My Playlist: The Boss

Before getting to The Boss, I’d like to acknowledge the untimely death of Eddie Money who passed away yesterday (Sep. 13) at the age of 70 from complications from heart valve surgery in a Los Angeles hospital, only three weeks after he had revealed his diagnosis of stage 4 esophageal cancer. The first thing that came to my mind when I saw the news was his 1986 studio album Can’t Hold Back. I got it on CD at the time, primarily because of Take Me Home Tonight, a nice pop rock tune I dig to this day. I always liked his vocals. In my view, Money deserves more than a paragraph, so I’m planning to do a post on him in the near future.

Turning to Bruce Springsteen, I feel I never really need a particular reason to write about The Boss. As frequent visitors know, I’ve done so numerous times on these pages since I’ve started the blog in June 2016. It ain’t rocket science and all comes down to this: I just love Springsteen – his music, his lyrics, his down-to-earth personality, his amazing live shows. He’s the total package! I’ve been fortunate to see him twice over the past 30 years or so – undoubtedly, these concerts will stay with me forever. I think at least when it comes to live music, Springsteen truly is in a league of his own. Name another notch present day artist who plays 3 to 4-hour shows with seemingly endless energy – pretty remarkable at any age, but even more so for a guy who is about to turn 70!

Bruce Springsteen

To be clear, while music is both my passion and my therapy that more than once has helped me keep my shit together, I’m a fan, not a fanatic – not even when it comes to my all-time favorite band The Beatles. A phenomenon like Beatlemania actually scares me more than anything else. Had John Lennon or Paul McCartney asked their audience to go out and kill somebody, sadly, I have no doubt some lunatic would have acted on that. Obviously, this didn’t happen. My point here is that out of control fandom isn’t healthy, neither for fans nor music artists. With that being said, I still like to celebrate music artists I dig. But similar to drinking alcohol or driving, let’s do so in a responsible way!

The reason why Springsteen has been on my mind for the past few days is his upcoming 70th birthday on September 23rd. Obviously, countless pieces have been written about The Boss. In fact, Springsteen himself released his acclaimed autobiography Born To Run in September 2016. As such, there is really is no need for yet another write-up about his life! Instead, I’d like to focus on Springsteen’s music with a playlist of songs, which I haven’t featured in the blog before. This means leaving out gems like Born To Run, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out and Bobby Jean, to name a few of my all-time favorite Springsteen tunes. Of course, the good news is The Boss has a mighty catalog to choose from, so let’s get to it in chronological order.

I’d like to kick things off with a track that according to Songfacts was one of the tunes that convinced Columbia Records to sign Springsteen in 1972: Growin’ Up. The lyrics about adolescence were inspired by his own troubles in school and frequent quarrels with his old man during his teenage ages. The track was included on Springsteen’s debut album Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., which appeared in January 1973. One of the things I learned when researching this post was that David Bowie recorded a version of the song in 1974 during the sessions for his Diamond Dogs studio album, featuring Ronnie Wood on lead guitar. While it’s actually pretty cool, apparently the take wasn’t released until 1990, when it was included as a bonus track on a reissue of Bowie’s Pin Ups album.

Of course, there’s no way I can leave out my favorite Springsteen record from this playlist: Born To Run, a pivotal album for The Boss, who at that time badly needed a commercially viable record. Well, he hit the mark, and the rest is history. In addition to the title track, the album includes other classics like Thunder Road, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Jungleland and the tune I’d like to feature here: Backstreets. According to Songfacts, Springsteen told Rolling Stone in 2016 the song is about “Just youth, the beach, the night, friendships, the feeling of being an outcast and kind of living far away from things in this little outpost in New Jersey. It’s also about a place of personal refuge. It wasn’t a specific relationship or anything that brought the song into being.”

The River has become one of my other favorite Springsteen records. I listened intensely to his fifth studio album from October 1980, leading up to my second and most recent Springsteen gig I saw in August 2016 during The River Tour – ironically, only to realize that by the time The Boss hit New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, the setlist hardly included any tracks from the record. Here’s Ramrod, a great garage rocker! Come on, come on, come on little sugar, Dance with your daddy and we’ll go ramroddin’ tonight…

Another album I can’t skip is the one that brought Springsteen on my radar screen back in Germany in the ’80s: Born In The U.S.A. Obviously, it did the same for millions of other folks around the world. With hits like the title track, Dancing In The Dark and I’m On Fire, it became Springsteen’s most commercially successful release and one of the highest selling records of all time. Here is one of the few tunes I believe were not released as a single: Downbound Train. The Boss first recorded this song as an acoustic demo in May 1982 during the sessions for his Nebraska album, along with several other tracks that ended up on Born In The U.S.A.

For the next selection, I’m jumping to the early ’90s: Lucky Town, Springsteen’s 10th studio album that was released at the end of March 1992, simultaneously with Human Touch. I still remember I bought both on CD at the same time. Here is the opener Better Days, which also became the lead single released 10 days ahead of the album. “With a young son and about to get married (for the last time) I was feelin’ like a happy guy who has his rough days rather than vice versa,” commented Springsteen, according to Songfacts. It’s a fairly simple track with a straightforward chord progression, but I just love the sound.

An important album in Springsteen’s catalog is The Rising from July 2002. Not only did it mark his first record in seven years, it also was the first with the E Street Band since Born In The U.S.A. Hitting the right mood in the aftermath of 9/11, the album debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard 200, selling more than 500,000 copies in just the first week. While not all the tracks dealt directly with the terrorist attacks, here’s one that did: Into The Fire, a dedication to the firefighters who were lost that day: The sky was falling and streaked with blood/I heard you calling me, then you disappeared into the dust/Up the stairs, into the fire/Up the stairs, into the fire/I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher/Somewhere up the stairs/Into the fire…

In January 2009, Springsteen released his 16th studio album Working On A Dream. “Towards the end of recording Magic [his preceding studio record from September 2007], excited by the return to pop production sounds, I continued writing,” Springsteen stated about the album. “When my friend producer Brendan O’Brien heard the new songs, he said, ‘Let’s keep going.’ Over the course of the next year, that’s just what we did, recording with the E Street Band during the breaks on last year’s tour. I hope ‘Working on a Dream’ has caught the energy of the band fresh off the road from some of the most exciting shows we’ve ever done. All the songs were written quickly, we usually used one of our first few takes, and we all had a blast making this one from beginning to end.” Here’s the official video for the title track.

I’d like to conclude this playlist with Springsteen’s latest record Western Stars, which appeared in June this year. It’s his first album of solo material since Devils & Dust from April 2005. While I don’t dislike the record, I have to admit I’m still getting used to both Springsteen’s singing and the sometimes lush sound – not many edges here. Here’s Tucson Train, the tale of a construction worker who left San Francisco and a difficult relationship to start a new life in Arizona, only for him and his woman to realize they miss each other, so she’s coming there to see him again.

Sources: Wikipedia, Songfacts, YouTube

Springsteen On Broadway Becomes Accessible To Broader Audience

Broadway solo performance now released as an album and on Netflix

Unfortunately, I’m among the folks who didn’t have a chance to see Bruce Springsteen’s solo performance on Broadway, which closed yesterday. While I’ve no  doubt anything can replace the actual experience at New York City’s Walter Kerr Theatre, the good news is Springsteen’s show has now become available to a broader audience. It was released as an album on Friday, and as of today it’s also on Netflix for streaming.

I had known for many years Springsteen is a terrific live music act. In fact, I feel fortunate to have witnessed this myself twice – once in Germany in the ’80s and in 2016 in New Jersey. Both are unforgettable concerts. But what truly blew me away is the power of Springsteen’s verbal story-telling he uses throughout the show to introduce his songs. The album does a beautiful job at capturing both the performances, including two songs for which he is joined by his wife and longtime E Street Band member Patti Scialfa, and the story-telling. But it’s really the visual of the film that brings both aspects to life, particularly the latter. If you dig Springsteen and have access to Netflix, it’s a must-watch!

Springsteen on Broadway 2

Directed by Thom Zimny and shot by Joe DeSalvo, the film was captured before a private audience on July 17 and 18 this year. I assume the two performances also served as the basis for the album, since its audio sounds identical to the film. Springsteen’s Broadway show closely mirrors his 2016 autobiography Born To Run. It covers different stages of his life in chronological order, for example his upbringing in Freehold, N.J.; watching Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show as a 7-year-old and how that planted the seeds of his music career; or listening to the bleak stories of forgotten Vietnam veterans as a 30-year-old, which two years later would inspire the writing of one of his biggest hits and perhaps his most misunderstood song: Born In The U.S.A.

Apart from sharing fascinating anecdotes, Springsteen displays a great sense of humor throughout the show. Take this example during the performance of the show’s first song Growin’ Up, where he launches into the following monologue: “I’ve never held an honest job in my life. I’ve never done any hard labor. I’ve never worked 9 to 5. I’ve never worked 5 days a week until right now. I don’t like it. I’ve never seen the inside of a factory and yet that’s all I’ve ever written about. Standing before you is a man who has become wildly and absurdly successful, writing about something, which he has had (pause) absolutely no personal experience. I, I made it all up. That’s how good I am.”

To give you a bit of a flavor, following are a few audio clips as well as the trailer for the Netflix film. First up: Part 1 of Springsteen’s intro to My Hometown:

Here’s Springsteen’s blistering acoustic slide guitar version of Born In The U.S.A.

To me one of the show’s highlights is Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. Not only do I love this tune, but Springsteen’s comments during the song about former E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons are truly moving.

Of course, no Springsteen gig would be complete without the epic Born To Run. So here it is!

The last clip I’d like to highlight is the trailer for the Netflix film.

While I have no doubt that Springsteen didn’t leave his monologues to chance, they come across as genuine, not memorized. If he embellished his stories here and there for bigger impact, it’s certainly not recognizable, at least not to me. I suspect this film will go down in music history as one of the best concert movies.

Sources: Wikipedia, New York Times, Rolling Stone, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band/Born To Run and Dancing In The Dark

The other day, I was discussing Bruce Springsteen with fellow music blogger hotfox63 and one of his readers, who unfortunately had a bad sound experience with a show by The Boss in Germany. Yesterday, while cleaning my smartphone, I discovered the above clip I took from a gig Springsteen did with The E Street Band in late August 2016 during The River Tour.

I think this footage perfectly illustrates why Springsteen usually is such a compelling performer – because he visibly enjoys leaving it all on stage for his fans.  Yes, obviously, an artist needs some talent to be good, but what truly makes music exciting is genuine artist engagement, and Springsteen is all about that. I mean, just watch the guy – how can you not love that? It doesn’t even matter that the second tune in this medley, Dancing In The Dark, isn’t Springsteen’s strongest song, at least in my opinion.

Born To Run is the title track of Springsteen’s third studio album from August 1975, which was his commercial breakthrough. Dancing In The Dark is from Born In The U.S.A., his seventh and most successful studio record. The song was also one of seven tracks from the album, which were released as singles, and it became his highest charting hit on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at no. 2.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube