The top 10 J.D. Souther songs begin with a peek into the man’s career as a singer and songwriter. Some of the biggest hits to grace the music charts came from his songwriting talent. Many of the biggest hits belonging to The Eagles have been credited to Souther as either a writer or co-writer. This was also the case with Linda Ronstadt as the two often collaborated together. In addition to his run with The Eagles, Souther also enjoyed a successful recording career as a solo artist. 1979’s “You’re Only Lonely” and 1981’s “Her Town Too” stand out as the two singles credited to this Michigan-born talent.
Although John David Souther was born in Detroit, he grew up in Amarillo, Texas. His musical influence can be credited to the country meets rock with a Texan flair. The first time Souther hit the recording studio was in New Mexico where he performed with a local group known as The Cinders. This 1965 Norman Petty Studios recording was placed in the hands of Warner Brothers, then released as a single in 1966. Desiring to continue his career as a musician, Souther moved to Los Angeles, California. This is where he met Glenn Frey. The common interest in music led both men to establish a friendship that included sharing accommodations together as they performed folk songs such as Longbranch Pennywhistle. In 1970, the two recorded and released their self-titled debut album via Amos Records.
The start of Souther’s solo career began with an eponymous studio album he released in 1972. This was followed by the 1976 release of his second studio recording, Black Rose. This is the one that included a duet with Linda Ronstadt, “If You Have Crying Eyes.” In addition to a flourishing career as a solo artist, Souther’s collaborative efforts with several artists such as Christopher Cross, Dan Fogelberg, and Don Henley kept him in the spotlight of the music industry throughout most of the 1970s.
In 1973, J.D. Souther worked with Linda Ronstadt to produce her fourth studio album, Don’t Cry Now. This wouldn’t be the only occasion Souther and Linda Ronstadt worked together as she reaped the benefits of his singing and songwriting talent. These include “Faithless Heart” and “Prisoner in Disguise” from 1974’s Heart Like a Wheel, and 1978’s “White Rhythm and Blues” from Living in the USA. In addition to working with Rondstadt, Souther also teamed up with his longtime friend, James Taylor, as well as fellow Texan Roy Orbison. When asked, Souther will admit Orbison played a key role that sparked his interest to follow the career path of a musician.
Throughout the 1980s and the 1990s, J.D. Souther was just as prolific as ever as a singer and songwriter. This includes 1987’s Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night. This featured Souther’s collaborative efforts that led to the recording and release of its concert performance and video. Souther also performed and wrote music that was featured in movies such as 1980’s Urban Cowboy, 1988’s Permanent Record, 1989’s Always, and 1990’s Cry-Baby. The theme song for Anything But Love came from Souther as it timeline of this American sitcom ran from 1989 until 1992.
Souther’s contributions to movies and television didn’t stop strictly at singing and songwriting. He also got a taste for acting. During the third season of Thirtysomething, he played a character named John Dunaway. It was also in 1990 he appeared in the movie Postcards from the Edge. In 1999, he acted in the movies, My Girl 2 and Purgatory. As a voice actor, he contributed to the 2004 audiobook, A Salty Piece of Land. In 2012, Souther played a recurring role during the first season of Nashville, then again during an episode in its fifth season.
The legacy of J.D. Souther as a solo artist features ten studio albums recorded and released, as well as five singles. The first was 1972’s John David Souther, which was followed by 1976’s Black Rose. 1979’s You’re Only Lonely was his third and most successful album release as it earned him two hit singles that would appear on the US Billboard Hot 100. In 1984, Home By Dawn became his fourth studio album release. It wouldn’t be until 2008 Souther would record and release If The World Was You. This was followed by 2011’s Natural Way, 2012’s Midnight in Tokyo, and 2015’s Tenderness.
J.D. Souther’s legacy etched him as one of the greatest musical collaborators of all time, especially in the genre of rock and roll. Interestingly enough, even though Souther was raised in Texas, it was established country music wasn’t his cup of tea. Neither was the blues, folk, nor rock. His musical talent fused country and rock together which worked as his recipe for success as a singer-songwriter. However, his true passion was in jazz music as it was originally his dream to serve as a drummer for a jazz band.
This can be credited to his grandmother, who was an opera singer. His father was a big band singer that played timeless standards that came from musical geniuses such as George Gerswhin, Johnny Mercer, and Cole Porter. These played key roles in Souther’s ability to work with melodies that would place him in the same league as some of the finest songwriters ever to tune up the music industry.
Top 10 J. D. Souther Songs
#10 – White Rhythm & Blues – Linda Ronstadt
Written by J.D. Souther and performed by Linda Ronstadt, “White Rhythm & Blues” was a beautiful love ballad that was first recorded for her 1978 album, Living in the USA. It was also performed as a duet by both musicians for Souther’s album, You’re Only Lonely. Singing as someone in love whom she just had a one-night stand with, there was a painful reality where the feeling wasn’t mutual. The lyrics suggested there was a yearning to share the experience with someone who understood the situation. Although not released as a single it holds fast as one of the most beautiful lyrics about a person’s heart having to contend with a love interest not yet willing to take their relationship the way it is to another level.
#9 – The Last In Love
“The Last In Love” came from J.D. Souther’s You’re Only Lonely album. Released in 1979 with a beautiful acoustic guitar opening, this lonely ballad shared the man’s pain as he sang about his heartache. As if addressing a love interest, Souther poured out his heart and soul in a song that wonderfully illustrated there was more to the man than his songwriting talent. If looking for a really good song to shed some tears of your own as you opt to take a trip down memory lane of lost loves, “The Last In Love” would be it.
#8 – How Long
Released in 1972, “How Long” was J.D. Souther’s debut single as a solo artist. It came from his self-titled debut album but was given a limited release as a promotional single at the time. Whenever performed in concert with his longtime friends and collaborators from The Eagles, it was easy to win over the crowd with its easygoing lyrics. Performed as if someone in prison, “How Long” was a song addressed to his love interest and how long she’d be willing to wait for him. Souther was inspired to write the lyrics after he learned about a Vietnam soldier who attempted to flee from the war but was caught and sentenced to death. In the meantime, he had a girlfriend back home who had waited patiently for his return until she learned about his demise.
In 2007, The Eagles covered Souther’s original for their Long Road Out of Eden album and it was released as a single. For them, it became a hit as “How Long” peaked as high as number seven on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary Songs chart and at number twenty-three on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. It was a modest hit in Canada at number seventy-six, as well as in Romania at number eighty-eight. During the 2008 Grammy Awards, this version of J.D. Souther’s song won Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.
#7 – Go Ahead And Rain
From Natural History, “Go Ahead and Rain” was a touching ballad J.D. Souther wrote as someone having strong feelings for a woman he seemed to barely know. The lyrics shared were Souther’s attempt to encourage the love interest to start a romance with him and see where it goes. This was a 2011 recording that featured a music video shot at a roadside stop. Both the song and the video won over the hearts of the fans, thanks to Souther’s touching performance as a man aching to convince his reluctant love interest to shower as much interest in him as he did in her.
#6 – Faithless Love – Linda Ronstadt
“Faithless Love” was a single released by Linda Ronstadt from her 1974 album, Heart Like a Wheel. Written by J.D. Souther, Linda Ronstadt’s performance once again demonstrated why she was the “it chick’ during the 1970s as a singer that graced the music industry. Souther covered this song for his second studio album, Black Rose, two years after “Faithless Love” was performed by Linda Ronstadt. In 1984, it was covered by Glen Campbell for his album, Letter to Home. This was the version released as a single that became a number ten hit on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. This was a beautiful country song that expressed that love isn’t always enough to keep a relationship between two people together. At one point, Souther and Linda Ronstadt briefly shared a romance together before agreeing to go their separate ways.
#5 – Prisoner In Disguise (featuring Linda Ronstadt)
The acoustic guitar performance, combined with the vocal performances by Linda Ronstadt and J.D. Souther, turned “Prisoner in Disguise” into yet another amazing love ballad by this dynamic duo. Written by J.D. Souther, he sang in harmony with Linda Ronstadt as she delivered yet another amazing song at a class level no other recording artist could match. Performed as someone stuck in circumstances that felt like prison, this was an endearing classic that suggested life in the big city wasn’t as romantic as she hoped for. Instead of enjoying a life that felt free, she was confined to living like a survivalist.
#4 – Her Town Too (featuring James Taylor)
In 1981, J.D. Souther and James Taylor performed the duet, “Her Town Too.” From James Taylor’s platinum-certified album Dad Loves His Work, this single became a number-five hit on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary Songs chart and a number-eleven hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. This classic breakup song was about a long-term relationship between two people that came to an end. He, along with Souther and Waddy Wachtel, wrote “Her Town Too” together before it was recorded for James Taylor’s tenth studio album. Taylor could relate as his marriage to Carly Simon had met its demise. Souther could also relate as his personal track record with relationships also met with some painful breakups. Fans around the world found “Her Town Too” a wonderful song for them to listen to as they contended with heartbreaks of their own.
#3 – You’re Only Lonely
The biggest hit for J.D. Souther as a solo artist was 1979’s “You’re Only Lonely.” It peaked as high as number seven on the US Billboard Hot 100, and it was a number one hit on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary Songs chart. This was the title track from his third studio album. “You’re Only Lonely” also became a number seventeen hit in Australia and as high as a number two hit in Canada. Writing songs about painful heartbreaks was a niche Souther capitalized on as a songwriting genius. As a vocalist, he could harmonize almost any tune from something ordinary to extraordinary.
What inspired Souther to write “You’re Only Lonely” was Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely.” While growing up, Souther idolized Orbison and credited him as the key influencer to his decision to become a recording artist himself. Along the way, Souther also developed a love for jazz music, which became his personal preference as a listener and a performer. However, the mix of country and rock and roll became his destiny as a world-class musician and it was a path well chosen.
#2 – New Kid in Town (featuring The Eagles)
Together, Glenn Frey, Don Henley, and J.D. Souther wrote “New Kid in Town” as a song that would become part of the iconic Hotel California tracklist. Released in 1976, it was the first single from the album and it became a number-one hit on the US Billboard Hot 100, as well as on the Canadian Top Singles chart. Around the world, it was at least a top twenty hit among the nations of Australia, Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, and the UK. The album version didn’t share the same fade-out as the single did but is still a huge favorite among fans of The Eagles. Glenn Frey was the lead singer for “New Kid in Town” while Henley sang harmony. At the time, Don Felder, Randy Meisner, and Joe Walsh were part of the lineup. Together, they won the Grammy Award for Best Vocal Arrangement for Two or More Voices.
The infamous chorus of “New Kid in Town” came from J.D. Souther. When The Eagles first heard what he put together already as a songwriter, there was a debate about how to finish it. As Souther played the song for them, Frey and Henley joined him to finish what he started. By subject, “New Kid in Town” represented a newcomer’s arrival to take the place of already established recording artists who already had their taste of fame. The comparison of this to an old west tale of strangers coming to town to make a name for themselves was deliberate. It added drama to the reality that while The Eagles knew they were at the top of their game during the mid-1970s, they knew it was only a matter of time before a new act would come along to dethrone them. As far as classic rock fans who are completely devoted to The Eagles, their place at the top remained solidified as one of the greatest rock acts of all time.
#1 – Best Of My Love ( The Eagles)
“Best of My Love” was written by the songwriting team of Glenn Frey, Don Henley, and J.D. Souther. This was recorded by The Eagles for their 1974 album, On the Border. With Henley as the lead vocalist, this song became their first number-one hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 as well as the US Billboard Adult Contemporary Songs chart. At the time, there was a deadline to get a song finished in time for the production of the group’s third studio album. The inspiration for its acoustic guitar performance came to Glenn Frey after learning a new trick from the legendary Joni Mitchell.
As for the lyrics, this came about after the men spent time at the infamous Troubadour restaurant in West Hollywood, California. Henley’s source of inspiration came from a breakup he had with a previous girlfriend. Souther’s influence contributed to what was regarded as a folksy country-rock ballad that had The Eagles at their best as they sang harmony together in what became one of their most beloved songs by fans and music critics alike.
The single version of “Best of My Love” was tweaked and released by Asylum Records in what they felt was radio-friendlier than the album version. This was done so without letting members of The Eagles know in advance. It was a controversial decision that sparked rage among the band members but at the same time proved to be the most successful single in their career as a group so far.
When the single passed the single copies sold mark, The Eagles sent to Asylum Records a broken gold record that was mounted on a plaque, calling it “The Golden Hacksaw Award.” Despite the conflict that broke out between The Eagles and the recording label, “Best of My Love” became an important milestone in the band’s career. It played a key role in On the Border becoming the most successful album released by them so far and it became double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). It was also certified gold in Canada, and silver in the UK.
Top 10 J. D. Souther Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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