I may have brought this up before in the blog (and I may again), but every once in awhile, I’ll think of a song and wonder, why didn’t that do better than it did? Why didn’t radio get behind it more? Why wasn’t it promoted more? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop? Well, I’m sure other folks have pondered those questions at some point, too, and maybe even the recording artists themselves (except maybe not that last question).
Today’s “song of the day” popped up on my iPod in my Valentine’s Day playlist of “Heart Songs” (thank you Weezer), featuring songs with the word “heart” in them. A little kooky maybe and a roundabout way to put a playlist together, but it’s what I do. Well, Jackson Browne’s “In The Shape Of A Heart” came on, and I still wonder to this day why it wasn’t a bigger song than it was.
“In The Shape Of A Heart” appears on the German-born singer’s eighth studio album, LIVES IN THE BALANCE. In 1989, ROLLING STONE ranked LIVES IN THE BALANCE at No. 88 on a list of the best 100 albums of the 80s. LIVES IN THE BALANCE featured songs that were essentially slaps in the face towards Ronald Reagan, and included the powerful title track and the album’s first single, “For America.”
I bought this album, er, rather “received it” from the Columbia Record and Tape Club during my time at the then-New England School of Broadcasting (now the New England School of Communications, or NESCom). I had enjoyed Jackson Browne’s music for years – not really a hardcore fan or anything – but, for whatever reason, I made a note to pick this album up.
Written about Jackson Browne’s first wife, Phyllis Major, who had died of a drug overdose 10 years earlier, “In The Shape Of A Heart” was a song of love and destruction and heartbreak. Not knowing the origin of the subject matter, except knowing it seemed like a very personal song for him, I loved this song from the start. It wasn’t meant for dancing (slow or fast), but that’s okay. I think Jackson Browne really wanted folks to just listen to it. And listen I did.
I was disappointed when it stopped at No. 70 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in early July 1986, but even though I am a self-proclaimed “chart nerd,” if you like or love a song for whatever reason, you can’t let it be about what chart position it ended up at. If you love a song, that’s good enough for me.
In that ROLLING STONE list from 1989, the magazine labeled “In The Shape Of A Heart” as “one of Browne’s finest love songs.” Personally, after faithfully listening to this song for 30 years, I think it’s not only one of hits finest love songs, but also one of his best, and prolly my second-favorite Jackson Browne song ever (after another underrated 80s gem of his I’ll come back to another time)…
People speak of love don’t know what they’re thinking of
Wait around for the one who fits just like a glove
Speak in terms of a life and the living
Try to find the word for forgiving
You keep it up
You try so hard
To keep a life from coming apart
And never know
The shallows and the unseen reefs
That are there from the start
In the shape of a heart…