Friday, August 28, 2015

Song Spotlight - "Jungleland"

Key Live Performance

I tend to go with more "recent" performances in these sections (if you could call the late 80s or early 00s "recent"), but for the final song, I'm going way back to Bruce's seminal performance at Hammersmith Odeon.  If you haven't watched the whole concert, you are missing out on one of Bruce's best (and easily the best assembly of hats for one single band).

Key Lyrics

"Man there's an opera out on the Turnpike
There's a ballet being fought out in the alley
Until the local cops
Cherry Tops
Rips this holy night"

Sometimes, Bruce's critics like to pick on his flowery lyrics.  However, "Jungleland" sees this criticism, and takes it to the extreme.  This section is among my favorites; various types of performance theater are used to create a holy night.  And why just say "the cops showed up" when you can describe their headlights as "cherry tops"? It's an interesting and engrossing creative choice.


How do you finish one of the greatest album of all times?  After song after song of epic anthems of youth and freedom, where do you go now?  Well, "Jungleland" answers this by doubling down on all the themes and pulling out all the stops.  The longest song on the album, "Jungleland" is takes you on a journey through Springsteen's world - a world where you can imagine all the other characters in the previous songs living.  As Louie CK once pointed out, you can sense the utter sadness and loneliness at the end, which would set the stage for Springsteen's next three albums.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Song Spotlight - "Meeting Across the River"

Key Live Performance

Born to Run has a bleak narrative trajectory. It begins in a town full of losers and ends in Jungleland where the heroes wind up "wounded, not even dead."

“Meeting Across the River” – a song you will never hear requested at a bar – is the album's lynchpin. It is the subtle prelude that sets the scene for the 9 1/2 minute, operatic conclusion in “Jungleland”.

I chose the video above not just because I was at the MetLife leg of the Wrecking Ball tour but because it perfectly preserves that segue between the two final tracks of Born to Run.

Key Lyrics
“And the word's been passed this is our last chance”

At every turn, Bruce makes it crystal clear where this story ends.


Even while being the “smallest” song on the album, “Meeting Across the River” heightens everything around it, serving as the turning point where petty hijinks evolve to hard crime and youthful malaise evolves to Greek tragedy. The song is a masterful ballet of trumpet, piano, bass and vocals with each of the four instruments working together to create a vivid cityscape.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Song Spotlight - "She's The One"

Key Live Performance:

If I could time travel I would absolutely love to see Bruce on the Darkness tour.  He'd put out enough classic material that you'd still get a killer setlist, but it was prior to Born In The USA so Bruce was playing theaters and smaller venues where you could still feel like you were in on something that everyone else who wasn't there was missing out on.  I love listening to and watching shows from this era, and "She's The One" is a great example of why.  For over 13 mins Bruce and The E Street band have fun jamming on the classic Bo Diddley Riff that makes up the intro, including covers of Van Morrison and Buddy Holly, respectively, and then the song builds up to a perfect crescendo at the end.  It's no wonder this song has been a staple of Bruce setlists since 1975, but this era seems to be where he's having the most fun with it.

Key Lyrics:

"With her long hair falling,
And eyes that shine like the midnight sun
Oh, she's the one."

I know it's a bit easy to go for the chorus, but man do these lyrics just stick out for me.  When I reviewed the book "Tietam Brown", I wrote about how Bruce's lyrics may not seem to make the most sense literally, but there's something about Bruce's genius way of phrasing it that it makes perfect sense.  I think I can speak for just about every guy out there that when they read that lyric a certain special girl pops into their mind.  I don't even know what a midnight sun would look like, but I know exactly what Bruce meant when he said her eyes shine like one.


"She's The One" is a strange song that is revered by Springsteen fans, that I never think I'm that big a fan of it.  But whenever I am at a Springsteen concert and hear that distinct organ intro, I start clapping and dancing along and really getting into it.  When I wrote about "Night" last week I wrote about how it was an oddity in the sense that Bruce never seems to capture the spirit of the song live as he did in the studio.  "She's The One" is the exact opposite.  I usually skip the studio version of this song when it pops up randomly when listening to music but I will spend hours seeking out different live versions on YouTube.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Song Spotlight - "Born To Run"

Key Live Performance

Here, we have the acoustic arrangement of "Born To Run", which was released on the Chimes of Freedom LP in the late 80s.  Nowadays, it seems that nearly every song has an "acoustic version" of it out there, and usually it is done in jest.  However, a re-imaging of a popular song, by the artist himself, was a greater novelty 25+ years ago.  This version of "Born To Run" comes at a fascinating time in Springsteen's career, too, as he had just released Tunnel of Love and would soon be leaving the E Street Band behind.  This performance symbolically captures this new phase in Springsteen's career, as he takes his most iconic song down to its bare bones and rebuilds it by himself.

Key Lyrics
"Oh-oh, Baby this town rips the bones from your back
It's a death trap, it's a suicide rap
We gotta get out while we're young
`Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run."

"Born to Run" is filled with a surprising amount of violent imagery, including two uses of "suicide", along with dying, being broken, etc.  The lyrics spotlighted above are simultaneously gruesome and catchy.  It's a trick you don't see in many pop songs, as they tend to stick to words like "baby" and "i wish".  With these in-your-face lyrics, it isn't surprising that it was nominated to be New Jersey's official state song.


Come on.  It's "Born To Run"!  It's Bruce's most iconic song, and for good reason.  You've got a dramatic drum-roll to start, an instantly memorable chorus, and an amazing drop.  It's hard not to drive recklessly when listening to this song.  It's the perfect anthem for lovers and dream, and yet, crazily enough, many people would say that it isn't even the best song on the album!  It just goes to show how on point Bruce was at this point in his career.  This song has been a pop-culture staple for 40 years, and will easily be for 40 more.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Song Spotlight - "Backstreets"

Key Live Performance

This gut-wrenching rendition from Toronto during the 1984 Born in the U.S.A. tour begins with a two minute intro heavy on ambient piano and wailing before leading into the familiar opening notes. Just one look at Bruce’s ripped jean jacket and you know he means business. From the defiant guitar solo to the sweat soaked bandana, the energy is palpable.

Key Lyrics

“When the breakdown hit at midnight
There was nothing left to say but I hated him and I hated you when you went away”

While I’m partial to the so-close-you-can-feel-it description of “getting wasted in the heat,” I can’t stray from this raw admission of hatred made all the more painful by the disappointment with which it is laced.

Demos and lyric drafts have shown that early versions of “Backstreets” explicitly cast the character of Terry as a female. But I prefer to stick to the song text which leaves the gender ambiguous. Perhaps because Bruce’s career is full of heterosexual love gone sour, “Backstreets” feels all the more exceptional when read as a tragic tale of love between two men – regardless of whether it’s a homosexual or platonic love.


I often think of “Backstreets” as the ultimate summer song. It effortlessly evokes both the initial optimism and inevitable disappointment that define every summer season in our teenage years. As one of the few Born to Run songs that doesn’t feature heavily in Bruce’s recent concert rotations, “Backstreets” packs a powerful punch when you are fortunate enough to hear it. It’s easy to overlook but hard to forget.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Song Spotlight - "Night"

Key Live Performance:

Taken from the The Today Show when Bruce and The E Street Band played on the release day of Magic.  They played a bunch of their classics, like "Night", as well as songs songs from the excellent Magic album.  After the monster success of The Rising, Bruce threw his fans for a loop by putting out Devils and Dust and The Seeger Sessions.  Both great albums, but us fans were dying for some E Steet!   Magic and, in particular, this performance was Bruce and The E Street Band's triumphant return to prove that The Rising wasn't just a fluke.  They were back, and they were back to rock.  "Night" was a perfect choice.  It's by far the most upbeat rock song on Born To Run, even more so than the titular song.  Unfortunately though, I don't think any live performance has come off as great as the album version, which is insanely rare for Bruce.

Key Lyrics: 

"And the world is busting at its seams
And the you're just a prisoner of your dreams
Holding on for your life, 'cause you work all day
to blow 'em away at night."

While Bruce writing songs about blue collar values, fast cars, and overly romantic notions towards women may seem like old hat now, in 1975 it wasn't as much a staple on his first two albums.  He would certainly do it on other songs on this album, and really follow up on those themes on future albums.  I mean just reading these lyrics without knowing anything else about the song or album and it's still pretty easy to identify as Springsteen's lyrical work.  The song is filled with lyrics like the one above, that really any of them could have been used for the "Key Lyrics", but there's something about that particular line that really stands out to me and made me pick it.


I love this song.  I love this album.  I put this song on my Bruce For Beginners playlist.  Like I said, this is one of the rare occasions where the studio version surpasses the live versions.  It's impossible not to hear that opening drum, Clarence's signature sax sound, and Bruce's lyrics and not get yourself all pumped up for your next big night out.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Jon Stewart's Moment of Zen

We interrupt Born To Run Month to give you this performance by Bruce and the E Street Band.  On Jon Stewart's final Daily Show last Thursday, he quoted "an artist [he] really admired",  saying,

"He thinks of his career as a long conversation with his audience...I liked that idea for many different reasons, the main one is that it takes away the idea of finality....This show isn't ending.  We're merely taking a small pause in the conversation."  

After his speech, the identity of this "artist" became clear, as he cut to Springsteen and the entirety of the E Street Band, to play him off to "Land of Hope and Dreams".  While Bruce has been making various cameos all summer long, it was great to see him back with the entirety of the E Street Band.  The Daily Show has never really accommodated musical acts very well, which makes this performance even more impressive.  Hopefully, our conversation with the E Street Band will be continuing again in the near future.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Song Spotlight - "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out"

Key Live Performance

As an amateur blogger, I have found little reason to try to disguise my biases.  Therefore, I might as well admit that, since I was an impressionable high schooler in 2000, I will forever lean towards the performances I heard on Live In New York City.  While actual clips from the MSG concert are hard to find on YouTube, here we have a performance from the same tour (in nearby Hartford, CT).

That being said, this performance has it all.  It has a dramatic build, a "Take Me To The River" interlude, Springsteen getting possessed by the Holy Spirit, classic Springsteen speechification, and a spotlight on every E Street member (including the late Clarence Clemons and Dan Federici).  This performance takes me back to my youth, where I only knew a handful of Springsteen songs.  Little did I know that it would spark this life-long (and unhealthy?  disturbing?) obsession.

Key Lyrics

"When the change was made uptown
And the Big Man joined the band
From the coastline to the city
All the little pretties raise their hands
I'm gonna sit back right easy and laugh
When Scooter and the Big Man bust this city in half"

Seriously, how can I pick any lyrics besides this final verse?  No lyrics better sum up the camaraderie of the E Street Band.  With Bruce (Scooter) and Clarence (Big Man), the band set off to rock from the Jersey Shore (the coastline) to New York City (the city).  As time passes, these lyrics become a time capsule, as they show us the band's humble roots, setting out to conquer New Jersey and ending up as global phenomenons.  Additionally, during live shows, this verse is given a music break, as the band (and crowd) pay tribute to the late Clarence Clemons.  While they may be just talking about the E Street Band, these lyrics can apply to us all, as we take a moment to reflect on the innocence of our youth and loved ones we have lost along the way.


I've been writing about this song since, literally, day two of this blog, so I'm not sure how much more I can say about it.  While I prefer the live version for its tremendous build-up, the album version provides a bridge between the raucous energy that was on Springsteen's previous two albums and the somber, serious ton that would take over in his next few albums.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Song Spotlight - "Thunder Road"

Key Live Performance

Bruce chose to open his set at the 2012 Hard Rock Calling festival in London’s Hyde Park with a barebones version of “Thunder Road” accompanied only by Roy Bittan on piano. With his arms frequently folded behind his back, Bruce croons the lyrics to “Thunder Road” with the wistful restraint of a man who has been singing this song for 30+ years but hasn’t forgotten how important it was to him the day he wrote it. One of my favorite parts of this video is at the 0:28 second mark where a young couple cheer and kiss when they realize what song Bruce is playing. It makes me think of the joy my wife and I experienced the first time we both heard him play Rosalita live.

Key Lyrics

“It's town full of losers
And I'm pulling out of here to win”

“Thunder Road” is chock full of indelible lyrics but it’s this final exultation that serves as the rally cry for not only the Born to Run album but in many ways, Bruce’s entire career.


For many years I resisted this song because I had trouble embracing the instrumental conclusion. On the one hand I appreciate it as a lovely piece of music. But on the other, I can’t help not imagining it as what would be played if there was ever a commercial for a cheesy Springsteen-themed Broadway musical. You know, something between the real ads for Movin’ Out and this Ben Stiller parody of a Tom Cruise one-man show.

I’m pleased to say though that I’ve finally grown past this and come to embrace it with all my heart. “Show a little faith there's magic in the night”; “I got this guitar and I learned how to make it talk”; “The door's open but the ride ain't free”… It’s not just some of Bruce’s finest writing, it’s some of the best pop music writing in history.