest songs of all time and is one of Browne's signature songs.

History

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 lap 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":[1]

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".

Later uses

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.[citation needed]

In August 2008, Browne sued presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain, the Ohio Republican Party, and the Republican National Committee for unauthorized use of "Running on Empty" in a television commercial mocking presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama's energy policy.[2] The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum in July 2009, with the McCain campaign, the Ohio Republican Party, and the Republican National Committee issuing a joint apology for using the song.[3] Browne said, "I'm really happy that we got this statement from them. It's great to have it affirmed that these [copyright and usage] laws stand. I've had an idea of how my songs are protected and how money is collected and how making a living as a musician works for my whole career, and it's great to have it affirmed and to know that we're absolutely right in standing up to them."[3]

Notes

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