Running on Empty (song)

Last updated
"Running on Empty"
Running on Empty.jpg
Japanese cover
Single by Jackson Browne
from the album Running on Empty
B-side "Nothing But Time"
ReleasedFebruary 1978
Format 7"
RecordedAugust 27, 1977
Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, Maryland
Genre Rock
4:49 (7" version)
Label Asylum Records
Songwriter(s) Jackson Browne
Producer(s) Jackson Browne
Jackson Browne singles chronology
"The Pretender"
"Running on Empty"
"Stay/The Load-Out"

"Running on Empty" is a song written and performed by American singer-songwriter Jackson Browne. It is the title track to his 1977 live album of the same name, recorded at a concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland, on August 27, 1977. A number 11 hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 when it was released as a single, it spent seventeen weeks on the chart after debuting on February 11, 1978 at position 72. [1] [2] [3] Rolling Stone ranked it at number 496 on its list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time" and it is one of Browne's signature songs. [4] "Running on Empty" was most popular in Canada, where it spent two weeks at number four. [5]

Jackson Browne American singer-songwriter

Clyde Jackson Browne is an American singer-songwriter and musician who has sold over 18 million albums in the United States. Coming to prominence in the 1970s, Browne has written and recorded songs such as "These Days", "The Pretender", "Running on Empty", "Lawyers in Love", "Doctor My Eyes", "Take It Easy", "For a Rocker", and "Somebody's Baby". In 2004, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, and given an honorary doctorate of music by Occidental College in Los Angeles, California. In 2015, Rolling Stone ranked him as 37th in its list of the "100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time".

<i>Running on Empty</i> (album) 1977 live album / studio album by Jackson Browne

Running on Empty is the fifth album by American singer-songwriter Jackson Browne. Featuring songs themed around life on the road, the entire album was recorded on tour, either live on stage, or in locations associated with touring, such as backstage, on tour busses, or in hotel rooms. Released in 1977, the album reached #3 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart in 1978 and stayed on the charts for 65 weeks. The single for the title track, "Running on Empty", peaked at #11 and the follow-up single, "The Load-Out"/"Stay", reached #20 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart.

Merriweather Post Pavilion outdoor concert venue

Merriweather Post Pavilion is an outdoor concert venue located within Symphony Woods, a 40-acre (162,000-m²) lot of preserved land in the heart of the planned community of Columbia, Maryland. In 2010, Merriweather was named the second best amphitheater in the United States by Billboard magazine. The venue was also ranked as the fourth best amphitheater in the United States by Rolling Stone in 2013. It was again ranked by Consequence of Sound at number 29 of all music venues in the nation out of 100 in 2016.



The song was written while Browne was driving to the studio each day to make The Pretender , according to Rolling Stone magazine: "I was always driving around with no gas in the car," Browne is quoted. "I just never bothered to fill up the tank because — how far was it anyway? Just a few blocks." [4]

<i>The Pretender</i> (album) 1976 studio album by Jackson Browne

The Pretender is the fourth album by the American singer-songwriter Jackson Browne, released in 1976. It peaked at #5 on Billboard's album chart. The singles from the album were "Here Come Those Tears Again", which reached number 23, and "The Pretender", which peaked at number 58.

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 generally applicable, as well:

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 17 and running up 101
I don't know where I'm running now, I'm just running on ...

U.S. Route 101 highway in the United States

U.S. Route 101, or U.S. Highway 101 (US 101) is a north–south United States Numbered Highway that runs through the states of California, Oregon, and Washington, on the West Coast of the United States. It is also known as El Camino Real where its route along the southern and central California coast approximates the old trail which linked the Spanish missions, pueblos, and presidios. It merges at some points with California State Route 1 (SR 1).

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 receives vocal back up from Rosemary Butler and Doug Haywood.

David Lindley (musician) American musician

David Perry Lindley is an American musician who founded the band El Rayo-X, and who has worked with many other performers including Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon, Curtis Mayfield and Dolly Parton. He has mastered such a wide variety of instruments that Acoustic Guitar magazine referred to Lindley not as a multi-instrumentalist, but instead as a "maxi-instrumentalist."

Lap steel guitar type of steel guitar which is typically played with the instrument in a horizontal position on the performer’s lap or otherwise supported

The lap steel guitar is a type of steel guitar which is typically played with the instrument in a horizontal position on the performer's lap or otherwise supported. The performer changes pitch by pressing a metal or glass bar against the strings as opposed to a traditional guitar where the performer's fingertips press the strings against frets. The bar placed against the strings is called a "steel" or "tone bar".

Rosemary Ann Butler is an American singer. She began her career playing bass and singing in an all-female band named the Ladybirds while attending Fullerton Union High School in Fullerton, California. The band appeared on several Los Angeles area television shows before opening for the Rolling Stones in 1964. She then joined all-female hard rock band Birtha who released two albums for Dunhill Records. After they split in 1975, she became a popular back-up singer in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Her vocals were featured on Bonnie Raitt's album, Sweet Forgiveness, on songs "Gamblin' Man", "Runaway", "Sweet Forgiveness", and "Two Lives."

The lyric's ages and years match up with Browne's:

In '69 I was 21 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": [6]

<i>Rolling Stone</i> American magazine focusing on popular culture, based in New York City

Rolling Stone is an American monthly magazine that focuses on popular culture. It was founded in San Francisco, California in 1967 by Jann Wenner, who is still the magazine's publisher, and the music critic Ralph J. Gleason. It was first known for its musical coverage and for political reporting by Hunter S. Thompson. In the 1990s, the magazine shifted focus to a younger readership interested in youth-oriented television shows, film actors, and popular music. In recent years, it has resumed its traditional mix of content.

Paul Nelson was an A&R executive, magazine editor, and music critic best known for writing for Sing Out!, The Village Voice and Rolling Stone.

You know I don't even know what I'm hoping to find ...
Running into the sun, but I'm running behind.

With its number 11 peak on the Hot 100 in spring 1978, "Running on Empty" was Browne's third-biggest hit single in his career (trailing only "Doctor My Eyes" and "Somebody's Baby"), 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".

Somebodys Baby 1982 single by Jackson Browne

"Somebody's Baby" is a song written by Jackson Browne and Danny Kortchmar and recorded by Browne for the 1982 Fast Times at Ridgemont High movie soundtrack. Reaching #7 on the US Billboard Hot 100 after debuting at #73 on July 31, 1982, the track would be Browne's last top ten song, as well as the highest charting single of his career, spending nineteen weeks on the chart.

Classic rock is a radio format which developed from the album-oriented rock (AOR) format in the early 1980s. In the United States, the classic rock format features music ranging generally from the 1960s to the 1990s, primarily focusing on commercially successful blues rock and hard rock popularized in the 1970s AOR format. The radio format became increasingly popular with the baby boomer demographic by the end of the 1990s.

Bruce Springsteen American singer and songwriter

Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen is an American singer-songwriter and leader of the E Street Band. Nicknamed "The Boss," he is recognized for his poetic lyrics, his Jersey Shore roots, his distinctive voice, and lengthy, energetic stage performances.

Later uses

This song appeared in the 1994 film Forrest Gump , featured in the scene where Forrest was running across the United States.

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. [7] 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. [8] 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." [8]

Rick Price and Jack Jones covered the song on their album California Dreaming (2017).

Ugly Americans front man Bob Schneider recorded a slower, more acoustic-oriented version of the song for the 2014 Looking Into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne album.


Chart performance


  1. Paris, Russ. JACKSON BROWNE FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS Archived 2012-04-24 at the Wayback Machine
  2. Jackson Browne Chart History. Accessed July 10, 2012.
  3. Whitburn, Joel. Billboard Hot 100 Charts - The Seventies. Wisconsin: Record Research, 1990.
  4. 1 2 Rolling Stone. "500 Greatest Songs of All Time".
  6. Jackson Browne: Running On Empty : Music Reviews : Rolling Stone
  7. "Jackson Browne sues Sen. John McCain for unauthorized use of 'Running on Empty'". Los Angeles Times . 2008-08-15. Archived from the original on August 18, 2008.
  8. 1 2 "Jackson Browne settles with GOP over song use". Associated Press. MSNBC. Retrieved 24 August 2010.
  10. Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955–1990 - ISBN   0-89820-089-X

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