As Jackson Browne’s first single, the song “Doctor, My Eyes” had an inauspicious start. Initially a song about a guy who seeks help after a variety of dispiriting travails, but finds it’s too late, his record company (Geffen) asked him to rewrite it so it wasn’t such a downer. Browne came up with this alternative, which David Geffen agreed to release if some high harmonies were added. Luckily, due to some Laurel Canyon connections, David Crosby and Graham Nash were able to quickly add some harmonies.
Depicting a person who has stoically weathered life’s storms, the protagonist feels afraid that years of stoicism has left little room to feel anything anymore. While it still sounds like a downer, there’s an ambiguity to the lyric, a connection with the kind of callous people can form after a life of hard knocks, and overall an optimistic tone to the music that conceals any bleakness.
The song has been a favorite of classic rock stations ever since its release, and at 2:55, it’s one of Browne’s shortest songs.
Reaching #8 on the charts in May 1972, a song Browne co-wrote with Glenn Frey would reach #12 the next month — the classic from the Eagles’ “Take It Easy,” which Browne would add to his next album, as well.
As a solo artist, Browne would not reach the Top 10 again until 1982, with “Somebody’s Baby.” Another hit of his — “Running on Empty” — reached #11 just prior.
The Jackson 5 made “Doctor, My Eyes” a hit of their own in the UK, with a memorable mistake by Jermaine Jackson, who came in too early on one verse, allowed to stay in the final mix. Other artists to cover it include Wilson Phillips, Gretchen Wilson, and Garth Brooks.