First post here:
Barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge
Drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain
The Rat pulls into town, rolls up his pants
Together they take a stab at romance
And disappear down Flamingo Lane
I grew up in Philadelphia and so spent most of my summers at the Jersey shore. In my case it was Wildwood and Atlantic City rather than Asbury Park. And I can tell you that Bruce captures the whole beach-boardwalk-warm beer thing better than anybody. (Does anybody else even try?)
And the boardwalk? That’s important. Because there are better beaches than in New Jersey. But where else can you ride a rented bike in the morning, listen to the seagulls, hit the beach, come up for a hoagie and salt water taffy? And then walk the boardwalk at night with all the masses of people and meet girls in raucous seaside bars?
These posts are of course, named for the guy who writes and sings the songs. But it would be totally inaccurate not to give credit to the E Street Band. (So named because they used to meet at former keyboardist David Sancious’ mother’s house on E Street in Belmar, NJ).
These guys are so super-tight and their whole ethos is so in support of Bruce’s world vision that I needed to make sure they got credit too. (Unfortunately, Sancious had left by the time the above picture was taken. He’s in the shot on my Top Ten List of Rock Albums. Black dude sitting on the steps).
And musically they’re totally on the same page. Steve Van Zandt – who at the time wasn’t even a member – wandered into a session where they were trying to figure out the horns on “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” and just nailed the arrangement. It wasn’t long till he was part of the band. (“Freeze Out” is the story of the band. Bad Scooter is Bruce Springsteen. For Bruce fanatics, a documentary about the making of Born to Run called “Wings for Wheels” is here).
Although Bruce had done some excellent work on his first couple of albums, they pretty much didn’t sell and got him little to no notice. (This despite the fact that Rolling Stone gave “The Wild, The Innocent,” a nice review). There was certainly a possibility he wasn’t going to make it in rock and roll. So fueled as much, I think, by desperation (“And I can’t go home,” Tenth Avenue says) as determination, he worked incredibly hard to make his next album into something great.
And while he was working on it, a Boston-based rock critic named Jon Landau happened to see him at the now-defunct Harvard Square Theater and famously said, “I saw rock and roll’s future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” Landau and Springsteen met and Landau went on to co-produce Bruce’s albums for several years. In my opinion, this has been a mixed bag. Great commercially, sometimes not so great artistically.
Taking together Springsteen’s last-chance effort, Landau’s imprimatur and assistance, and a supportive musical climate, Bruce’s third album – “Born to Run” – turned out to be the great, classic album that it needed to be. (It took 14 months to record the album, 6 months alone (!) to multi-track the title song into the Phil Spector-ish Wall of Sound it became).
And in late summer of 1975 – “Born to Run” is nothing if not a summer song – it was damn near impossible to drive down the street and not hear it blasting out of every car radio. And Bruce wound up on the cover of both Time and Newsweek simultaneously, thereby achieving “overnight” success.
As great a song as “Born to Run” is, everybody knows that one too well. So I want to post another song from that album, “Thunder Road.” It kicks off the album and thematically shares the same idea of escaping this “town full of losers” on a fast machine:
Well the night’s busting open
These two lanes will take us anywhere
We got one last chance to make it real
To trade in these wings on some wheels
And since Bruce “live” is the epitome, from the “No Nukes” concert, 1978
And due to having previously signed a shitty contract (reportedly on the back of a car), “Born to Run” was the last Springsteen was to step into a recording studio for over a year. And I don’t know whether it was because of that experience or some other demons within him, but on listening to “Darkness on the Edge of Town” recently, I found it to be somewhat downbeat, lacking some of he previous albums’ exultancy and fun.
But this is a nice kick-off to the album and still a great concert singlaong:
A couple years later, Bruce came out with an album that, for me, had a better mix of the downbeat and the exultant. “The River” was a welcome return to form even if the jazziness of “The Wild, The Innocent” had been left behind. I don’t know how much that was due to Bruce maturing as an artist vs. Landau’s influence. The movie in my head shows Landau saying “Too jazzy, Bruce, too jazzy.” Left to his own devices, would Bruce sound more like a louche Van Morrison? Perhaps.
Anyway, here’s a song I really like from “The River.” I think this may be one of those songs that the band did in concert long before they recorded it. Recorded in 1999 in – where else – New Jersey. Nice work from the Big Man on Sax, Danny Federici on keys. Both gone way too soon.
Truthfully, I had put “The River” in the same downbeat bag as “Darkness.” But I recently listened to the album all the way through and liked it better than I remembered. Bruce just re-released “The River” in a tempting box set loaded with goodies and is touring behind the album. Since I refuse to pay a scalper 500 bucks for unbelievably fucked tickets, I’m not going. But that – and TicketBastard – are a story for another day.
Next – Bruce hits his highest heights