The Meaning Behind “Jamaica Say You Will” by Jackson Browne and How It Inadvertently Led to the Creation of a Record Label

Jackson Browne made his name at the very beginning of his recording career with sensitive love songs that dug just a little deeper than your average pop music fare. “Jamaica Say You Will” set the tone for those particular songs from Browne and established him as a stellar singer/songwriter even on his first album.

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What was the song about? What inspired Browne to pen the track? And how did it inadvertently lead to the creation of an entire record label? Let’s learn all the details of the sweetly sad wonder that is “Jamaica Say You Will.”


Well before he had the chance to record his own album, Jackson Browne had already established himself as a songwriter. Many of his tracks were released by other top artists in the ’60s, some while Browne was still only a teenager. In fact, a version of “Jamaica Say You Will” came out on a Byrds album that was released a year before Browne’s self-titled debut arrived in 1972.

He had recorded a demo of the song back in 1969. David Geffen, an up-and-coming music manager and agent at the time, heard this demo. Impressed, Geffen signed Browne with the intent of turning him into an artist in his own right.

However, he struggled to find any takers from the record labels he pitched. Frustrated, Geffen decided to start his own label just to put out Browne’s record. That label, Asylum Records, would become one of the most successful of the ’70s, often by focusing on West Coast-based songwriters like Browne.

That set into motion the process of recording his debut album, which Browne completed in time for a January 1972 release. The album contained a big hit single in “Doctor My Eyes.” For the opening track, Browne chose “Jamaica Say You Will,” perhaps because of the exposure the song had already received from The Byrds.

In a radio interview, Browne spoke about how the song was mostly a fable, although the girl was based on one that he actually dated at the time:

“When I created the fable of this girl who lived by the sea and whose father is a captain, and eventually she would be taken away and go sailing off, I wanted to hide in the relationship. I wanted to sort of have the cocoon of this relationship to just stay sort of insulated from the world. And she was ready to move out into the world and was … you know, the relationship had broken up.”

What is the Meaning of “Jamaica Say You Will”?

Jamaica was a lovely one, Jackson Browne begins the song, and our antennae should already be up for potential heartbreak because he’s speaking in the past tense. In the first verse, he talks of how they would steal away from everyone else for romantic interludes before the dinner bell rang and everyone congregated.

In the second verse, he mentions her father is a sailor, and how wanderlust would creep into her countenance: She would stare across the water through the trees. That sets up for the inevitability of the final verse: She was a comfort and a mercy through and through / Hiding from this world together, next thing I knew / They had brought her things down to the bay.

As for the refrains, they speak ironically of how the narrator saw Jamaica as the fair wind that might one day propel him to happiness: Jamaica, say you will / Help me find a way to fill these lifeless sails. Of course, we know that these wishes are going to go unfulfilled, leaving wisftul longing inside him. Nobody in the singer/songwriter genre captured such star-crossed emotions quite like Jackson Browne, and here he was, already displaying that skill on the first song on his first album.

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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