Earlier this year, Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band kicked off The River Tour (due to finish in September after 75 dates), in support of the 2015 release of Springsteen’s The Ties That Bind: The River Collection box set, featuring outtakes and video footage to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the album The River. In September, Springsteen will also release his autobiography Born to Run, which he has been privately writing for the past seven years. Amongst this Springsteen fever, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to collate, and share, my personal Springsteen highlight reel.
Over the past few years I have gradually fallen deeper and deeper in love with the music of Bruce Springsteen. First introduced to him via his Born In The USA record, I immediately connected with his 80s releases and decided to delve further into his musical history. As both a History graduate and a huge music fan, I find him absolutely fascinating. In just over a week’s time, I will be seeing Springsteen at London’s Wembley Stadium and when buying my tickets, I came up with the idea of writing a Springsteen series for this blog.
My personal highlight reel will span every single Springsteen album, split up into roughly 2 to 3 albums per post. The tracks I have chosen are my current personal favourites and this project is not intended as an in-depth analysis of Springsteen or a list of his ‘best’ work, but as a personal reflection on his music. I will aim to cover all of his current work by the time his River Tour ends in September (fingers crossed!)
As with any ‘Best Of’ list or countdown I have ever written for this blog, choosing which songs to feature has been incredibly difficult. However, it feels like even more of a challenge with Springsteen as not only is there a lot of music to choose from, but his work is so varied and raw, that it somehow feels personal choosing one song over another.
Highlight Reel 1973-75
In this first highlight reel, I will cover Springsteen’s three albums released between 1973 and 1975 – Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. (1973), The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (1973) and Born to Run (1975).
Springsteen was only 23 years old when he released his debut record and right from the very start, he showcased his talent with words. One of the main reasons I love Springsteen’s music is because of his beautiful lyrics and ‘The Angel’ perfectly demonstrates his ability to convey a character through music, within a number of minutes. The lyrics feature numerous references to motorcycles and I love the simplicity of the piano playing and how its delicate sound contrasts the typical connotations surrounding the hells angel of the story.
Reading Springsteen’s lyrics is often more like reading a poem than a song, and it is these lyrics that make his songs so special. Also from his debut album, ‘Spirit in the Night’ tells the story of ‘Crazy Janey’ and co’s escapades to the Greasy Lake. It is romantic, freeing but also mysterious and shows how Springsteen is as much a storyteller as he is a songwriter.
Springsteen’s second album, also released in 1973, features a more bluesy and soulful sound with tracks including the gorgeously funky ‘The E Street Shuffle’ and ‘Kitty’s Back’. However, it is the final track, ‘New York City Serenade’ that is my personal favourite from the record. At just under 10 minutes long, it is a truly magical composition. It sweeps over you and transports you to Springsteen’s romantic fantasy of 70s New York. It also proves how skilfully Springsteen has been able to incorporate piano and saxophone into rock music.
In 1975 Bruce Springsteen released his third studio album, Born to Run, which saw him finally break into the mainstream and achieve commercial success. The second song on the album, ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out’ is one of my favourites mostly because it just makes me feel good and because it reminds me of the music featured in The Blues Brothers that I was obsessed with as a child. It tells the story of the formation of the E Street Band, with Springsteen placing himself in the story under the pseudonym ‘Bad Scooter’ and meeting the other band members such as the ‘Big Man’ himself, saxophonist Clarence Clemons. A big, big tune.
It may not be as lyrically sophisticated, but ‘She’s the One’, also from Born to Run, is without a doubt one of my top Springsteen songs. It has a great pace to it and builds so beautifully. Its staccato beat is infectious and when it really kicks in at 1.17 you just feel so alive.
Perfectly placed after the sombre, but stunning, jazz of ‘Meeting Across the River’, is Born to Run‘s big finale – ‘Jungleland’. The song portrays the violent gang lifestyle of the protagonist (the ‘rat’) who tries, and ultimately fails, a ‘stab at romance’. It is tragically beautiful and a fantastic example of Springsteen’s role as a commentator of 20th century America, in particular of the working classes. It also features a breathtaking saxophone solo from Clarence Clemons. ‘Jungleland’ is epic and when you listen to it, you really feel it.