When the Hook Is Just the Whole Darn Thing: Jackson Browne, “Doctor My Eyes” (1972)

After one has scouted hooks for a while the question must occur:   Could there be a great track with no hook at all? A track great without any magic moments, like Swiss history is great without any classics or conquests? A track that stands out everywhere and nowhere, like an intricately balanced mobile with everything putting just the right tension on everything else? A track whose parts can stand up to our scrutiny even after we’ve admitted we don’t particularly care whether any of them arrive?

Well, sure—why not? In this category I nominate Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes.” It seems marvelously balanced in every dimension, pure, and modestly yet irresistibly relevant.

“Doctor My Eyes”

Where would my hookless claim be most seriously threatened here? In the strikingly warm, simple, driving bass-and-piano riff? In Jesse Ed Davis’s tasteful guitar fills? In the beautifully integrated congas by Russ Kunkel? In any of Browne’s well-chosen phrases and satisfying rhymes? In the rhythm shift going from verse to chorus?  In the harmony vocals by Crosby and Nash in the chorus spiked with a fourth note (a G in a Dm7 chord)?  In Leland Sklar’s high bass notes in the first two measures, so close in sound to a conga?  Ah, that tempts me . . . But no, over and over my conclusion is that each part is strictly “effective.” And herein lies greatness, because the democratic ordinariness of all the constituents of “Doctor My Eyes” supports the I-was-that-generation premise of the song and its I-am-just-about-burned-out conclusion. Heroic moments would be out of place. The track is brimming with personality, all the same, because the profound collaboration of its parts makes it integral like one of those real persons you’re bound to welcome whenever.

*

For Jackson Browne hooks in the more usual sense I go to Lawyers in Love (1983).  The title track is an interesting inversion of the situation with “Doctor My Eyes” insofar as the hilarious satire-pastiche works by offering a zowee hook at every turn; it’s a circus act in which the hooks have to keep on coming.  But my greatest pleasure comes in “For a Rocker” at 0:32 in this clip:

“For A Rocker”

Things will happen that you won’t be ready for
…………………………………………………………………….Bap Bap Bap

The knock at the door starting on the off beat!  I know, this is really basic stuff.  Like the jokes in Plautus and Molière.

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About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
This entry was posted in Arrangements and Sounds, Rock Aesthetics and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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