Friday, August 29, 2014

Great Springsteen References in Music - “1985”

"And nothing has been alright since Bruce Springsteen…"
- “1985”, Bowling for Soup / SR-71

Bowling for Soup may not be the most musically accomplished pop band, but when “1985” came on the radio the other day, I was taken aback by the emotional depth of its story of a middle-aged woman struggling with the reality of her present day life. The character is married with kids but feels a malaise and loneliness from a life she was rushed into through marriage. A life that isn't as glamorous as she once envisioned. Unable to connect with her present state, she retreats to the pop culture of her youth. In the song’s list of 80s pop culture references Springsteen receives repeated mention in the chorus. It’s great to see Springsteen referenced so prominently in a pop song. And its true, how often do we think to ourselves, nothing’s been all right since Springsteen?

I hadn’t heard the song in a few years, and its emotional depth wasn’t the only thing that caught me off guard. First off, I can’t believe the song is a decade old now (it was a chart topper in 2004). Second, Bowling for Soup wasn’t the first band to perform the song. It’s technically a cover by the largely forgotten band SR-71. SR-71 had a big hit with “Right Now” but faded quickly and their third album (featuring “1985”) didn’t receive a U.S. release and ended up only getting distribution in Japan. Thanks to the glory of YouTube, you can hear both versions below. I think it’s clear that Bowling for Soup performs a better version, but it’s not surprising to learn the depth of storytelling should be attributed elsewhere.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Video Spotlight - Arcade Fire and Bruce Springsteen, "Keep The Car Running"

Win Butler of the Arcade Fire has often cited Bruce Springsteen as an influence on his music.  We've looked at the Arcade Fire playing a Springsteen song before; here, Bruce joins them on stage for "Keep The Car Running", a song that is the most Bruce-sounding non-Bruce song I've heard in quite some time.  While I wish the quality of the recording was better, I can only imagine I'd have the same reaction as the "WHAT THE FUCK" guy in the beginning if I had been seeing this live.

I bring up this video from seven years ago because, last weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing Arcade Fire live for the first time at Barclays Center.  While we've drawn parallels to other performers being inspired by Springsteen for their lives shows in the past, I must say the Arcade Fire have their own unique style.  From high-heeled beefcake dancers to performers with large paper-mache heads, there was never a moment where you'd mistake yourself for being at a Springsteen show.  However, while they didn't play "Keep The Car Running" (nor the other Springsteen-esque favorite of mine, "Antichrist Television Blues"), they did start the encore with a tangentially-related nod to the Boss:

It is a complete reworking of Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream" featuring David Byrne.  However, Springsteen has been covering the song for nearly a decade, and released a studio version of it on his most recent album.  Yes, I know it is an incredible stretch to say a cover of a cover that sounds entirely different is an ode to Springsteen, but it wouldn't surprise me if this was an ever-so-slight tip of the hat.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Video Spotlight - "Down By The River"- Neil Young feat. Bruce Springsteen

There's not much to say about this video.  It's Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young, what more do you need to know?  It's my favorite Neil Young song, and when searching for cool versions of this on YouTube, I found this version.  It's from Young's solo acoustic tour in 1989, and Bruce really didn't add too much to the song except for the fact that it added Bruce Springsteen to an already great song.  It seemed to be the only night that the song was played on the tour, and obviously the only night Bruce played along with him.  Strangely, this show was from Jones Beach, on Long Island, New York, when the previous week Young was in New Jersey for two nights.  But as my great, great grandfather always said..."Bruce in Long Island instead of Jersey is always better than no Bruce at all."

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Johnny Cash - "Further On (Up The Road)"

With the 12th anniversary of The Rising fresh in our minds, today we spotlight Johnny Cash's cover of "Further On (Up The Road)".  This is not the Man in Black's first Bruce cover, as we've thoroughly discussed his other covers in the past.  It is probably one of the more unexpected covers I've come across since the Pet Shop Boys' "Last To Die".  I was a fan of his previous Springsteen covers, and this one is no exception.  While I could do without the piano embellishments, the cover is stark and moody, and would sound perfect playing over the end credits of a "Breaking Bad" episode or any other Western drama.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Video Spotlight - Clarence Clemons Jamming On David Letterman

Your treat for the weekend, dear loyal reader, is this rocking jam session with Clarence Clemons and the World's Most Dangerous Band.  If you are like me, you've only seen Clarence in the post hip-surgery phase of his career, and haven't had a chance to see much of his rocking moves.  But he puts it all on display here, including a fun shimmy a little over two minutes into the song.

After that, he has a standard interview with David Letterman, where he covers everything you'd want to know about saxophone reeds, as well as touching on his touring with Bruce and his early football career.  There's a couple of laughs here and there, but it doesn't come close to the rambunctious opening tune.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Song Spotlight - "Mary Queen Of Arkansas", Tracks Version

When I first discovered Tracks, it was rather late into my Springsteen fandom - circa 2005 or 2006.  And, boy, what a treat it was.  Clocking in at over 4 hours and 66 songs, it is a project that I still haven't fully absorbed.  I'll get obsessed with one song, listen to it over and over again while ignoring the rest of the album, then forget about it for a few months, and then repeat the cycle.

Recently, I've been obsessed with the first track on the album, "Mary Queen of Arkansas".  It is from Bruce's four song tryout for Columbia Records, the other three demo songs also being included on Tracks.  The stripped down feeling I feel works better than the Greetings version, and, looking back, you can see how this demo influenced future projects such as Nebraska.

But, I'm beating around the bush.  What TRULY hooks me to this song is right in the front: that voice introducing the song!  I assume it is the voice of producer John H. Hammond, but I cannot confirm this for sure.  This voice is irksome to the blog's local crank OB, and I can see why: it is old, un-hip, and incredibly nasally.  It is fascinating that they decided to leave it on the track, and it has caused me countless minutes of deep contemplation as to why that choice was made.  Perhaps it stood out to Springsteen as the first voice he heard in his illustrious career, or maybe the voice was left in to keep the authenticity of the track.  I personally feel that the track helps date the song in its time and place, as you know that this is Springsteen's biggest challenge in his young life, and helps you hear the youthful passion and beginner nervousness in his voice.  Regardless, this song is the Tracks track I'll be obsessing over for the next few weeks, and I can't wait to discover the next one in several months.

(On a side note: could we please note label Youtube videos as "RARE"?  It's on Youtube - every video is as easy to search for as any other video, for pizza's sake!)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Video Spotlight - Springsteen on VH1 Storytellers

Today, we spotlight Bruce's appearance on VH1 Storytellers, from approximately 2005.  In this performance, he plays solo acoustic versions of "Devils & Dust" and "The Rising", following them up with an intriguing breakdown of his song-writing process.

For "Devils & Dust", Bruce does a thorough job going through all the themes that make the song so powerful, such as the choices people make, the need for fast decisions, and the confusion and tension you feel when your personal life is infected with politics.  While I appreciated the lyrical analysis, I would have loved to hear more about the musical choices made in the song (which is briefly touched upon, saying that the chords are a sound of resistance).  I believe he may have played the song slightly different than he did on the album, so I would have been curious to hear him talk about why he made certain choices for the album version and certain choices for the live performance.  In the end, Bruce confirms what I've always suspected with him, that he writes with his heart and emotion first, and then lets his brain figure it out later.

The acoustic version of "The Rising" is a real treat (especially after renewing my love with the song yet again).   Bruce provides some interesting tidbits about the song, such as how it was originally written as a bookend for "Into The Fire" and the meaning of the "Lie lie, lie lie lie lie lie lies" throughout the song.

So, if you can, carve out 25 minutes from your schedule to sit back, relax, and watch this.  It will be a wonderful way to start your weekend.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Video Spotlight- Adam Sandler "Out In The Street" (Explicit)

It seems hard to remember but there was a time, in the mid 1990's when Adam Sandler was THE MAN in comedy.  After a memorable stint on Saturday Night Live and his insanely popular movies "Billy Madison" and "Happy Gilmore", Sandler went on to release a number of comedy albums that only cemented his place at the top of the comedy world.  Don't get me wrong, Sandler is still an absolute A-List celebrity who can still pull out a great comedic performance when he wants, but he seems to have lost a step in his comedy along the way.

However, in 1996, to support his What the Hell Happened To Me comedy album, he went on a 21 date tour of live performances of songs and comedy bits.  One of the shows was filmed and aired on HBO.  During the show Sandler wanted to get the crowd pumped up, and what better way to do that than a Bruce Springsteen song?  This really shows how big Sandler was.  Bruce's popularity was definitely on the wane in the mid 1990's after nearly a decade separated from the E Street Band.  And on top of that, although a great song, "Out In The Street", isn't exactly a mainstream hit.  But Sandler seems to know that, and while asking the crowd to indulge his fantasy to pretend he's a rockstar, comes just short of saying to his crowd "You may not know this song, but I love it.  And I can do whatever I want."  And the crowd goes right along with him. Sandler had done his Springsteen imitation on SNL before, but in a more comedic way.  Although there seems to be some lighthearted jabs at Springsteen's singing style, it's more of an homage than anything.  Enjoy!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Great Moments In Springsteen Television History - Regular Show, "Guitar of Rock"

Regular Show S5 E23 - Guitar of Rock by RegularTV

I hesitate to call this a "Great Moment", since I didn't particularly enjoy this cartoon.  However, it does feature a Springsteen-esque character, therefore rightfully earning the "Great Moment" title.

The above cartoon is Regular Show, a cartoon aimed at kids that has a strong adult following.  I haven't watched an episode before, but from what I can tell it follows the zany adventures of a blue jay, a raccoon, and a gumball machine.  In this episode, we find out that the gumball machine is a fan of Bruce Rock, an aging rock-star.  The gumball machine breaks a valuable guitar signed by Mr. Rock himself, and the three amigos go on a quest to get his autograph on a replacement guitar.  What happens next?  Well, you'll just have to watch the video to find out!

Now, given that this was my first experience watching Regular Show, I don't want to judge it too harshly.  There may be character-based humor that I was missing, and this episode did satisfy fans of the show (receiving an A- grade from the AV Club).  As a 29-year-old man, I do realize that I am not the target audience.  However, there wasn't much here that would hook me to go back and watch more episodes.

The reason I tuned into this episode was to see another (hopefully) humorous take on the Boss.  I don't have a particularly high standard of Boss-related humor, either - something as simple as Brick Springhorn singing "Born To Ride" will satisfy me.  However, Bruce Rock here is only the barest bones of a Springsteen-parody.  The cartoon does hit a couple things square on the head: he's got the look, he's always on tour, and he's got a healthy dedication to his fans.  However, past that, there's not much else here besides old person jokes.  Perhaps I'm biased, but out of all the 60+ rock-stars, you'd be hard-pressed to find another as "with it" as Springsteen.  There are other things I could pick nits over (such as the look of his guitar), but overall I get the impression that they just picked a random rock-star.  The best parody, I believe, comes from passion towards the subject being mocked, and I don't quite get that feeling from this episode.