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Who Is the Pretender in Jackson Browne’s Hit Song?

Who Is the Pretender in Jackson Browne’s Hit Song?

Jackson Browne is a rock and roll icon. Arguably, he’s best known for his 1976 classic The Pretender

For almost 50 years, this song has had fans wondering, who is the pretender? Does anyone know?

We rummaged around the Internet to uncover more about Browne and his hit single. 

Let’s go! 

Who Originally Wrote The Pretender?

As we mentioned above, Jackson Browne recorded The Pretender. He also wrote it. Released on his 1976 album of the same name, the song is one of Browne’s biggest hits. In fact, it reached the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It’s now a staple of classic rock radio. 

Early Years

Born in Germany, Browne’s family moved to Los Angeles when he was a young child. As a teenager, he started playing guitar and writing songs. 

He performed at local folk clubs and eventually joined the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1966. While he was only with the band for a few months, they still recorded some of his songs on their first two albums. 

After moving to New York’s Greenwich Village, he played in Tim Buckley’s backing band. He worked with Nico, who recorded three of his songs on her Chelsea Girl album.


In 1971, Browne signed with Asylum Records and released his debut album, Jackson Browne. The album became a hit thanks to the song Doctor My Eyes, which reached the top 10 on the charts. He also co-wrote the song “Take It Easy” with Glenn Frey, which became a hit for the Eagles.

Browne released his second album, For Everyman, in 1973. It consolidated his cult following and is considered one of his best works. In 1974, Browne came out with Late for the Sky, a more considerable success that went gold. In 1976, he released The Pretender, which became his commercial breakthrough and included the hit title track.

Browne was at the height of his popularity during the late 1970s and early 1980s. He has released several successful albums, including Running on Empty

In the latter half of the 80s, Browne released a series of political protest records that alienated some of his fans. However, he returned to more introspective songwriting with I’m Alive in 1993, which helped restore much of his popularity.

Is The Pretender About Any Specific Person?

Jackson Browne’s hit song The Pretender is about a person who isn’t authentic and pretends to be someone they aren’t. The song doesn’t specifically mention who the pretender is, so the lyrics are open to interpretation. What we know is that this person is chasing money at the expense of staying true to themself. 

Many people interpret the song as about a person pretending to be someone else. They’re hiding their true identity to gain an advantage in life. Other listeners believe it’s a commentary on life in general and how we often present a facade to the world to fit in. 

Ultimately, the identity of the pretender is left to your imagination.

The Pretender is such a great song that it has resulted in several stellar covers. These are three of our favorite versions of the rock classic. 

Gary U.S. Bonds

In 1981 Bonds released his version of the classic hit. This R&B take on Browne’s song is a welcome change of pace from the original. Bonds delivered his soulful take and gifted us with this powerful track. Gary continues to record and tour today. 

Lucinda Williams

Williams brought her own interpretation of the song in 2014. In her unique style, Lucinda peels away much of the outer layers and dives deep into the soul of the lyrics. Armed with a guitar and a little background help, she provided a new take on Browne’s original. Her gritty blues rendition certainly reminds the listener of Williams’ Louisiana roots. 

Lucinda continues to write new music and tour. She’s currently promoting her album Good Souls, Better Angels

Tim Shelton

In 2016, Shelton released an entire album of Browne cover songs, anchoring his interpretations with bluegrass elements. In this version, we get a mix of bluegrass, country ballad, and classic rock. Shelton’s voice resonates over the keyboard and takes us to a place where anyone can relate to the pretender. 

His band, The Tim Shelton Syndicate, is traveling throughout the U.S. in 2023. They’re appearing at several Bluegrass festivals. 

Is Jackson Browne in the Hall of Fame?

Browne is known for his introspective lyrics and folk-rock music style, which continues to influence other musicians. In 2004, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

He later released a compilation of his popular songs and a series of stripped-down acoustic live albums. 

What is Jackson Browne Doing Today?

Browne continued to release new material in recent years, including Time the Conqueror in 2008 and Downhill from Everywhere in 2021. He performs live concerts and has a loyal fan base. 

Beyond his music, Jackson is known as an advocate for the environment, human rights, and arts education. He co-founded the Musicians United for Safe Energy (Muse),, and the Success Through the Arts Foundation. The latter provides educational opportunities for students in South Los Angeles.

Recently, he performed benefit concerts for two Southern California-based non-profits. In fact, one show benefited Exposher, an organization that provides mentoring for inner-city girls. Their mission is to empower girls to reach their fullest potential with access to education, careers, mentorships, community, sisterhood, travel, and building life skills.

A second concert provided support for The Actor’s Gang. They are a theater company that helps fill the K-12 arts education gap with programs that help children find their own creative voices. 

The funds from this concert bring programs to California’s incarcerated population to help participants safely express their emotions, overcome gang barriers, and successfully prepare for life beyond bars.

These concerts are just a slice of Browne’s willingness to raise funds for worthy causes. 

From the Muse: In 2023, Browne is touring Japan and New Zealand. Check dates and grab your tickets on his website.

So, Who Is The Pretender?

No one person is The Pretender, but the song still strikes a chord with listeners almost 50 years later. Each cover provides a different perspective, but the story remains the same. We are all the pretender. 

Browne continues to create new music and tour around the world. Even after all these years, he’s still a rock and roll icon, and his hit lives on.

What’s your favorite Jackson Browne tune? Tell us why in the comments!