Friday, November 28, 2008

You're Only Lonely, J.D. Souther (1979)

I'm not sure why J.D. Souther has eluded the limelight as much as he has over the past decades, but something reminded me of the gem You're Only Lonely today, so I thought I'd give him his due.

But in a way, he is in the limelight again, although until just this moment I didn't know how. Last week I woke up from a stuporous sleep in front of the TV to Joe Walsh's grizzled aspect and then the realization that I was looking at a live performance of the Eagles, who it seems have once again reunited.

And what the Eagles were singing was an early Souther composition, How Long, apparently the debut single from their first studio album in 28 years. Huh! And Souther recently released his own album, If the World Was You. I've been living under a rock, apparently.

Anyway, back in the 70s J.D. Souther was a talented singer-songwriter and sought-after session man in the burgeoning, oh-so-melodic Southern California scene that kind of defined that period in American music in my mind - Jackson Browne, the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt et al.

Souther and his buddy Glenn Frey had their own obscure acoustic band, Longbranch Pennywhistle, which released an equally obscure album in 1969. Frey went on, with Don Henley, to form part of Ronstadt's touring band, while Souther became a third of the country-rock supergroup Souther Hillman Furay Band, with Poco's Richie Furay and Chris Hillman of the Byrds, a marriage reportedly not made in heaven. Souther continued as a solo act and songwriter for others, especially the newly-formed Eagles. My favorite: New Kid in Town. Another is Ronstadt's cover of his White Rhythm and Blues, which was my introduction to that song.

Conventional wisdom has it that You're Only Lonely was an homage to Roy Orbison, who, like many, Souther admired, but on his website he describes the actual genesis thusly:

I actually didn't write "You're Only Lonely" with Roy in mind, but for a very beautiful singer and songwriter who, it seemed to me, worried herself into knots with language inappropriate to her real issue. She was, like many artists, simply insecure about being alone. The song was written to reassure this wonderful woman that she was not, probably had never been, and would not likely be alone unless she wanted it. ... when Waddy Wachtel and I were arranging songs for the 1979 album ... and he was trying to find a song of mine faster than a dirge and asked, as only he can something like: "What the hell, Jake, don't you have anything like, you know, a single?" I said, "Well, there's this little rockabilly thing but it has no bridge and no third verse. I played it for him. He looked at me like I was mental and I said, "But there's no third verse!" He said, "So sing the first verse again!" So I did.

Sometimes it's just that simple.


cornbread hell said...

i hope the something that reminded you of it was a good thing...

Norrin2 said...

I've always wondered why Souther never got to be big too. "You're Only Lonely" was his hit, but "Black Roses, White Rhythm and Blues" was his masterpiece. If you're not familiar with it, track it down and give it a listen.