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An Introduction To Bruce Springsteen.
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Old 08 Jun 2010, 22:25   #1 (permalink)
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Default An Introduction To Bruce Springsteen.

Ahhh Bruce. Where on earth do I start?

When I was shopping in HMV earlier I found myself looking through the Bruce Springsteen albums, knowing full well I have pretty much all of them on iTunes now. And I located We Shall Overcome: The Segar Sessions and promptly purchased it, took it home and gave it a lesson.

I...I wasn't disappointed so much. I knew that it wasn't your typical Bruce album. But it did make me long for some of the 'classic' Bruce. I looked to my shelf and saw that only owned two physical copies of Bruce Springsteen's albums. So I promised myself, once every two or three weeks, I'll buy a Bruce Springsteen album, listen to it - and I mean really listen to it on a CD - the way it was meant to be heard - and review it here on Tau Online. But I'm not starting with the Segar Sessions. I should really start by reviewing what is commonly known as the best album Bruce ever did, Born In The USA - especially since the song Born in the USA was the first Springsteen song I heard that made me sit up and go What The f*ck was that? - kind of the response seen so frequently in the 1950's when Elvis first howled Well since my baby left me! and shook his hips.

I discovered Springsteen when I was in my second year of university. In a record level amount of downloading stuff off the uni network, I was searching for a Bryan Adams album, and saw a Greatest Hits - Bruce Springsteen;

-click-

Couple of weeks later I was on one of my day long Age Of Empires II sessions (I was well known at the time for putting music on and losing myself for six odd hours to that game) and the album of choice was the Springsteen album.

I found myself enjoying. I didn't go mad of anything, not until Born in the USA when I really started listening. Then Jungleland. And The Rising. And Thunder Road. And American Skin.

You get the idea.

So I find myself wondering where to start. I'm not going to start with the Segar Sessions I'm going to start where my love of Bruce Springsteen started, the first Bruce album I ever bought that I lent to a friend and never saw again, the album that I'll buy again tomorrow.

Born To Run.

What is value? When you spend £15 on a CD, you expect 16 tracks give or take. Or a double CD. See where I'm coming from? I saw Born To Run for £15 earlier, and it has only 8 tracks. That's nearly £2 a track.

Would you like me to spend more sir? Happily. Because, with two exceptions, Born To Run is filled with some of the best rock songs ever written. Is it Bruce's best album? I'll answer that when I put them into order when this little project finishes. For now, let's take a closer look at the songs. The titles are links to YouTube for the actual songs. In order, of course, and ironically keeping the best till last...

Thunder Road

If you were to get the lyrics to Thunder Road up on your PC now, and randomly pointed at one of the lines, I reckon you'd get one of the best lines in music today.

Screen door slams, Mary's dress waves....

Well I'm no hero, that's understood...

Well I got this guitar/and I learnt how to make it talk...

We got this one last chance to make it real/to trade in these wings for some wheels...


I could go on. Happily. Thunder Road is a damn strong contestant for the best Bruce Springsteen song ever. The live version takes things that step further, removing the one criticism I have of the song, that the lyrics seem to be desperately trying to keep up with the music. Try singing along to this song on Karaoke (I have - tried) and it rips the breath from you like no other song I know (well, Rosilita aside...)

But it's the studio version I'm talking about. And it works. The whole thing works. It's the story of a guy who wants the girl of his dreams to come with him onto Thunder Road itself, have a crack at their dreams (a common theme throughout the album, especially on 'you know what&#039

You know what I love? The fact you don't know whether they make it or not. I can see these two lovers roaring off in a mustang (thanks Trey) down Thunder Road, the desperation of their lives behind them, on their one chance to make it real - do they survive? Or are they corpses on Thunder Road like so many others. Another part of my mind sees them as Spanish Johnny and Puerto Rican Jane from Incident on 57th Street, or the Rat and barefooted girl from Jungleland.

Or I just see two kids, one with a guitar the other with tears in her eyes flying out of town, she driven to him by desperation with nowhere else to go, tonight we'll be free he cries all the promises well be broken - the ghost sirens of her past lovers who she has rejected and are coming to take their revenge.

After all, it's a town for losers, and we're pulling out of here to win

The end sax solo by Clarence and Roy Bittan's piano gives the impression of them roaring away into the sunset. And I like to think that they go on. They certainly have a better shot then other characters in this list.

Tenth Avenue Freeze Out

You can debate whether or not Thunder Road is an uplifting track or not, but such a debate is not available on Tenth Avenue Freeze Out. It make begin with desperation – Tear drops on the city - but the ultimate message in the song is if things are bad, then head out and make yourself a band - certainly seemed to have worked out for Bruce and the gang.

There's a real feeling of depression in the first two verses, and you can almost feel Bruce's frustration as he tries to bring everything together, and then the bridge has him crying he can't go on, and then - out of the mist it seems - a change was made up town and the big man joined the band.

What follows is an epic conclusion to a really great funky tune. We're feeling Bruce's blues, then along comes the Big Man blows away all of our blues with a seriously funky sax moment - and the sunset is suddenly before us, we're gonna sit back easy and laugh - as pretty much anyone listening to the song is doing right about now - because it's the moment when you can't help but laugh out loud and get your funk on.

It's not just Clarence that takes us along for the ride. Garry Tallant is at his best here, in his debut with the E Street Band who was finally finding its feet here. Little Steve provided the horn section which appears a few times in the Springsteen repertoire just when the Big Man isn’t enough.

So, when the blues are upon you, and you can’t find your own band, then I suggest slipping on this track. The E Street Band will be glad to have you aboard, and will blast you on through on jets fuelled by the lungs of the Big Man until help arrives.

(NB I actually, quietly prefer, the fifteen odd minute version of this song in the Live In New York City concert.)

Night

Too much of a good thing? If Night had been another massive classic like almost everything else on this album, maybe it could have been too much. As it happens, Night is the only song on here that doesn’t walk casually into classic status.

I mean, it’s not a bad song by any stretch of the imagination – it’s better than the vast majority of Human Touch and Tunnel of Love almost single handedly. The Bass is funky, Mighty Max gives us a good rhythm and Bruce’s howling lyrics bring us through nicely. It just doesn’t carry the kick that the warhorses around it do. Bring Night up in a discussion with some Springsteen lovers (I have) and you will see them umm and ahh about good things to say (they won’t) and after a short discussion about Clarence’s hectic sax solo then they will move onto discussing the next track on the album.

Which, given the track that follows, is not surprising.

Backstreets

The fact there are three songs (at least) on this album that are arguably ‘better’ than Backstreets makes you realise just how damned good Bruce Springsteen is at what he does.

Is it Roy Bittan’s utterly perfect piano intro? Is it Bruce’s strong lyrics telling about him and Terry and their adventures as teenagers “hiding on the Backstreets”?

Is Terry a guy or a girl? I’ve always thought it’s a guy. There are live performances when Bruce has indicated otherwise, but for me, it’s a story about friendship, loyalty and honour. It’s a friendship that is stronger than many, if any, love affairs that’s finally torn asunder by the area where the two live, and some event that we’re not told – although if my theory of these songs being linked, I could see Terry being our narrator in Thunder Road . Bruce is left behind, seeing Terry driving off into the sunlight, onto Thunder Road maybe? Does it work if Terry is a girl? Yes, I suppose so, but does it matter hugely? This is a love that is found “one soft infested summer” and holds through until the end.

But it’s not the story or the lyrics that holds the song together, it’s ultimately down to one thing, and for once it’s not Bruce. Roy Bittan’s piano is nothing short of majestic; the thrilling open was once likened by Greil Marcus to what the beginning of The Iliad might sound like. That’s no exaggeration, I’m not going over the top. It really is that good, and the fact that Max pumps out a drum beat that matches it, and gives the perfect combo just makes it that much better. Amazingly, Clarence isn’t needed to make the sound of Backstreets better. I think if he had, to the standard of the others playing here, then heads may have exploded.

The song’s final few lines resound with all of the confusion and heartbreak that occur when the heady dreams of youth are thwarted: “And after all this time to find we’re just like all the rest/Stranded in the park and forced to confess/To hiding on the backstreets.”

Aren’t we all, all of us who have been left behind? And to think Bruce went from this song to the next on this album, which proved to blow it out of the water.

Born To Run

When you finish reading this sentence, will you please click the link above and listen – really listen – to Born To Run then come back.

Done? Good.

Anyone who knows anything about Springsteen has heard that song. Problem is, we’ve heard it so many times, we’ve pushed the pedal to the floor at the sound of Bruce howling about how he can “run till we drop, and baby we’ll never go back” – but have we really listened to what a truly outstanding song that this is?

Is it Bruce’s best? That’s yet to be seen. There is certainly some stiff competition, and a lot of it isn’t even on this album. Having said that, as I write this and Clarence’s sax solo is howling out of my speakers, it’s hard not to sing and dance.

Listen to that first crash of instruments which sounds like hundreds, but was in fact only six men. Remember that Ernest “Boom” Carter only played for one song with the E Street Band, and that one song happened to be Born To Run. That opening salvo of music, a riff which Bruce wrote and then Little Steve changed.

Ok, the lyrics. Bruce sums up an entire generation, maybe more generations that followed, and many to come with the opening lyrics “In the day we sweat it out on the streets of runaway American Dreams / At night we ride through mansions of glory, in suicide machines” “Sprung from cages on Highway 9/Chrome-wheel fuel-injected and stepping out over the line” – there’s so much action in these lines, this desperate frantic kid trying to make a change in his life. This kid doesn’t want to stand still, worries that the days will pass him by if he does. Worried, like so many kids do, that the world will pass him by, and he’ll miss his chance.

Enter the girl.

Our Kid has another motive, he’s trying to convince his girl to escape with him, this town which he describes as a living beast, it “rips the bones from your back/it’s a death trap/it’s a suicide rap”. Their promises, their hopes, their dreams will be beaten from them in a life of violence not from people, but from the dead end that the town creates just by existing. They “gotta get out while they’re young” because once they’re old, the world will have passed them by, will have “moved on” – “Cos Tramps like us, Baby we were Born to Run!”

Rock history made, right there.

The word tramps fits perfectly. Not bums – a much more American phrase – but Tramps. Just like everything else in the song, Bruce’s romanticism seeps through when he gives everything this fantastic bloody flow.

The next verse, it’s Gary’s turn, the bass taking centre stage. I’ve noticed, with the dozens of live versions of Born to Run I’ve heard, how one instrument always seems to take point. Be it Clarence’s sax, or the crowd howling, or Gary’s bass, or Bruce’s guitar, or little Steve in the solo – one seems to take the lead. Not here, each person gets their time in the spotlight, but the center of attention is always on Bruce. This is his story, his passion for escaping and living in the world, running every step of the way, never slowing.

Our kid changes tack. “Wendy let me in/I wanna be your friend/I wanna guard your dreams and visions” – Damn. Imagine if you’d never heard those lyrics before and they were said to you girls? Would you go weak at the knees? Especially from a guy who shows his vulnerability soon after, after all he’s “just a scared and lonely rider”. There’s something about this guy I love, he’s multi sided, there’s a lot of bravado here, but someone inside who’s really kinda scared about the future, he doesn’t want to do it alone. Would you? Would I? No – and that’s something I’ll come back to later. The verse ends with his big question “I wanna know if love is real” – that’s the big question, if they run, will they last?

Enter Clarence. What a solo. Does any rock band you know have a sax player in almost every song? I can’t think of one.

Come the bridge, a calming moment. A snap shot of the world this kid is trying to escape. You can smell the salt waves, feel the sun on your face. It’s a touch slower, both in pace and the dream like quality of the nightlife Bruce is describing. It’s like a dream, you can see the scenary straight from a east side postcard, the boys and girls longing on their cars.

(Don’t forget it’s OK to blush knowingly when you consider how he dissects the difference between the genders: Girls worried about their hair, boys worried about their, um, stick shifts.)

Cue our kid again, as if he’s showing the girl this, and wanting her to know that what he wants is her. “I wanna die with you Wendy on the streets tonight, in an everlasting kiss” – now to me that’s the kid saying he doesn’t want any of this, just her, and if he can’t have her, then let it burn down around them, so long as the kiss they share, be it only one, is the last thing he feels, and in his memory it lasts forever.

The final verse. I have listened to Born To Run more times than I care to remember. I still get Goosebumps when I hear Bruce howling out “The highways jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive/everybody’s on the run tonight/there’s no place left to hide!” – the worlds ending around the kid, and Wendy is his only chance to get out alive.

The kid knows he might not get out. He’s prepared for it, he’s ready now to do it alone. But, you and I both know he doesn’t really want to. He all but gives his undying love for her “Together Mary we’ll live with the sadness, I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul” – He knows he’s not the best thing for her, but he’ll love her till the end of the world anyway. They might be sad leaving, or wherever they go, but they can survive together. If they can get out, as the kid knows deep inside as he howls out the final lines “someday girl, I don’t know when/we’re gonna get to that place/where we can walk in the sun” a whole new life together “Till then tramps like us, baby we were Born to Run” – until that day, they’ll run together, trying to bust free, not letting the death trap of a town finish them off once and for all.

We’re not done yet. Three times Bruce makes his claim of their future together, and as the music builds, sways and crashes together we’re left with Bruce giving us those “woah-oh’s” with every inch of passion and energy he has. Savour every single inch of passion that I – and I’m sure you can too – flowing out of the speakers.

I feel for the Kid in this song, because I am him in many ways. I ain’t the best thing for my girl, and I want to break out of this town, death trap or not. I don’t want to do it alone, I never have, but I know deep down I can. And I promise you, the day I break out, it will be with the window wide open, with Born To Run blasting out of the speakers.

She’s The One

I like She’s the One. It makes great background music. Again, Roy Bittan’s piano is a great fish hook when the song starts, but it’s not until Max kicks in that I get really interested. The lyrics are great, there’s a great story seeped in here, but for some strange reason, I find it really hard to work out what Bruce is going on about when he’s grinding through the song. His characters, from Spanish Johnny to The Wrestler always come across as real three dimensional characters, the ‘She’ from the song never seems to do so. Sure, Bruce tosses her backhanded compliments but nothing that makes us think that she’s worth Bruce’s time.

Then Clarence kicks off, in a kinda subdued solo. Again, it’s good enough, but from Bruce I expect that little bit more. Next!

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Old 08 Jun 2010, 22:34   #2 (permalink)
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Default Re: An Introduction To Bruce Springsteen.

Meeting Across The River

One of the YouTube comments below the song reads as follows.

Quote:
Street talk turned into poetry and then on to musical perfection, no one does this better than brother Bruce..
I don’t think I can sum up the song better than that personally. It’s not a Bruce song I know very well, but it comes across more jazz than rocks, which suits the lyrics and the way Bruce brings them out, very much in the vein of Incident on 57th Street although not quite reaching those lofty heights.

Bruce gives us two really fleshed out characters, and their intentions, hopes and dreams are laid out for us to see. It’s a world of broken deals, broken hearts and broken dreams, much like the world described in the next song on this list. We don’t know, ultimately, what the intentions of Eddie are, just that she doesn’t understand the way the money comes from, only that it’s “just thrown on the bed/this time she’ll see I wasn’t just talking” – but our narrator, he wants the money for his girl.

If we leave our protagnists here, then it can be seen as a happy ending, for we don’t know where they go. If you listen to the next and final track on the disc then we can imagine our narrator’s girl being a barefooted girl – and it’s a story that doesn’t end so well for either.

Jungleland

Where in the hell do you start?

It’s no secret Bruce Springsteen’s music has influenced the hell out of me in my writing – not that any of you have read said writing! It’s not down to this epic masterpiece in particular, but Jungleland deserves a lot written about it, that’s for damn sure. Anything long these days seems to get the “Epic” label. A film over two and half hours is automatically an epic (Spiderman 2 for Christ’s sake!). A book over eight hundred pages is known as “an epic tale” (Breaking Dawn I’m looking at you!) But when we have a true epic, then it gets lost

Jungleland is an epic. There is no denying that one. It gives us a world, and characters we can see the intentions of, and feel for in a short space of time (9.42 to be exact, but it flies by) and it should be commended that Springsteen went for something on such a large scale, and on his first attempt he knocks it straight out of the park in a way that no-one has ever quite managed to do since, no, not even the mighty Bohemian Rhapsody.

We meet our protagonists, the Rat and the Barefooted girl. They meet – of course – “on the hood of a dodge”, and are soon flying out of the city in the Rat’s new automobile to flamingo lane. What they don’t know is that the law is after the Rat, and follows them on. Danny’s organ thunders into effect, ironically, on the line “From the churches to the jails, tonight there is silence in the world” and then Bruce takes us into hell itself with an outside view.

“Down in Jungleland”.

We see more of the characters and places in this world as the song rolls along, and you’ve got to wonder whether Bruce was wondering, had his talents and his sheer grit determination failed him, would he be one of these kids, down in Jungleland? Could any of us fall that far, fall into a life where all we have is the music around us, and the fights and blood which fuel the world;

“Down in Jungleland”.

Then comes the bridge, and it’s here that Jungleland moves from being just another great Bruce Springsteen rock song to something entirely different. Bruce reportedly drove Clarence Clemens to the point of insanity getting this solo right, and you know what? He did absolutely right to do so. It begins with a note that begins what is ended at the end of the song, a rallying call for all the lost souls in Jungleland to gather here to witness the inevitable tragedy to come, and somehow Clarence does this by playing with both force and restraint. After hearing it, you can understand why no other Rock band after Springsteen has made regular use of a single saxophone player – no-one can top Big Man Clemens.

When the dust has cleared we’re left with just a lonely piano and the shell of Bruce’s voice, which has been torn apart by the awesome power required to fuel the opening of the song. We see through the glinted lights of Jungleland, through the quiet rooms, filled with their “whispers of soft refusal and then surrender.” We know ultimately that such a fate is not one open to our heroes, and it is with sad inevitability that “In the tunnels uptown/The Rat’s own dream guns him down,” something that can’t help but touch you, you’ve come to like the Rat for his own cocky nature What’s truly tragic about the Rats demise, is that no-one in Jungleland seems to care. Just another body lying in the street, another victim of a world that doesn’t give a damn, no different from any other.

Roy Bittan begins to play with even more force, and Bruce laments a scene, or a world, where spilt blood is a penny a pound, and no-one seems to care;

“Outside the streets on fire in a real death waltz/Between what’s flesh and what’s fantasy/And the poets down here don’t write nothing at all/They just stand back and let it all be/And in the quick of a knife, they reach for their moment/And try to make an honest stand/But they wind up wounded, not even dead/Tonight in Jungleland”

Go out now and find me lyrics in rock music today that even come close to that.

But Bruce isn’t done. As the music flares again with Bittan’s piano trills and Gary Tallant’s ominous bass, Bruce lets rip with a series of howls that sum up everything we’ve heard so far, and I’m not afraid to admit, that when I saw Bruce Springsteen live in Dublin last year, when he let loose with those cries, I had tears streaming down my face. I could hear Go-Cart Mozart’s insane ramblings, the Ragamuffin Gunner’s jaded fatalism, Crazy Janey’s healing sweet nothings, Zero and Blind Terry’s ghostly laughter, Madame Marie’s foreboding warnings, Spanish Johnny’s tragically romantic serenade to Puerto Rican Jane – other victims of Jungleland (or, more specifically, a small selection of the tragically doomed heroes that Bruce has created over his years).

Epic enough for you?

Born to Run is not Springsteen’s finest album. I think that may well be Born in the USA or The River. But that does not stop it containing quite surely four of the finest songs that Bruce had ever done. It’s taken me the better part of three hours tonight to write this eleven page article, and so the other chapters in this exercise may take a little longer to bring along. However, I’ll churn them out with pleasure (as long as I think people are reading them) – and if this makes half a dozen people listen to a few of Bruce’s tracks, and put a smile on their face, then that’s fine for me.

A lot of people say music changed their lives. I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this now, if it was not for the music of Bruce Springsteen, most specifically the day when I was at my very lowest and I picked up an old copy of Born To Run, stuck it in the CD player and listened. And listened some more. And I heard something there which I’ve never forgotten. Hope. If you want to begin your education into Bruce Springsteen, then, despite my love for The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle – this is the place to start.

I’ll finish with some words from the man himself;

As a song writer, I felt that it was one of my jobs to learn from the music that I’d written. To face the questions that evolved out of that music and search for the answers as best as I could. It was a service that I provided to my fans, and to myself. For me the primary questions that I would be answering for the rest of my work life took form on the songs on Born To Run. What do you do when your dreams come true? What do you do when they don’t? Is love real? Born To Run was when I left behind my adolescent dreams of love and freedom. It was the dividing line”.

Bruce Springsteen, The Making of Born To Run

R



Very cool write up - +1 - Rafe
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Old 10 Jun 2010, 07:14   #3 (permalink)
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Default Re: An Introduction To Bruce Springsteen.

I've casually listened to his stuff, but this review of some of his stuff introduced me to some songs I never listened to before.

Good stuff, though I'm surprised you didn't mention the song he made for his child (Tears in Heaven), imo one of the greatest love songs in the history of music. After listening to that, there's no way that people can argue that parental love for their children is not as deep as that for a spouse etc.
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Old 10 Jun 2010, 16:39   #4 (permalink)
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Default Re: An Introduction To Bruce Springsteen.

I thought Tears in Heaven was a Eric Clapton song. In fact I'm pretty sure it is...

There are a lot of Springsteen songs I could have talked about. The fustration of Badlands, The desperate longing of a man to do right in The Wrestler, A similar desperation of opposite halves in Incident On 57th Street, the sheer fun of Sherry Darlin'....need I go on?

I'm gonna do another one of these, probably in the form of reviewing The Rising. Watch this space.
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Old 10 Jun 2010, 18:12   #5 (permalink)
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Default Re: An Introduction To Bruce Springsteen.

:-[

You are correct... And that means that I' mixed up the two, which means the songs you advised are the only ones I've heard. :-[
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