I love Bruce Springsteen, he's my musical infatuation that's lasted the longest. I've read two biographies about him and apparently a new one is out in paperback. But he seems to fall into some unhip void for people my age and younger that other song writers of his caliber have avoided. Bruce is at least the equal of Bob Dylan and Neil Young despite his most famous work being sorta cheesy 80s arena rock. Cheesy arena rock that makes Bon Jovi look like a bad cover band in comparison.
Blinded by the Light is most famous as a weird but catchy kinda prog rock song by Manfred Mann's 70s group the Earth Band. It's actually the first track on Springsteen's first album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. And the Springsteen version is leaps and bounds better in my opinion even if it's admittedly an attempt to prove song writing chops by a Jersey kid sitting in an apartment with a rhyming dictionary.
I'm going to link to a few more tracks on Greetings just because I love it even though it's the most unpolished songwriting of Bruce's career.
For You has sentimental value to me since it reminds me of a girl I knew.
After Greetings Bruce recorded The Wild the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle which evolved his songwriting to a degree but still has a hefty dose of that New Jersey bar band feel in the lyrics. But that's not exactly a bad thing. Bruce was a work horse with a Protestant work ethic that he poured into his music. He will admit he may not have been the best guitar player on the Shore but he worked the hardest. My favorite part of this album is the entire second side taken as a whole. The E Street Shuffle and Sandy are good but the flow of these next songs, one into the next is the reason the ritual of flipping the album is part of the charm of vinyl.
After two albums that were hyped by the studio but led to lukewarm sales the third album was a do or die proposition for Bruce. Months were spent recording Born to Run. The album, yes, but also the actual single. The recording of the song Born to Run was a nightmare for everyone involved due to Bruce's perfectionism. One of those books I mentioned was about this album. But that commitment led to the breakthrough and the cover of national magazines. And some of the greatest songs in his catalogue that moved away from the specificity of life on the Jersey shore to the broader troubador style that makes Bruce Springsteen one of the greatest rock and roll writers in the history of the genre.
Jungleland and Backstreets capture that Jersey street vibe but elevate it. These are songs that speak to every young person who experiences that love that passionately develops in early adulthood but they broaden beyond the juke joint scene of Rosalita and New York City Serenade.
After Born to Run there was a legal battle that delayed Bruce's next album but when it hit it delivered an even more mature songwriter, struggling with the realities of adulthood and leaving a bit of that youthful optimism behind. Darkness on the Edge of Town is the first glimpse of social consciousness that would define many mature Springsteen songs
Following Darkness is Nebraska, a radical departure from rock and also the E Street Band. Nebraska is an intimate solo folk/country inspired album recorded solo in a bedroom.
Nebraska is the turning point from the hardest working bar musician on the Jersey shore to the thoughtful songwriter that marks most of the subsequent catalog. It was also during this songwriting session that Bruce penned his most famous song. One that he turned into an arena rock anthem that Reagan ironically sought to campaign on, entirelt missing its point. The original recording is a completely different song.
I'm not even going to touch on the Born in the USA album. It spawned so many singles most people are at least passingly familiar with the majority of the album.
After becoming an 80s phenomenon beyond even the success of Born to Run, Bruce disbanded the E Street Band and recorded Tunnel of Love. It's got some 80s synth cheese but it's a remarkable reflection by a newly married man on the uncertainties and insecurities of someone in that position.
Despite winning an Oscar, the nineties were a bit of a down time for Bruce. His first two albums of the decade were poorly received despite some gems. He regained some footing with The Ghost of Tom Joad.
The Rising saw the reformation of the E Street Band and a return to form. After the 9/11 attacks Bruce recorded some of the best songs of his career, mourning for his city without becoming jingistic or reactionaryly patriotic. What I initially thought was just a 'fuck yeah, America' anthem, The Rising, is actually a moving portrait of a firefighter who dies in the Trade Center.
Late career Bruce is a continuation of themes begun around Darkness and experimentation. He's brought on Rage Against the Machine's guitarist, Tom Morello, and it's awesome.
Li'l Springsteen story:
My buddy Jim was on staff at Record Plant when Patty Scialfa recorded Rumble Doll in '93. Bruce came in for a day and was super-friendly to everyone.
Fast forward to 1999 and my buddy Jim is visiting a friend at Staples Center, which is opening that night with Bruce and E Street headlining. Jim walks past the stage, where there's a roadie noodling on guitar. Jim walks past the roadie and he says
Springsteen tuning his own guitar before the first show at Staples Center, remembering the name of the mix tech on his wife's album six years previous and saying hello.
I've never heard a bad thing about the man.