Friday, August 30, 2013

Song Spotlight: Blood Brothers

"Now the hardness of this world slowly grinds your dreams away
Makin' a fool's joke out of the promises we make"
- Blood Brothers, Greatest Hits

Buried at the end of Greatest Hits is a little gem called "Blood Brothers." One of the four new songs on this "Best of" CD, it arrives after 14 tracks of Bruce's most popular songs and then the ubiquitous "Secret Garden" and the more pronounced "Murder Inc." Which means it's easy to overlook this song. Greatest Hits was the first Bruce album I ever received and yet, "Blood Brothers" had never registered with me until I listened to the album in its entirety for the first time in a great while last week. If you've been like me and neglected the song in the past, I encourage you to give it another listen, you may just be surprised by its quiet grace.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Dropkick Murphys - "No Surrender"

I have written about the relationship between The Dropkick Murphys and Bruce Springsteen before, but I just discovered this cover last week.  Granted it was only recorded  less than a year ago, but still this is one of the best Springsteen covers I've ever heard.  I know most people just associate The Murphy's with Irish tunes and punk rock, but listen to just a few of their songs and you tell their is a huge Springsteen influence there too.  So it comes as no surprise that they have covered Bruce songs on many occasions.

I'm a huge fan of The Murphys and have seen them multiple times live.  Much like Bruce, they've earned their reputation by constantly being on tour and putting on stellar shows.  I'm sure that's part of the reason there is such a mutual respect between the two bands and even though there is a huge difference in the size of the crowds between Bruce and The Murphys, there is no difference in the fierce loyalty to these respective bands.  I know that seeing each band live is what turned me from a casual fan into a fanatic.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Song Spotlight: Across the Border & The Line

By pure coincidence, I watched the Jack Nicholson movie The Border and then listened to the entire The Ghost of Tom Joad album from start to finish for the first time in the span of a few days.

When I heard the song “Across the Border,” I thought for sure it was a cover of the song “Across the Borderline” by Freddy Fender that plays at the end of The Border. It isn’t quite but it sure bares striking similarities in both lyric and melody.

I took to the Internet to find out more and according to IMDB, “The Line” (also from The Ghost of Tom Joad) is inspired by The Border. A quick Google search didn't result in anything more concrete aside from another reference on a blog post, but even without evidence, it's not hard to believe that “The Line” is heavily influenced by The Border – although the story the song tells sure is a lot more coherent than the one the movie tells.

Between “The Line” and “Across the Border” it makes me ask the question is The Ghost of Tom Joad the Springsteen album most heavily influenced by cinema? He's made it clear in interviews that it’s The Grapes of Wrath the movie, not the book, that created its indelible influence on him. Also, check out “My Best Was Never Good Enough” which quotes lines from Forrest Gump.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Springsteen Links: Rolling Stone's 15 Insanely Great Bruce Springsteen Songs You've Never Heard

If you're ready to stop what you’re doing and put everything on hold for two hours, I strongly encourage you to visit Rolling Stone's list of 15 Insanely Great Springsteen Songs You’ve Never Heard. Rolling Stone has written several great Springsteen articles lately and this piece is no exception.

We've previously covered a few of the songs listed here – "The Klansman," "Lonely Night in the Park," "Child Bride" – but there are some real gems here that I had never heard before. I'm particularly enamored of “Janey Needs a Shooter” and “Tokyo.”

This list goes to show, just when you think you’ve heard every Springsteen song, the man can still surprise you.

How many of these have you heard before? And what’s your favorite?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Lyrics Spotlight: "Murder Inc"

"Now the cops reported you as just another homicide."
"Murder Inc", Greatest Hits

Note:  As always with these posts where personal opinions are stated, please remember that these opinions are mine, and only mine.  They do not necessarily reflect those of the other contributors to this blog, or Legends of Springsteen as a whole.

It seems whenever their is a gun tragedy in our country their are two responses.  And they are as predictable as they are tired.  The liberals seem to think stricter gun control is the answer, while conservatives point out that stricter gun control laws will only keep the hands out of law-abiding citizens.  While both arguments have their merit, they just seem to be oversimplified and overstate the obvious fact:  How does someone ever think that gun violence is the appropriate answer?

Gun violence is nothing new in America.  It's ingrained in our culture by our love for classic films like "Scarface" and "Boyz N The Hood" or classic TV programs like "The Sopranos" (my all-time favorite drama), or "Sons of Anarchy".  And although rap music seems to have the music market cornered when it comes to gun references it's not exclusive, as there are countless country songs about guns, both positive and negative.  And even this song isn't Bruce's only gun song in his catalog as "Nebraska", "Jungleland", and "From Small Things (Big Things One Day One)", are just a few others that seemingly glorify gun violence.  And then there's the always popular scapegoat: violent video games.

Just to be clear I am in no way saying that theses forms of media are responsible for gun violence in America. On the contrary I think it's quite lazy, and irresponsible to just pass off blame to violence in the media.  However one thing I do find disturbing is when there are horrible tragic shootings like the ones at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and the Aurora movie theater there seems to be such a concentration on the shooter and not nearly enough on the victims.  And that's nothing to say about the practical ignoring of inner city gang shootings going on in Chicago, Detroit, Oakland and Newark, among others on a weekly basis.  Bruce's lyrics about the cops reporting these victims as just another homicide seem to be consistently true.

I could turn this entire blog post into one on the merits and dangers of the 2nd Amendment, I just don't have the time or energy to type it all out.  People seem to have their minds made up one way or another on the topic, and there is very little chance of changing their mind no matter what facts you have on this topic.  So instead I'll just close with a few facts about the song "Murder Inc".  It was written in the early 1980's as part of Born In The USA, but didn't make the cut.  It was recorded and released as one of unreleased tracks on Bruce's 1995 Greatest Hits.  It has since gone on to be played with somewhat of consistency on Bruce's tours.  The opening drums and guitar riff is one Top 5 intro's to a Bruce song.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Two for Tuesday Video Spotlight: Bon Jovi and Springsteen at 12.12.12


I haven't written a post in a few weeks so I decided to come back with a big one.  These videos are from the famous 12.12.12 Concert at Madison Square Garden.  Clocking in at just under 6 hours this was an incredible concert for a great cause: Hurricane Sandy relief.  This concert was a "Who's Who" of rock icons and pop culture and had so many notable moments: Paul McCartney playing with the surviving members of Nirvana, Adam Sandler proving he can still be quite funny, Brian Williams proving he should stick to news casting and not be doing comedy, Roger Daltry showing off a hernia scar, Eddie Vedder and Roger Waters stealing the show with an incredible performance of "Comfortably Numb", Kanye West nearly ruining the show with a widely panned, overindulgent performance, Billy Joel proving he's one of the most under appreciated legends in rock music, and countless others.

But for me this was the above videos were the highlight of the night.  Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen are my two favorite musicians.  As much as it is ripe for making stereotypical New Jersey jokes, I just can't help it.  I love them both and have seen them live more times than I can count.  To see these two take the stage together was just incredible to watch live.  Even though ticket prices were astronomical for this concert, when I was watching this on TV as soon as I saw them on the stage together I knew I made a mistake by not getting tickets for this once in a lifetime concert.

Bruce kicked off the night with a great performance, and it was during his last song of his set that he played the iconic "Born To Run", and invited Jon Bon Jovi out to play with him.  Later during Bon Jovi's set, Bruce returned the favor and played with Bon Jovi performing their massive hit "Who Says You Can't Go Home?".  One of  the things I noticed about these videos is that Bruce seemed a lot more comfortable with Bon Jovi than Jon did playing with Bruce and the E Street band.  I think the reasoning is pretty simple: Jon grew up idolizing Bruce, and even though Jon is one of the biggest names in music he's still humbled to be playing with one of his heroes.  I think that's pretty cool.  Bruce has stated on countless occasions his admiration and respect for Bon Jovi, but by the time Bon Jovi hit it big, Bruce was playing to sold out stadiums all over the world.  All in all these are just two incredible performances from two very proud and beyond-talented New Jerseyans who wanted to help out their home state in a time of need.  What more needs to be said.  Crank it up and enjoy.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Album Review - We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions

Back in the year 2006, I was a young lad of the tender age of 21.  As a student of New York University, I'll remember my junior year as a time of growing my world: I expanded my friend base, had my share of drama with the fairer sex, and consumed alcohol in amounts that my "current self" would get dizzy just thinking about.  And, as always, I was expanding my musical tastes.  Junior year was the first time I really got into bands such as the Cure, the Futureheads, the Exploding Hearts, the Replacements, the New Pornographers and the Violent Femmes.  While these bands vary from each other, they can pretty much be grouped into "rock" or "pop" categories.  It shouldn't shock anyone to see them on the iPod of a young straight white male.  Which is why, when Springsteen's Seeger Sessions dropped in April of 2006, it was such a shock to my system.

Having been a Bruce fan since 1999, I thought I knew what to expect from Springsteen.  At that time, I had been a Bruce fan for two previous studio releases - The Rising and Devils & Dust.  While Devils & Dust was a stripped-down departure from Bruce's normal sound, it was not unprecedented.  Bruce had done two previous "quiet" albums, Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad, and both times they were followed up by sensation pop albums (Born In The U.S.A.  and The Rising, respectively).  I expected something similar post-Devils & Dust, instead, Springsteen went the bluegrass direction.  I certainly did not see that coming.

At the time, I treated the album as novelty.  I remember my 21-year-old self describing it to friends, saying "Bruce has conquered rock music, now he wants to conquer other genres.  I bet he does a rap album next!"  Oh, 21-year-old Rory, what rapier wit you had.  21-year-old Rory was also fascinated by songs such as "Erie Canal", which he sang in his third grade music class, and the cartoon story presented in "Froggie Went A-Courtin;".  However, seven years have passed, and I've recently been playing the album more and more on my iPod.  And, if I can't indulge myself in a thousand word rant about a seven-year-old album on my personal blog, where else can I?

While I most consume my music on random on my iPod, this is an album that works best played in order.  The opening track, "Old Dan Tucker", is probably the most shocking start to a Springsteen album since "Ain't Got You".  It starts with the classic Springsteen countdown, but with the faint hint of a chuckle.  Then, where you'd normally have a guitar or piano on a typical Springsteen album, you get a rollicking banjo solo.  It is these first few seconds that set the tone for the album - you are getting Springsteen, but a light-hearted, laughing Springsteen who isn't following his own rules.

From there, we are led on a journey that mixes classic Springsteen elements with all the strongest traditions of folk music.  There are tales of tragic characters like "Jesse James" and "John Henry", both songs telling stories of their deaths delivered in a joyous romp - if you close your eyes, you could imagine the band playing these songs drunkenly at a bar, trying to cheer themselves up.  Songs such as "My Oklahoma Home" and "Pay Me My Money Down" hearken back to Springsteen classics like "Workin' On The Highway" and "Sherry Darling", both sardonic tales sung by a down-on-his-luck narrator.  My personal favorite song from the album is "O Mary Don't You Weep No More", which was originally a Negro spiritual.  This song is delivered by Bruce and the Seeger Sessions band with exuberant fever.  It encapsulates the how the sadness of life can be uplifted with the power of music, which is the main message of the album.

While I can go back and listen to the album any time, it does make me wistful for the Springsteen and Seeger Session band concert I saw that summer in 2006.  It has stuck with me as strong as nearly any Springsteen concert I had seen, including seeing him on his birthday and the last show with Clarence Clemons in Buffalo, 2009.

While this isn't from the show I saw, it shows how these old songs got everyone in the crowd rocking along.  People were singing "Pay Me My Money" about as loud as they would sing along to "Hungry Heart".  The concert I saw was also one of the few times I got to hear songs from Devils & Dust played live, such as "Long Time Comin'".  And I absolutely fell in love with this version of one of my all-time favorite Springsteen songs:

All I can say is: wow.  It sounds absolutely perfect in this setting - it seems like the song was written 80 years ago.  That's what I love about "Atlantic City": there are three completely different versions performed by one artist, and each version tells a "different" story.

Springsteen closed with "Man On The Flying Trapeze", saying that this song helped explain what he was doing, exploring these old songs and bringing them into the forefront again.  And that's what is beautiful about this album: it may not be Bruce's best, but there will never be another one like it.  The songs may have sad messages, but the joy that Springsteen and the band have just pours through the speakers, and makes me smile every time I listen to it.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Under the Influence of Springsteen: David Bowie

I’m currently reading Jeff Burger’s interview compendium “Springsteen On Springsteen” (full review to come soon) and something that struck me about the early interviews is just how little money Bruce had when he was starting out. Even after releasing two albums, Bruce and the band were barely scraping by and much of the time couldn’t afford to pay their rent. According to Bruce in one of the interviews, an early hope for more financial success was when David Bowie decided to cover a couple of Bruce’s songs: “Growin’ Up” and “It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City.”

Bowie recorded his covers in ’73 and ’74 but didn’t end up releasing either commercially until years later on reissues and collector’s editions. Legend goes that when the two met in ’74, Bowie told Bruce that he was the only American artist he would consider covering. Even though the songs weren’t released at the time, Bruce mentions in an interview that if Bowie keeps covering his songs, they might be able to make some money.

What do you think of Bowie’s versions? Personally, I’m partial to “Growin’ Up” and actually think I prefer it to Bruce’s original version (but not the acoustic version on Tracks).

Friday, August 2, 2013

Video Spotlight: "Save My Love" Recording Session, 1976

Three things to spotlight in this video:

1. I love seeing the process of creating a song.  On Legends Of Springsteen, we've often spotlighted early takes that eventually became Bruce classics.  Here, you can see that Bruce and his band have the beat and the general idea of how "Save My Love" will eventually sound, and Bruce is just trying to see how the vocals will fit in, finding the right words and syllables to emphasize.

2. As pointed out in the Youtube comments: yes, that is Steven Van Zandt.  And yes, he is hatless, repeat hatless.  It is a rare appearance of Little Steven's scalp, and with good cause.  It's amazing how one good bandanna can turn a man from Dungeons & Dragons aficionado to bad-ass (and somewhat creepy) pirate.

3. On the other end of the spectrum, how beautiful does Bruce look in this video?  As a straight man, I have no problem saying that this is easily the most strapping I've ever seen Bruce.  I'll call it like I see it: hands down, this is the sexiest the Boss has looked.  Can you find anything sexier?  If so, let me know in the comments.