Listening to Bruce Springsteen: The Album Collection Volume #1 1973-1984 (Columbia/Legacy) back to back to back to back to back to back to back (easy as they’re all short), one gets the growth, the detours and the effect of stardom on an artist’s music (and don’t let anybody tell you there’s no effect). Of course, it all depends on the ears. These hairy ears of mine were raised, along with the rest of me, in North Jersey and, as such, I have an intertwining personal history with the music itself. Add to that my job all those years as Music Editor of this here publication plus coming of age in the same state that homegrew the top rock ‘n’ roller of all time. Of course, nobody knew that back then. I just knew I was “supposed” to like this guy, and not really being too impressed with Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. in 1973, everybody used to tell me the same thing.
“You’ve got to see him live.”
What the hell did I know? I was a punk 22-year-old who thought I knew it all. In ’73, I was all about Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon and The Who’s Quadrophenia. I wasn’t even hip to Bowie yet, scoffing at Aladdin Sane. And I still avoided seeing Bruce live when just months later, he slipped out a second album, The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle. Again, I demurred. So did most of America. Interestingly enough, the passage of time has made these first two now sound as if they were dipped in brilliance. I love them both better in 2015.
With two not-that-successful albums out, yet with a growing fanatically loyal Northeastern fan base, 1975 was the pivotal year. According to Peter Ames Carlin’s Bruce (the best Bruce bio), the artist went into the studio in do-or-die mode, knowing his career would essentially be over if he put out another bomb of an album. Steven Van Zandt, as legend goes, had left the band upset he wasn’t even used on the first two albums. Visiting during the Born To Run sessions, he told an already at-wit’s-end Bruce that “Tenth Avenue Freezeout” sucked.
“Oh yeah,” argued Bruce, “let’s see you do better!”
And he did.
Van Zandt, from what he was hearing in his head, got that high-priced horn section—including The Brecker Brothers and David Sanborn—to play exactly what you hear on what is now one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll songs of all time.
“Hire this guy back,” Bruce shouted with glee.
And they did.
Van Zandt went on to help Bruce mastermind Darkness On The Edge of Town (1978), The River (1980) and Born In The U.S.A. (1984). See here’s what Bruce knows that Jon Bon Jovi doesn’t: you reward loyalty. You stick with the guys that got you there. Because they’re part of the reason you did get there in the first place! Sure, Bruce took detours but still. One magic detour was Nebraska (1982). Listening to it today, it’s still as vital and profound as it was 33 years ago. And you know I just love the fact that my favorite rock ‘n’ roller seems to love the same legends that I love be it Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger or Elvis Presley. And he loves the same old records that I love: “Quarter To Three,” “We’ve Got To Get Out Of This Place,” “Knock On Wood” and dozens more.
So listening to Born To Run now (which I still say should be the state song of New Jersey) is still cathartic. Of course, that’s probably because I took the advice given to me and went to see the man live and, yeah, they were right. That’s all it took. Pop Culture 101, baby, with tent-show revivalism and lessons in James Brown and Stax thrown in. I remember leaving the venue in a daze that first time (also, by the way, the last time in Newark just two years ago). So if Colorado can use John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” with the line “friends around the campfire and everybody’s high” as their state song, Jersey surely can use “Born To Run.”
Nebraska still gives me chills. I used to hitchhike all over New Jersey with a frayed copy of Bound For Glory in the deep pockets of my pea-coat. Hell, the reason I first started loving Dylan is because I found out he went to visit Woody Guthrie at Greystone, the mental hospital that used to be in Parsippany.
Then, of course, the seventh and final disc of this collection, Born In The U.S.A., is the sound of Bruce becoming a cartoon character like Uncle Sam or Mighty Mouse. I mean that as a compliment. His image was a larger-than-life American caricature. And he wore it well. “Downbound Train” is the only deep cut. All 11 others were #1 hits, right? Well, maybe not, but it sure seems like that now.
Sure, I’m biased. But I can’t wait for Volume #2 even though I already own the albums. It’s more than the remixes, although the fact that five of the seven have been remastered for CD for the first time is newsworthy. They say you should listen to albums in their entirety because that’s the way the artist intends, rather than cherry-picking tracks. Well mister, since every album in my personal rotation gets annual listens, I will do this seven-spot in one sitting annually. At 63, I hope I have at least 10 more listens.
(Photo by Bob Sorce)