It’s that time of year when the literary blockbusters are published in the pre-Christmas run up. Inevitably a man’s thoughts turn to his Christmas list. My challenge is to resist temptation and not succumb to Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography before Santa comes a calling.
“Born To Run” has already picking up excellent reviews. It is accompanied by “Chapter and Verse”, a personally curated compilation by Springsteen to illustrate his life story. I thought I would have a crack at my own thematic Springsteen compilation.
It is only when an artist has created a body of work as large and comprehensive as Bruce’s that one can really consider thematic compilations. The beauty of Springsteen’s work is that any number of mixes could be put together – protest songs, rock’n’rollers, murder ballads for example.
Anyway I took the romantic route – I’m that kind of guy. Here’s my stab at Bruce Springsteen – The Love Album. I’ve tried to resist the temptation for some of the more obvious picks, although there are a few crowd pleasers in there. I’ve also tried to separate love songs from redemptive songs, although I’ve probably not succeeded. There’s no “Thunder Road” which I wrote about previously here.
The Bruce Springsteen live downloads website is turning into a completists delight. You can now download pretty much all of his most recent shows within weeks of the performances. The available performances are sprinkled with some archive sets. I recently bought a solo performance from 2005 on the “Devils and Dust” tour. This is stripped back and recommended for any fans of the “Nebraska” era. It is fascinating to hear genuinely different treatments of his material.
What is also revealing is his conversational tone between songs. He confesses that initially he avoided writing outright direct love songs and cloaked them in characters or politics with obscure circuitous plot developments. He then launches into one of the first attempts, “For You”. Covered by Greg Kihn and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (along with “Blinded By The Light” and “Spirit In The Night”), it makes more sense in the stripped down piano treatment on the solo tour. This is where I’ve started.
I’ve then gone to one of the first of Bruce’s widescreen romantic epics. “Sandy” captures the teenage New Jersey years perfectly, hot summer nights and fireworks. I’ve gone straight into “Tougher Than The Rest”. The “Tunnel Of Love” album is possibly the most focussed on relationships of all his albums. This is grown up stuff though. The protagonist is battered and bruised. The video was lovely with footage of partners dancing, pointedly including same sex couples, an enlightened statement in the eighties by such a mainstream artist with somewhat of a conservative fanbase. It was clear from his recent Wembley Show (reviewed here) that the song is still close to his and his wife Patti’s heart.
Time for a bit of fun with “Rosalita” next. This one may be a bit more frivolous but I felt that we needed to capture the sense of young love running wild. This predated the more tarnished world-weary view of “Thunder Road” or “Born To Run” and fitted better into the romantic theme. I’ve gone for the live version which was pretty much the introduction to the E-Street band live experience for those Brits watching the Old Grey Whistle Test in the 70s.
On that note, you may notice an absence of material from the classic “Born To Run/Darkness On The Edge Of Town” albums. They are two pretty intense records that don’t err toward the romantic. I’ve balanced it up though with “Fire” from the same era, which was a hit for the Pointer Sisters and included later on “The Promise” outtakes LP. I could have equally gone for “Because The Night” from the same album but, if I’m being honest, I prefer Patti Smith’s version.
“I Wanna Marry You” and “I’ll Work For Your Love” from the “Magic” LP are back to a more traditional portrayal of love. The latter track was a Dylan-esque moment of intimacy at the Wembley gig. The familiar lustful “I’m On Fire” is a surefire crowd pleaser. “You’re Missing” from his post 9/11 of album is heartbreaking though. The thoughts of someone waiting for their other half to come back from New York in the aftermath of the terror attacks, here’s a tender version of the song from a TV rehearsal.
“Back In Your Arms” is an outtake from the “Tracks” boxset and it is one of the purest love songs in his repertoire and features again on the 2005 “Devils and Dust” live download. It’s a lovely but mostly unheard song which very occasionally crops up in his live shows.
The final three tracks that I’ve chosen pretty much pick themselves.
“Drive All Night” from “The River” is devastatingly simple. Three chords and a piano, bass and drum arrangement with a great Clarence sax solo. Normally a Springsteen song this long is a twisting turning epic. This one is simplicity itself though and Springsteen’s vocal lifts it even further. His cry of “Heart and Soul” at 6 minutes in is just raw. He’s hurt and he’s going to make it all right.
The final track from “Tunnel Of Love” is the penultimate selection. “Valentine’s Day” is like much of the LP from which it comes. With the exception of the title track and the rockabilly of the opening “Ain’t Got You”, the album is largely mid to slow paced. The sheer quality of the songs though prevent it dragging. The song is another all about transition in a man’s life. Whereas much of his material in the 70s was about step from youth to adulthood, this song is about becoming a parent and devotion to one’s partner. Yes, it about Cars And Girls Paddy McAloon, but this one isn’t about escaping. It is about arriving.
“If I Should Fall Behind” is one of his greatest songs – period.
The E-Street band (Stevie, Nils, Patti and Clarence) take the verses and middle eight in turn with Bruce. It is a beautiful hymnal lyric. The band’s approach transforms it from a song about love in a partnership into how friendships works.
It’s been fun to put this together and I’m sure that I can dream up some more similar compilations.
Stunning cover shot of the New Jersey shore c/o of Nathan Siemers via Flickr.