By the time the late nineteen-eighties had rolled around, college radio largely had its own identity, one that almost entirely eschewed artists that got ample attention from stations in the commercial portions of the dial. That was a significant shift from a decade earlier, when an album by the Who, arguably at the peak of their broader popularity, could top the college charts, albeit charts that in their earliest stages. While some stations still afford these legacy artists at least a modicum of respect around 1989, the general rule was to strongly favor the acts that were starting to be grouped under the catch-all term “alternative.” Classic rock radio could have those others artists that once had a comfy enough home in at student-run station.
As might be expected, there were exceptions to this rule. Though they practically defined establishment rock, the Rolling Stones got plenty of college radio airplay with their 1989 album, Steel Wheels, which was met with the sort of best-album-in-years proclamations that greeted just about every new release from the band. And Neil Young, bolstered by the automatic genuflections of Rolling Stone magazine that greeted every new album as well as a recent boost of his anti-corporate credentials, was cloaked in a cool so undeniable that it kept him in the mix. At the station where I landed, the programming choices were even more generous, and there were quite a few old-timers (a hyphenated word I type out with pained knowledge that today’s artist was younger than I am now at the time of this song’s release) that we continued to champion. One of those performers was Jackson Browne.
A solid though never dominant hit-maker through the nineteen-seventies and a good chunk of the eighties, Browne’s ability to capture the attention of commercial programmers was waning, surely in part because he’d grown more overt in his politics. He’d surely had an activist steam for some time, famously serving as one of the leaders of the 1979 No Nukes concerts, but a decent amount of his music stuck with the safety of considering pretty girls and the lovelorn. He took a sharp left turn, to use a fitting metaphor, with Lives in the Balance, his 1986 album that took dead aim at the misbegotten manipulations of Ronald Reagan’s America (with the occasional, slightly under-energized love song tossed in). Aligned with the consensus political views of my college radio contingent, Browne felt like someone who needed our bolstering attention. Thus the arrival of his 1989 release, World in Motion, was met by us with the same enthusiasm we afforded some of the unquestioned heroes of college radio.
My mildly soiled little secret is that I still kind of preferred Browne’s dippy, drippy love songs. He might have leveled his songwriting skills at the Iran-Contra scandal and festering injustice across the globe, but I was more likely to bypass the protest songs in favor of, say, “Chasing You Into the Light.” Maybe it didn’t represent the bold truth-telling that inspired us to give Browne an honored spot in our rotation, but sometimes it was simply what I wanted to hear. And, after all, I was the one in the air chair.
Listen or download –> Jackson Browne, “Chasing You Into the Light”
(Disclaimer: Though it’s especially exhausting to try and navigate the discography of an artist like Browne, with decades of reissues and compilations, it appears to me that World in Motion is out of print as a physical object that can be procured at your favorite local, independently-owned record store in a manner that duly compensate both the proprietor of said shop and the original artist. This track, then, is being shared in this space with the belief that doing so causes no undue fiscal harm and ideally may boost Browne’s revenues by reminding folks that his music is worth pursuing. Regardless of my benign intent, I know the rules. I will gladly and promptly remove the track from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)