Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Counting On A Package Deal, Part 1 - Greetings From Asbury Park

Being the mini-hipster that I am, I have found my apartment infested with a vinyl record collection.  I don't know how or when this happened - I just moved to Brooklyn about two years ago, and within weeks, there they were.  While I'm not as much of an audiophile to claim that I can hear a huge difference in sound quality, I do enjoy owning stuff.  And, what better stuff to own than trendy, hopelessly outdated, will-be-annoying-to-move-when-I-switch-apartments pieces of Springsteen memorabilia?

So, in this new series Counting On A Package Deal, I will be reviewing the packaging of these Springsteen records.  No, I won't be discussing any of the songs.  No, I will not be dissected the cover art.  Just, you know, the box it came in.  Still with  me?  Yes?  God bless you.

So, first up, we've got Greetings From Asbury Park, Springsteen's debut album.  Here, we've got a standard looking record.  While the front features very little to identify this as anything other than "Jersey music", the back tells another story:

Flip the record over, The back is crammed with Springsteen's crazy lyrics and a small picture of the young rascal.  It really shows off Springsteen's early, more verbose songs, as they can barely fit 5 songs on the back (although there is a tremendous excess of empty space at the bottom.  So far, it's a pretty by-the-book album package, but what's this?

The post-card is die-cut, revealing more lyrics!  It's extremely simple, but I must say, I do not own any other albums that make use of such a gimmick.  Plus, take a closer look at the back of the fake postcard - you even get to see little Bruce's face on a fake stamp (sadly, an honor we couldn't get Clarence Clemons). 

The album is nothing special, as we get the red Columbia records label.  That's something I have to give credit to CDs for - in their later years, they would make the discs stand-out more.  A spoiler alert for future Package Deal posts: you will be hard-pressed to tell the difference between Springsteen records, and probably assume I'm just re-using the same photo.

Sadly, the original record sleeve seems to have been lost to the ages, so I'll have to make due with the tiny pictures and microscopic notes that accompany the re-released CD.  I'm sure there's some fun Bruce stuff I could make snarky jokes about in here, but I'm not going to strain my eyes reading 2 point font.

So, there you have it: the first (and hopefully not last) installment of Counting On A Package Deal.  I hope you had fun reading it, or, failing that, I hope you enjoyed scrolling through the pictures.

Want a copy to call your own?  Purchase it here!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Springsteen Gift Report: The Promise: The Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story Box Set

Released in 2010, The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story box set is, hands down, one of the best gifts a Springsteen fan can receive.  It is a behemoth collection packed with three CDs and 3 DVDs, containing hours of music and concert footage.  Without exaggeration, there's absolutely nothing to complain about here: you are paying for the best of late 70s Springsteen, and you get the best of late 70s Springsteen.

Check out these beauties.  First, you've got yourself Darkness on the Edge of Town, an all-time classic album that ranks in the top five on most Springsteen fans' lists.  While, being a Springsteen fan, you are probably deeply intimate with Darkness's material, it's still nice to see it in the package.  Next up, you have The Promise, a two-disc set of outtakes from the time period between Darkness and The River.  While some purists may balk at the fact that the songs have been rerecorded and touched up in places, I absolutely love these tracks.  As with any two-disc set, there is bound to be some extraneous material, but the second disc truly stands out with great songs like "Save My Love", "Ain't Good Enough For You", and "Talk To Me".  The Promise is easily the strongest material Springsteen has released since Magic, and is worth the price of this box set alone.

But, somehow, there's more!  Yes, you get three DVDs: a documentary about the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, Bruce performing Darkness in an empty theater in Asbury park, demos and concert footage from the "Thrill Hill Vault", and, if that wasn't enough, an entire concert from Houston in 1978.  I must admit that I haven't gone back to rewatch the documentary since originally getting it - perhaps one day I'll go back and write a review.  But, the footage from the 70s is always great. (And, as pointed out previously, you get a rare shot of Steven Van Zandt sans bandana!)  The performance of Darkness in Asbury Park is haunting, as the setting deepens the somber themes of the music.

All these goodies come wrapped in a spiral notebook with pages of what can only be described as "Bruce scribblings".  If you have the patience and obsession of extreme Springsteen fan (say, a fan that has written for a Springsteen blog for nearly three years), you may find it fun to read the notes to get a glimpse into Mr. Springsteen's editing process.  However, for sane people, it is just simply a way to do something different and creative with the packaging.

Unlike the album collection, which can work for new Springsteen fans, I'd say this box set is best suited for Springsteen maniacs.  The catch here is that this is already four years old - the Springsteen crazies probably got their grubby mits all over this (heck, they may have bought two sets).  However, if you know one die-hard fan who DOESN'T have this, make sure to get it for him or her, and be prepared to be repaid with sexual favors.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Springsteen Holiday Gift Guide 2014

Trying to find the perfect present for that special Springsteen fan in your life? Look no further! Just because there isn't another new album, that doesn't mean there isn't something Springsteen-related that you should wrap up with a bow this holiday season.

For the Springsteen Fan Who is Just Getting Started:

The Album Collection Vol. 1 1973-1984 ($75)

Chances are strong that younger Springsteen fans don’t have the full early Springsteen catalogue – and if they do, not in physical form. As recently chronicled, there’s still something special about having physical copies of your favorite music, even if we live in a digital world. The beauty of this set is that it really hits home the weight and importance of Springsteen’s place in history and the longevity of his career. The eight-disc box set features Greetings from Asbury Park, The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, The River, Nebraska and Born in the U.S.A.

For the Springsteen Fan with Young Children:

“Outlaw Pete” by Bruce Springsteen and Frank Caruso ($13)

Reading to your children is incredibly important. But sometimes it’s just as much about finding ways to keep yourself entertained as it is to find stories that engage your audience. What better way to do that than a Springsteen-inspired picture book?

For the Springsteen Fan Eager to Climb the Company Ladder:

“Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life” by Stewart Friedman

A Harvard Business Review book featuring a profile of Bruce Springsteen? Yes, it exists. And it’s excellent. “Leading the Life You Want” by Stewart Friedman is part action guide, part inspiration source as it tackles the issue of work/life balance by illustrating six public figures who have achieved great success in this area. Of course, you have to know the recipient well enough to ensure this won’t be misconstrued as an insult (“You don’t spend enough time at home!”). More in our review.

For the Springsteen Fan who Has Been Kind of Emo Lately:

Dead Man’s Town: A Tribute to Born in the U.S.A.

For fans who are open to hearing the iconic Born in the U.S.A. album from a different perspective, Lightning Rod Records’ tribute album offers a cover of each track from the original album by 12 different indie bands. These tributes are slow and contemplative, perfect for moments of quiet reflection upon a snowy landscape. More in our review.

For the Springsteen Fan who Has Everything:

Nils Lofgren: Face the Music ($120)

Nils Lofgren may be the most undervalued member of the E Street Band. An exceptional guitarist and songwriter in his own right, this 10-disc box set is a crash course on his non-E Street career including early work from his band Grin (which he founded when he was 17). While you’re waiting for the next Springsteen album, these 169 tracks will keep you more than busy – and may get you thinking that Lofgren is just as prolific as The Boss himself.

Happy Holidays from Legends of Springsteen!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Bruce Springsteen Performing With U2 For World AIDS Day

Last night, with Bono out of action, Bruce Springsteen took to the stage with U2 in Times Square for the RED Charity.  You can watch the above video and judge yourself, but I thought the performance was a mixed bag.  Bruce has performed a string of covers this year, but most of them were helped by the E Street Band spinning it to give it a more unique feel.  Here, Bruce is just plopped in along with the rest of U2, so it gives it more of a "karaoke" sound.  Bruce was trying a bit much in "Where The Streets Have No Name", sounding very growl-y and uber-serious.  However, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" felt a bit more relaxed and had more of the classic Springsteen concert feel, getting the rain-soaked crowd more engaged.  It is worth noting that ESPN had to cut to commercial before the end of the song, just showing how tight Bruce had to tailor his act for the Super Bowl performance back in 2009.  While it may not be Bruce's strongest appearance, I have been thoroughly enjoying this small set of live performances of Bruce over the last month - it's been too long!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Springsteen Gift Report: The Album Collection Vol. 1 1973-1984

Today is Cyber Monday, and there's one Springsteen item that has been added to many Springsteen fans' wish lists.  No, not Outlaw Pete, but the Album Collection Vol. 1 1973-1984.  As someone whose birthday struck last week, I am happy to report that I can cross this off my list.

While most of the marketing push for this gift have focused on the vinyl versions of the albums, I received the CD version.  Vinyls are quite "hip" right now, but in terms of both cost and practicality, the CD version of the gift might be the better for Springsteen fans young and old. (Not to mention, I was able to acquire all the vinyls from a family member - more on that in future blog posts!)

There are no surprises here: you get seven great albums and a photo booklet tucked in a spiffy container.   However, despite being incredibly well-versed in Springsteen's career, it is incredibly impressive to see all these classic records in one place.  I've been wasting my time dragging my hand along the albums, trying to feel the 12 years of history.

The only "new" item here is a booklet that is packed with chronologically ordered photos, concert flyers, and article headlines.  I'd say it is a walk down memory lane, but all of these things happened before I was born.

It is tough to try to fully describe how impressive this collection is, because, at its core, it is nothing new.  You know all the songs by heart.  You can close your eyes and picture every album cover in intricate detail.  However, in an age where everything is on "the cloud", it is nice to have a physical representation of the music you love.