January 20, 2023
Welcome to Music Friday when we bring you classic songs with jewelry, gemstones or precious metals in the lyrics or title. Today we present Jackson Browne’s “In the Shape of a Heart,” a 1986 ballad that uses a ruby necklace to convey the pain the artist feels when he learns his lover has gone. Rolling Stone magazine called it “one of Browne’s finest love songs.”
Browne, who tragically lost his first wife, Phyllis Major, to a drug overdose in 1976 at the age of 30, confirmed that “In the Shape of a Heart” is, indeed, a story about their tempestuous relationship.
The song starts off with the ruby reference: “It was a ruby that she wore / On a chain around her neck / In the shape of a heart / In the shape of a heart / It was a time I won’t forget / For the sorrow and regret / And the shape of a heart / And the shape of a heart.”
Browne writes about missing the warning signs of his wife’s distress, while never really understanding “what she was talking about” or “what she was living without.”
In the end, when he realizes she’s not coming back, he takes the ruby heart necklace from the bed stand, holds it for a moment, and then drops it through a fist-sized hole in the wall.
He sings, “In the hour before dawn / When I knew she was gone / And I held it in my hand / For a little while / And dropped it into the wall / Let it go, heard it fall.”
In reviewing the song for Rolling Stone, Jimmy Guterman wrote that Browne “nails heartbreak to the wall and sends his listeners scurrying for the Kleenex.”
Released as the second single from his Lives in the Balance album, “In the Shape of a Heart” peaked at #10 on the U.S. Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. Asylum Records pressed a red vinyl promotional single in — you guessed it — the shape of a heart.
Born in Heidelberg, West Germany, the 74-year-old singer-songwriter has sold more than 18 million albums in the U.S. and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. Among his most famous songs are “These Days,” “Running on Empty,” “Doctor My Eyes” and “Take It Easy.” As a political activist and humanitarian, Browne has supported the efforts of Amnesty International and Musicians United for Safe Energy.
Please check out the video of Browne performing “In the Shape of a Heart.” The lyrics are below if you’d like to sing along…
“In the Shape of a Heart”Written and performed by Jackson Browne.
It was a ruby that she woreOn a chain around her neckIn the shape of a heartIn the shape of a heart
It was a time I won’t forgetFor the sorrow and regretAnd the shape of a heartAnd the shape of a heart
I guess I never knewWhat she was talking aboutI guess I never knewWhat she was living without
People speak of love don’t know what they’re thinking ofWait around for the one who fits just like a gloveSpeak in terms of belief and belongingTry to fit some name to their longing
There was a hole left in the wallFrom some ancient fightAbout the size of a fistOr something thrown that had missed
And there were other holes as wellIn the house where our nights fellFar too many to repairIn the time that we were there
People speak of love don’t know what they’re thinking ofReach out to each other though the push and shoveSpeak in terms of the life and the learningTry to think of a word for the burning
You keep it upYou try so hardTo keep a life from coming apartAnd never knowWhat breaches and faults are concealedIn the shape of a heart
In the shape of a heartIn the shape of a heart
It was the ruby that she woreOn a stand beside the bedIn the hour before dawnWhen I knew she was goneAnd I held it in my handFor a little whileAnd dropped it into the wallI let it go, heard it fall
I… I guess I never knewWhat she was talking aboutI guess I never knewWhat she was living without
People speak of love don’t know what they’re thinking ofWait around for the one who fits just like a gloveSpeak in terms of a life and the livingTry to find the word for forgiving
You keep it upYou try so hardTo keep a life from coming apartAnd never knowThe shallows and the unseen reefsThat are there from the start
In the shape of a heartIn the shape of a heartIn the shape of a heartIn the shape of a heartIn the shape of a heartIn the shape of a heart
Credits: Photo by Craig ONeal, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.