Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Song Spotlight - "Downbound Train"

Key Live Performance

I'm not sure when this video is from, which is a shame because it captures this song perfectly.  Judging by the look of Bruce here, I'd put it at circa 2002-3, during The Rising Tour.  Last week, I bemoaned about how much I disliked "Cover Me".  It was my least favorite song on the album, and in my bottom five of all time for Springsteen songs.  Well, this week, it's the exact opposite.  This is my favorite song on the album, and in my top five Springsteen songs ever written.  It's one of the best examples of Springsteen's storytelling; a depressing downward spiral all set to the tune of a great guitar riff that perfectly catches the melancholy lyrics.  

Key Lyrics

"She just said 'Joe, I gotta go.
We had it once, we ain't got it anymore.'"

There were so many choices for lyrics in this song, as lyrically this is some of the best work in Bruce's career.  I went with these lyrics because the song is written in a first person perspective, and there's something so universal about this line.  We all have been in these relationships, whether they've lasted one date or years, where it seemingly comes out of nowhere that one person just doesn't seem to feel the same way.  It's a punch in the gut, and is usually accompanied by the rest of your life crumbling at your feet.  Bruce captures this perfectly in this song and the result is a beautiful, introspective song.  Most guys won't admit it, because they haven't literally lost their job and their significant other back to back, but there's something relatable to these lyrics.  They don't want to sound like drama queens, but every guy has had some girl break his heart and then the rest of their life seems to go to hell too.  Guys just nod their head along thinking to themselves with their body language saying "I hear you, brother."  


Well as much as I love this song, I was shocked to find out that Springsteen biographer, Dave Marsh, did not like it at all.  Marsh called it "incredibly sloppy": "the weakest song [Springsteen]'s released since the second album, ... incredibly sloppy ... The protagonist's three jobs in five verses are only symptomatic of its problems."  Well, he's certainly entitled to his opinion, but I couldn't disagree more.  As far as the song is "sloppy", it's not at all.  It's unique sound, gives the song it's urgency to the protagonist's feelings.  And I'm not alone, I've been lucky enough to hear this song live a few times and it always is a huge crowd-pleaser.

Like many other songs from this era, it's roots are in Nebraska.  The demo version  of this song doesn't come close to doing the song justice, and I'm so glad Bruce took the time to perfect the music to go along with these lyrics.  I just cant imagine hearing this song any other way.  

I think part of the reason I love this song goes back to my roots as a fan of metal and hard rock music.  I could easily see this song being covered by a metal band, specifically Metallica.  I would love to see James Hetfield playing the opening guitar chords, with a little more distortion, maybe sped up just a little bit, and then hearing Lars and the rest of the band kicking in and rocking out.  Much like they did when they covered Bob Seger's "Turn The Page".  And as much as I would love that, no matter how unlikely it is, it will never top the original.  It's that good.  

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