Running on Empty (song)

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"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
RecordedAugust 27, 1977
Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, Maryland
4:49 (7" version)
LabelAsylum 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]


Browne wrote the song while 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]

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 ...

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.

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]

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".

Later uses[edit]

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[edit]


  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. ^ a b Rolling Stone. "500 Greatest Songs of All Time".
  5. ^ a b Canada, Library and Archives (2013-07-17). "Image : RPM Weekly". Retrieved 2019-08-09.
  6. ^ Nelson, Paul (1978-03-09). "Album Reviews: Jackson Browne: Running on Empty". Rolling Stone. RealNetworks. Archived from the original on 2008-12-27. Retrieved 2019-08-09.
  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. ^ a b "Jackson Browne settles with GOP over song use". Associated Press. MSNBC. Archived from the original on 16 September 2012. Retrieved 24 August 2010.
  9. ^ Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955–1990 - ISBN 0-89820-089-X
  10. ^ Canada, Library and Archives (2013-07-17). "Image : RPM Weekly". Retrieved 2019-08-09.
  11. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1978/Top 100 Songs of 1978". Retrieved 2019-08-09.

External links[edit]