Friday, June 29, 2012

Counting with Bruce Springsteen

As this blog continues its quest to cover all Springsteen minutiae, we'll turn now to the particular way Bruce starts his songs.  Take a listen to this:

Did you notice it?  It begins with Bruce's classic count-off to four.  While it is rare that his count-offs make it onto a studio track, like in "Bobby Jean", it is a staple of Bruce's concerts.  A quick burst of syllables that sound like numbers, and you know you are in for an epic song.  While it didn't make it on to a studio cut, I'll always believe "Badlands" starts with a resounding "ONE TWO!"

Bruce is not just a one trick pony with his counting.  He will sometimes use this trick to bring it down a little, as seen in more somber songs like "The Wrestler" and "All I'm Thinking About Is You":

It may seem like we're digging a little too deep here, but Bruce's countdowns have been noticed in other segments of pop-culture.  For example, Bruce was a fan of the 70s punk rock band called The Dictators.  In 1978, as Bruce's popularity was rising, he took time to make a guest appearance, providing his classic countdown for the opening track of their album Bloodbrothers:

And finally, this post wouldn't be complete without another nod to the inspiration for this blog.  A true fan knew from the beginning how we'd be ending this post.  Ladies and gentlemen, here is "Counting With Bruce Springsteen":

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Springsteen Lyrics of the Week - Land of Hope and Dreams

This train....
Carries saints and sinners
This train....
Carries losers and winners
This train....
Carries whore and gamblers
- "Land of Hope and Dreams", from Wrecking Ball

Even before Wrecking Ball, I loved the live version of "Land of Hope and Dreams", especially his listing of the passengers on the train.  The extra emphasis on the "whores" always stood out to me.  Upon re-examination, this is an interesting listing, as the first two sets of passengers are diametric opposites, whereas whores and gamblers seem like two peas in a pod.  I believe Bruce is linking these two together to highlight that neither "sin" is completely black-and-white, as the gamblers and whores fall into a gray area.  

He hasn't shied away from either subject in the past, with songs like "Reno" and "Lucky Man" portraying depictions of both lifestyles.  Pulling from my own life, I do love to gamble, and, while I have no desire to use the services of a lady of the night, I recently read a graphic novel called "Paying For It" by Chester Brown which explored the world of prostitution and raised many interesting points that may make people question their stance on the issue.  Regardless, the overall message of the song is that there is room for everyone upon this "train", and we should leave our judgments aside to better help everyone improve their worlds.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Springsteen Video Of The Week- "It's Been A Long Time"

"It's Been A Long Time"- Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes (Featuring Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Van Zandt)

Ah Southside Johnny, the other guy who made Asbury Park famous.  In a more perfect world, Southside Johnny would be much more famous, but unfortunately that's just not the case.  Southside Johnny was a major influence on Bruce and Bon Jovi and is barely known outside of South Jersey, while Bruce and Jon tour the world playing major stadiums.  However even though he's a fraction as popular as Springsteen and Bon Jovi, Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes have legions of their own fans and they're as hardcore about him, as we are about Bruce.  And it doesn't hurt to have Bruce Springsteen as one of your biggest fans.

It was actually this song that introduced me to Southside Johnny.  I had heard his name mentioned before, however didn't know much about him.  But I came across this video a few years back on YouTube, and liked it so much that I immediately bought Southside's Better Days album, which featured this song.  And ever since then, I have called myself a fan of Southside Johnny.

Friday, June 22, 2012

First Drafts - Spanish Eyes (I'm On Fire)

A couple weeks ago, we examined "Wings for Wheels", Bruce's early version of "Thunder Road".  In that version, both the music and lyrics were about 75% of the way to the classic that everyone knows.  Here, in "Spanish Eyes", a cut from 2010's The Promise, we see very familiar lyrics in a completely unfamiliar setting.

In Pitchfork's review of the album, they state, "The Promise ultimately confirms that Springsteen is a brilliant editor of his own material."  Listening to this song, I couldn't agree more.  While some may classify this under the genre of "Beautiful Bruce", the song is overly sappy.  With soft piano music and lines about kissing his lover's eyes (which sounds quite off-putting), this song tries to hard to create a romantic atmosphere in a time when Bruce was writing about sad, desperate lovers.  It isn't surprising that most of this song ended up on the cutting floor.  But that's the key word, isn't it?  "Most".

The first two lines, not particularly strongly delivered in this version, ended up being reused as the iconic opening of one of Bruce's greatest songs.  A third line ("Can he do the things that I'll do for you?") is slightly tweaked and included as well.  This is another example of Bruce saving a few lines from an otherwise forgettable song until the right time comes along.  The "Spanish Eyes"/"I'm On Fire" reworking is my personal favorite, but if you listen to Tracks and The Promise, you'll find more lines here and there that were included in later hits.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Springsteen Lyrics of the Week - I Wanna Be With You

Well I lost my job at the Texaco station
Instead of pumpin' gas I dreamed of you
I got thrown out of my house
I got such a bad reputation
'cause all I wanna do is be seen with you
- Tracks (Disc 2)

A leftover from The River, “I Wanna Be with you is one of Bruce's more aggressive love songs. On the surface, his love is passionate, driven home by the repeated proclamations of “I Wanna Be With You” in the chorus. But closer inspection reveals lyrics that indicate obsession rather than ardor. While this single-minded devotion to another person is romantic, Bruce uses lyrics like the ones above to suggest there can also be something unhealthy and self-destructive about loving someone too much.

Monday, June 18, 2012

New Bruce iPad App!

Uncut launches Bruce Springsteen iPad Application!

We here at LOS just found out about this new Bruce App that sounds like its really cool and a must have for Bruce fans!

Springsteen Video of the Week - Girls in their Summer Clothes Music Video

Remember watching MTV and VH1 for hours on end waiting for the three minutes of bliss when you could see the music video you loved? The iTunes generation and beyond may never appreciate this pastime. And I can’t blame them. Hours of watching TRL and Morning Buzz could be maddening. You might come across a song you’ve never heard before but in return you’d have the lyrics to “The Thong Song” seared into your memory for all eternity.

The downside of living in an era of instant gratification and music video channels that refuse to play music videos is that we don’t experience the visual impact of pop music anymore. With the release of the “Rocky Ground” music video the other week, I realized that I couldn’t recall that many Bruce Springsteen music videos that vividly. Of course there are the iconic “Dancing in the Dark” and “I’m on Fire” videos but neither were in heavy rotation when I was doing the majority of my music video watching. The only music video I remember seeing on heavy rotation was “The Rising” – and that was a concert video from the MTV Music Video Awards. There was also the “Secret Garden” music video which I saw a few times but more prevalent than that video was the radio version of the song that Z100 used to play with dialogue from Jerry Maguire interspersed through the instrumental sections.

Should an artist with Bruce’s popularity even bother making music videos anymore? Is anyone discovering his music through this format? I’m not certain, but sparked by “Rocky Ground” I started looking through his VEVO channel on YouTube and found this beautiful video for “Girls in their Summer Clothes.” This video could have easily been a parade of bikini-clad supermodels to appeal to teenage boys but instead it’s something much more emotional and lyrical, with girls young and old accompanied by heartfelt imagery. While most fans would have been aware of this song already, seeing the visuals does add another layer for interpretation. In this case, it reiterates the melancholy of the lyrics and suggests that ‘summer clothes’ could be more of an emotional state than a physical appearance.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Well I Got This Guitar, and I Learned How to Make It Talk: Five Phenomenal Bruce Tune Featuring the Six String

While waiting for a meatball parm sub at Wawa last week (if you can imagine a concept more rooted in Jersey culture), I found myself perusing through a back issue of Rolling Stone Magazine.  The cover story featured a ranking of the 100 greatest rock guitarists to ever pick up an axe.  As I wound down the list of usual suspects, from the Hendrixes, to the Claptons, Van Halens, and Santanas, I made a startling discovery.  Coming in just under the wire at number 100 was none other than the Boss.  Don't get me wrong - while Bruce's faded wood-toned Telecaster is an unmistakable grail of rock iconography, a Springsteen concert might not be the first place you'd go to hear a litany of face melting guitar solos.  That said, the Boss can still shred, and his ranking is more than earned.  Here are five of the greatest guitar tunes ever imported from E Street.

Cover Me

An explosive opening solo makes this tune among the most dynamic on Born in the U.S.A. - no small feat considering the magnitude of the album.  There is a certain frenzied pace to each scale that compliments the desperation of the lyrics perfectly, setting the tone for a wonderful song.

The Promised Land

One of Bruce's greatest compositional qualities is his ability to pair guitar solos with solos from other instruments (usually saxophone or harmonica), allowing for a unique musical contrast (see "Because The Night" and "Jungleland).  The harmonica and guitar in "The Promised Land" compliment one another flawlessly.

The Rising

Sometimes it isn't the speed or technicality that makes the guitar solo, but its placement in the song.  Little Steven's work on "The Rising" track kicks in at exactly the precise moment, helping to elevate the song into the post-9/11 redemptive hymn we've all come to love.


Perhaps Bruce's greatest musical composition, "Jungleland" has risen to the level of a nine-minute opera.  While undoubtedly remembered for its riveting and heartfelt sax solo, "Jungleland" also features some of the most impressive guitar work on the entire Born to Run album.

Youngstown (Live in New York)

Yes - live versions count, and this one brings the unbridled energy of a Bruce Springsteen live performance tenfold.  The song closes with a Nils Lofgren solo so raw, reckless, and unchained you can almost hear Madison Square Garden shaking on its foundations.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Springsteen Lyrics Of The Week- "Thunder Road"

"Roy Orbison singing for the lonely"- Thunder Road, Born To Run

Roy Orbison is one of those artists I just never appreciated.  I just thought he was the old timer with the sunglasses and the funny voice who wrote songs for Van Halen to make better.  It wasn't until I heard Springsteen declare his undying support for him, that I finally realized "Hey, maybe I was wrong."

And was I ever wrong.  While I'm still far from a fanatic of Roy Orbison, I've come to appreciate so much more after learning of his influence on Bruce.  He's one of the most legendary voices in rock n' roll, and an influence on practically ever songwriter to come after him.  Bruce had the privilege to play with him in the concert "Roy Orbison and Friends: Black and White", which was a celebration of Orbison's music and one of the best concerts you will ever see.  I highly recommend it.  Bruce also had the honor of inducting him into the Rock N' Roll Hall Of Fame.  With all fanatics Bruce has, it's so odd to see him humbled by someone else, but that's the only way to describe Bruce's introduction.

"In 1970, I rode for fifteen hours in the back of a U-haul truck to open for Roy Orbison at the Nashville Music Fair. It was a summer night and I was 20 years old, and Orbison came out in dark glasses, a dark suit and he played some dark music. In 1974, just prior to going into the studio to record my album Born To Run, I was looking at Duane Eddy for his guitar sound and I was listening to a collection of Phil Spector's records and Orbison's All-Time Greatest Hits. I'd lay in bed at night with just the lights of my stereo on and I'd hear 'Crying', 'Love Hurts', 'Running Scared', 'Only The Lonely', and and 'It's Over' filling my room. Orbison's voice was unearthly. He had the ability, like all great Rock and Rollers, to sound like he dropped in from another planet and yet get the stuff that was right to the heart of what you were livin' in today, and it was how he opened up your vision. I carry his records with me when I go on tour today, and I'll always remember what he means to me and what he meant to me when I was young and afraid to love. In 1975, when I went into the studio to record, Born To Run, I wanted to make a record with words like Bob Dylan, that sounded like Phil Spector's productions, but most of all I wanted to sing like Roy Orbison. Now, everybody knows that nobody sings like Roy Orbison."

- Bruce Springsteen (Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Speech, January 21, 1987

Monday, June 11, 2012

Springsteen Video of the Week - Light of Day Charity

Legends of Springsteen has been in business for just over five months now, and this is our 100th post.  On that note, on behalf of the other two editors, I'd like to thank our readers, especially those who contributed guest posts.  I have to say, some weeks are tougher than others in finding new content.  We are mere fans, doing this as a hobby.  Our time and resources are limited, and there are times where it has been tough to find a new post-worthy video each week.  However, every once in a while, I'll stumble across something on the internet that will surprise and inspire me to keep going at this labor of love.

The above video is from earlier this year, as Bruce is performing "Thunder Road" with Bob Benjamin.  I had no idea who Bob Benjamin was, or the context of this video (the Youtube description was very sparse, as well).  So, after a quick trip to Google, I found the Light of Day foundation.  This foundation supports research to cure Parkinson's disease, has been around for eleven years, and has had strong support from Springsteen the whole time (while he didn't start the charity, it was named after his song).

Now, this charity may be well known by many Springsteen fans already.  But, to borrow a line from NBC's mid-90s summer reruns, I haven't seen it, so it is new to me.  If you'd like to donate, you can click here.  I usually like to do research on any charity I donate to, but a Springsteen-endorsement is good enough for me.  I mean, who hasn't given to the food bank of your local city by now?  Plus, this website has pictures of Michael J. Fox rocking out with the Boss.  How cool is that?

Friday, June 8, 2012

From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen - National Constitution Center Exhibition

Currently on display at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia is From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen, a transport of the celebrated collection from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.  The exhibition is running through September 3.  The Legends of Springsteen gang took a road trip out to the city of brotherly love this past weekend and got to experience the magic firsthand.  It was worth every mile we drove.

Chronicling Bruce's rock 'n roll career from his days as a teenager in a garage band through near-present day, the exhibit is a treasure trove of memorabilia for Bruce fanatics.  While it may not offer a wealth of surprises for the most devoted fans, it offers complete and utter immersion in Boss-mania.  The biggest surprises are likely found when you first enter the exhibit and are face with the teenage Springsteen, a floppy-haired Flower Child who played in bands like Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom and sported psychedelic attire.  In addition to the photos and promotional posters, a listening station offers never-released tracks from The Castiles, Bruce's high school band.  An original song called "That's What You Get For Loving Me" is a peppy tune with traces of Bob Dylan and The Everly Brothers that is almost worth the price of admission alone.  You can also hear covers of "Purple Haze" and "Eleanor Rigby", but those are better left in your imagination.

In terms of memorabilia, there is a large variety of his outfits with everything from funky '70s garb to the t-shirt, jeans, and cap he wore for his Born in the U.S.A. album cover shoot.  Vehicular enthusiasts will delight in seeing Bruce's 1960 Chevy Corvette that he bought after Born to Run and the Harley-Davidson he rode across the Southwest following the Tunnel of Love tour.  Truthfully, neither of them appealed to me as much as seeing his Oscar for "Streets of Philadelphia".  A few of the quirkier knick-knacks on display include an award from Blistex for the "Boss-est Lips" and an OJ-styled carton of "Bruce Juice" - a promotional item from a radio station.  Both of these pieces illustrate the degree to which Bruce saturated pop culture in the late '80s.

Scattered throughout the exhibit is an overwhelming number of notebook pages containing Bruce's handwritten lyrics.  Along with the chance to inspect his penmanship (which was beautiful in my opinion), you can see his scribbles and cross-outs.  Scouring these pages will reveal a few fun nuggets, like alternate opening lyrics to "For You".  There's also something deeply personal about seeing Bruce's handwriting that makes the lyrics resonate all the more profoundly; reading the lyrics to "Walk Like a Man" almost brought me to tears.  Also on display is the small table at which Bruce wrote the majority of his early songs.  I'd always envisioned Bruce sitting on a rocking chair with his feet propped up on a windowsill doing his writing, but the shabby, circular table is characteristically pedestrian.

For the passing fan, the exhibit offers a number of engaging access points such as video monitors with interviews and performances, blown-up posters showcasing lyrics to his most popular songs, and a PostSecret-esque wall inviting visitors to contribute a post-it with the song that means the most to them.  I left my mark with "Happy".

The exhibition's layout is its only weakness.  After stepping into Bruce's early days, the rest of the exhibit adheres less to chronology and more to thematic groupings of objects, which comes off as a bit scatter-shot.  The gift shop also leaves much to be desired.  All three Legends of Springsteen editors were ready to waste some serious cash but with a limited selection of overpriced coasters and mugs, we had to settle with matching magnets.  But these are both minor quibbles.  We strongly recommend anyone within driving distance of Philadelphia to make a visit to this shrine to Springsteen as soon as possible.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Springsteen Lyrics of the Week - Devils and Dust

"I got my finger on the trigger
But I don't know who to trust."

- "Devils and Dust", from Devils and Dust

While activism in society is making a slight comeback (we've mentioned the OWS movement before on this blog), there has been a noticeable lack of protest songs.  Many protest songs today end up sounding corny and very dated, such as Third Eye Blind's attempt at an anthem last fall.  However, Springsteen's "Devils and Dust" stands strong as time goes by.  On its surface, it is a powerful tribute to the soldiers caught in the murkiness of fighting an unpopular war in Iraq.  But if you examine the lyrics further, they can be easily applicable to the uncertainty and fear that invades every person's life.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Springsteen Video of the Week - The Wrester

"The Wrestler", Working On A Dream

I would hardly call myself a movie expert.  In fact, I don’t even know most award winning films exist until The Academy Awards.  And even then I don’t see 90% of them.  No I’m no film-buff, that’s Steve’s territory, however I do have expertise in another area: Pro-Wrestling.

Yes, at 27 years of age, I can admit I still watch the occasional pro-wrestling match.  It’s not nearly like when I was a kid and felt like my life was over if I missed 1 minute of it.  It was even worse than I am today with Bruce Springsteen.  I watched it on TV, I read about it, and would attend as many live matches as I possibly could.  And a number of times, I saw some of my old childhood-heroes, that could barely walk and had myriad health problems, come out and wrestle.  I’m no film-expert, but I can easily say that Mickey Rourke’s performance in The Wrestler, is one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen in one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.  And that’s thanks in no small part to music, of none other than Mr. Bruce Springsteen.  Bruce’s song, captures Rourke’s character, and in essence the entire pro-wrestling industry, in one simple, sad, but incredibly satisfying song.  Originally just released for the movie, it later found a home as an iTunes exclusive deluxe version of Working On A Dream.

I know Bruce has won The Academy Award for his song “Streets of Philadelphia” for the movie Philadelphia, but the fact that he didn’t win it for “The Wrestler” is just criminal.  However, Bruce does get recognition from this fine blog, and isn’t that much more satisfying than an Oscar?

Friday, June 1, 2012

First Drafts - Wings for Wheels (Thunder Road)

In this new series of articles, we'll be taking a look at the early versions of Bruce songs that later became classics.  First up, "Wings for Wheels", which later became the seminal "Thunder Road".

I remember Tom Petty once remarking that he write his music first, then plugs in lyrics that match.  This explanation can account for some of his nonsensical and bizarre lyrics in songs such as "Free Falling."  In "Wings for Wheels," we can see that Springsteen takes a different approach.  Both the music and the lyrics are almost finished, but not quite.  Let's take a look at the differences.

The first thing everyone notices is the lack of the signature harmonica to open this song.  The first stanza is basically the same, with Angelina replacing Mary.  I think both Angelia and Mary are fine names that work within the song, and the switch is puzzling.  Perhaps the name Mary is just more significant to Bruce, as it would show up in future songs.  Or maybe it was easier to sing since it only had two syllables.  Or maybe Angelina got mad when he dumped her and keyed his car.  Another great mystery that may never be solved.

The second verse is completely different.  Here, instead of the religious imagery used in the final cut, Bruce writes about something he knows very, very well: cars.  "I'm no prince and I can't lay the stars at your feet" is a wonderful line that I'm surprised didn't get used in the final version, but given the amount of cars Bruce would sing about not just in future songs, but in future verses of THIS song, it is for the best that he trimmed it down here.

By the time Bruce reaches the swelling chorus, you are just dying for him to put the words "thunder" and "road" together.  (It reminds me of this early version of Elliott Smith's "Miss Misery", also missing the titular line.)  However, he just sings "dance all the way", and sort of trails off.  There is something charming about hearing this, as you can almost imagine Bruce feeling that something wasn't quite right in that very moment he was singing.  Also, unlike the final version, Bruce comes back again to the chorus.  This, I feel, is a great addition.  Who wouldn't have liked another chance to scream "thunder road" again?

The bridge in here is another interesting piece of music and lyrics, as Bruce slows it down and uses the word "jive."  It is very different from the originally, and from what I can tell was scrapped completely and not recycled in any other part of the song.  It leads into a rehash of the second verse, and then Bruce's classic "town full of losers" line seals the deal.  We unfortunately miss out on ghosts in Mary's exes' eyes and burnt out Chevrolets.  The end of this version sounds more improvisational, like Clarence and the band are just free-styling.  They clearly fell in love with the "Thunder Road" riff, and go back to it a lot.  It isn't as clean and professional sounding at the final version, but like Bruce singing "dance all the way," it has its charm.

When I first heard this version of "Thunder Road," I must say I wasn't a fan.  It fell into the "uncanny valley" - it was too close to "Thunder Road," but it wasn't quite "Thunder Road."  However, over time, I've found the song has its own merits as a youthful, more innocent version of the final cut we all know and love.