Late for the Sky is the third album by American singer–songwriter Jackson Browne, released in 1974 (see 1974 in music). It was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1975. It peaked at number 14 on Billboard's Pop Albums chart.
Browne was still living in his childhood home, The Abbey San Encino, where he began writing the songs for his third album. Because of the high costs of recording his previous album, Asylum Records founder David Geffen required him to complete this next album quicker and at less cost. Browne decided to use his touring band of David Lindley, Doug Haywood, Jai Winding, and Larry Zach. It was also decided that Al Schmitt, an engineer on For Everyman, would co-produce to aid in the album being completed on time. The album was completed in six weeks and at half the cost ($50,000) of For Everyman. Numerous friends of Browne's, including Dan Fogelberg, Don Henley, and J. D. Souther contributed harmony vocals. There were only eight songs on the album, five of them longer than five minutes.
The title track was used in the 1976 Martin Scorsese film Taxi Driver. "Before the Deluge" was later covered by Joan Baez on her 1979 album Honest Lullaby; Baez and Browne performed the song together on her 1989 PBS concert special. "Walking Slow" and "Fountain of Sorrow" were released as singles but both failed to chart.
In his speech inducting Browne into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Bruce Springsteen called Late for the Sky Browne's "masterpiece" and referred to the car doors slamming at the end of "The Late Show".
In 2003, the album was ranked number 372 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, Browne's highest ranking.
The album was certified as a Gold record in 1974 and Platinum in 1989 by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
Browne has publicly acknowledged that the cover art for Late for the Sky was inspired by the 1954 painting L'Empire des Lumieres ("Empire of Light"), by Belgian surrealist René Magritte. The album itself contains the credit, "cover concept Jackson Browne if it's all reet with Magritte". The original photograph was shot on a South Pasadena residential street, several miles from Browne's childhood Highland Park, California, home. Designer and front cover photographer Bob Seldemann said, "I spoke to Jackson in 1980 and he told me he thought it was his favorite cover. Lest the jacket appear too funereal, a mood-defusing photo of a relaxed Jackson, almost smiling and looking as though he has a surprise to share, occupies a small square of the back cover."
Late for the Sky received mainly favorable reviews. In his review for Allmusic, William Ruhlmann described the themes of the album as "love, loss, identity, apocalypse", similar to his debut album, but noted that Browne "delved even deeper into them...Yet his seeming uncertainty and self-doubt reflected the size and complexity of the problems he was addressing in these songs, and few had ever explored such territory, much less mapped it so well." Rolling Stone rated the album 5 of 5 stars also and stated it "strengthens and solidifies Browne’s approach; it’s the quintessential Browne album. The metaphorical complexity of 'Fountain of Sorrow' and the clear-eyed poignancy of 'For a Dancer' would be a tough act to follow...when his songwriting is sharp, the mellowing trend in his music dulls the impact."
The original Rolling Stone review in 1974 by music critic Stephen Holden highly praised the album, calling it "...his most mature, conceptually unified work to date" and noting that the "...open-ended poetry achieves power from the nearly religious intensity that accumulates around the central motifs; its fervor is underscored by the sparest and hardest production to be found on any Browne album yet... as well as by his impassioned, oracular singing style." A 1999 Rolling Stone review of For Everyman called Late for the Sky Browne's "masterpiece".
However, music critic Robert Christgau gave the album a B- grade, writing that Browne's "linguistic gentility is inappropriate, his millenarianism is self-indulgent...This, of course, rather conveniently forgetting that artistic criticism is also highly self-indulgent, as is art." Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide called it "a bit mopey, but it hangs together as Jackson Browne's strongest and most melodious album, with a couple of rockers thrown in to perk up the listeners."
All tracks composed by Jackson Browne.Side one
- "Late for the Sky" – 5:36
- "Fountain of Sorrow" – 6:42
- "Farther On" – 5:17
- "The Late Show" – 5:09
Jackson Browne – vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, slide guitar (on "The Road and The Sky")
David Campbell – string arrangements
Joyce Everson – harmony vocals
Beth Fitchet – harmony vocals
Dan Fogelberg – harmony vocals
Doug Haywood – bass, harmony vocals
Don Henley – harmony vocals
David Lindley – electric guitar, lap steel guitar, fiddle; harmony vocals (as Perry Lindley)
Terry Reid – harmony vocals
Fritz Richmond – jug
J. D. Souther – harmony vocals
Jai Winding – piano, organ
Larry Zack – drums, percussion
- "The Road and the Sky" – 3:04
- "For a Dancer" – 4:42
- "Walking Slow" – 3:50
- "Before the Deluge" – 6:18
Production notes:Jackson Browne – producer
Al Schmitt – producer
Kent Nebergall – engineer
Tom Perry – engineer
Fritz Richmond – engineer
Greg Ladanyi – mastering
Bob Seidemann – front cover, design
Rick Griffin – front cover lettering
Henry Diltz – back cover photography
Album - Billboard (North America)