08 March 2013

Doctor My Eyes

In mid-1971 American singer-songwriter Jackson Browne was recording his debut solo album. One of the tracks he laid down for his self-titled 10-song LP was 'Doctor My Eyes', a prime example of an upbeat pop song with deceptively bleak lyrics:
Doctor, my eyes have seen the years
And the slow parade of fears without crying
Now I want to understand
I have done all that I could
To see the evil and the good without hiding
You must help me if you can
Doctor, my eyes
Tell me what is wrong
Apparently an early draft of the lyrics were even darker. The song closes with the plea: 'Doctor, my eyes cannot see the sky / Is this the prize for having learned how not to cry?' Hardly the sort of jaunty, uplifting material you'd expect to hear on Top of the Pops. But 'Doctor My Eyes' stands out for its sheer catchiness, from its driving up-tempo beat, gorgeous and slightly hurried guitar solo, and the added star power of Graham Nash and David Crosby singing backing vocals. It became the first single from Browne's album and reached no.8 on the US Hot 100 singles chart. Here's a top live performance of the track during a British tour in 1978, recorded for posterity by the BBC and featuring two blistering guitar solos from David Lindley (and also followed by 'These Days', a Browne composition first made famous by Nico in 1967, a recording on which Browne played the guitar):

'Doctor My Eyes's pop hook must have somehow caught the ear of Motown's hitmakers 'The Corporation' and Hal Davis, in 1971, who were producing the Jackson 5's fifth studio album, Lookin' Through The Window, which was recorded in late 1971 and early 1972. In December 1971 the Jacksons recorded their version of Doctor My Eyes and the track became one of 11 featured on the album when it was released on 23 May 1972. The Jacksons' version is representative of their material at the time, turning up the bubblegum with its 'bo-bo-bo-bo' intro and bridge, and highlighting the helium voice of 13-year-old Michael Jackson pitching up to the chorus. The fuzz-toned guitar breaks and studio strings show the Motown production machine working on overdrive to turn out a stomping pop floor-filler with no hint of the melancholic underpinnings of the original. The Jacksons' version was only released as a single in Europe, where it proved a success, charting at no.9 in the UK in February 1973, a month dominated by glam rock and The Strawbs' class-warfare 'Part Of The Union'.

See also:
Music: Doctor My Eyes (Jackson Browne, album version, 1972)
Blog: Beck + Sound + Vision, 16 February 2013
Blog: So Long You Pretty Thing (Capital Children's Choir), 7 February 2013
Blog: Mohammad's Radio (Warren Zevon & Jackson Browne, 1976)

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