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Video: Bruce Springsteen Credits Occupy Wall Street For Inspiring Newt Gingrich

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 BROOOOOOCE performing at the Grammy Awards (AP)

 Coming off  an invigorating performance to kickoff the Grammy Awards, Bruce BROOOOOCE Springsteen was in Paris this week to formally introduce his new album, Wrecking Ball, for a select group of reporters. Springsteen gave over much of the press conference to discussing the current state of American politics, and how his “angry patriotism” was reflected in the new music: “Previous to Occupy Wall Street, there was no push back at all saying this was outrageous—a basic theft that struck at the heart of what America was about, a complete disregard for the American sense of history and community.”

Springsteen expects some people may misunderstand the politically charged songs—a mix of folk music, gospel music and the E-Street Band sound—on the new album, just as Ronald Reagan misunderstood “Born In The USA” almost 30 years ago. That’s especially true for the rousing first single “We Take Care Of Our Own,” an ironic song that sums up the broken promises of the country as far as Springsteen sees it. “I have spent my life judging the distance between American reality and the American dream…What was done to our country was wrong and unpatriotic and un-American and nobody has been held to account,” he later told the Guardian. “There is a real patriotism underneath the best of my music but it is a critical, questioning and often angry patriotism.”

Springsteen’s Forrest Gump Beef and Death Row Wishes, The Countdown Screens to Songs 140-131

NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER
Springsteen’s Forrest Gump beef and death row wishes, the countdown screens to songs 140-131
By Jim Beviglia
May 8th, 2010 at 11:41 PM
The Bruce Springsteen countdown rolls on, gathering almost as much momentum as Betty White on Saturday Night Live. If you’ve always thought that movie talk is the one thing that’s been missing from The Boss’ career this is the edition for you.

Song 140: “What Love Can Do”

Album: Working On a Dream

A solid piece of mid-tempo rock on “Working On a Dream,” “What Love Can Do” is played and performed well, solidly written and constructed, just a good effort all around. It might be ultimately forgettable due to its lack of bold strokes, but it makes a good impact while you’re listening.

Bruce has noted that he actually wrote the song while the band was making “Magic”, but ever the thematic stickler, didn’t feel like it quite fit. Instead he used it as the jumping-off point for the album to come. Personally, I don’t hear it either as a huge departure from the stuff on “Magic” or a linchpin for “Dream”, but the albums both worked just fine, so it’s all good.

Springsteen’s lyrics feature some powerful imagery, although some of it is a bit strained. I do like the urgent bridge a lot. The song is about love’s power in the face of all of life’s external pressures, which are rendered by Bruce in almost apocalyptic terms. Even though love isn’t a cure-all, Bruce seems to say, it does offer something. In that way, “What Love Can Do” manages healthy doses of realism and optimism all at once.

Song 139: “Kitty’s Back”
Album: The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle

A song that has earned quite a reputation as a live warhorse, this long effort from Bruce’s second LP in 1973 doesn’t quite live up to that billing as a recording. It has its moments of brilliance, which make it a fun listen, but there just aren’t enough to sustain the extended running time.

Springsteen probably understood the trade-off with songs like this, that you run the risk of sounding self-indulgent on record to give the song what it needed to be a concert showcase. Still, the playing in the longer instrumental sections is universally fine, from Bruce’s elegiac guitar work at the start, the high-speed organ solo from David Sancious, and a little strut from the Big Man himself, making one of his first spotlight appearances in the group.

Actually, the music carries the song a long way, and Bruce wisely keeps the band sections at a high tempo only to slow it down for the verses so that the attention span never lags. Unfortunately, all of the motley characters in the song only contribute to a meager tale of a spurned lover unable to resist Kitty when she returns. It’s as if Bruce knew all this, hence the hep-cat slurring which makes the lyrics so hard to decipher.

All is forgiven once we get to that adrenaline-rush of a refrain, the whole band chipping in like some rough-and-tumble street doo-wop group. It’s a bumpy ride to get there, but that alone makes “Kitty’s Back” worth the price of admission, even when you’re not surrounded by 35,000 other Bruce fans.

Song 138: “Youngstown”
Album: The Ghost of Tom Joad

Bruce addresses a topic here that back in the day might have been fodder for one of Robbie Robertson’s topical takes on America. When I hear the song I can almost hear Levon Helm embodying the main character. (The Band actually did do a darn good version of “Atlantic City” in the early 90’s, but I digress.)

Some of The Band’s instrumental virtuosity might have come in handy to spice this one up a bit, as the track, as found on “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” is a touch dreary. Springsteen has since juiced the song up electrically in concert with the E Street Band; you can check out those results on the “Live In New York” release. But other than some probing violin from Soosie Tyrell and flashes of pedal steel from session man Marty Rifkin, there’s nothing too exciting going on in the original.

The lyrics, however, are strikingly good, telling what seems like an entire history of the steel industry in amazingly economic fashion. Yet by telling it through the eyes of a disenchanted worker, he never loses sight of the human drama at the heart of the story.

In an industry that spanned hundreds of years and numerous wars, the greed of the business owners is eventually what brings it all down, and the hurt that fact engenders registers in Springsteen’s vocal turn.

Bruce subtly adds layers to the story. His narrator reveals the pride he had in his job with florid descriptions of sights that other people might find ugly: “Them smokestacks reachin’ like the arms of God/Into a beautiful sky of soot and clay.” And when he makes his complaint, it’s not to a woman; the “Jenny” in the song is actually the nickname of a blast furnace.

Only this machine can possibly know the betrayal he’s been dealt by his bosses: “Once I made you rich enough, rich enough to forget my name.” It’s a credit to Springsteen that he hasn’t forgotten these people, and the disenfranchised workers of the steel industry couldn’t have asked for a more eloquent spokesman.

Song 137: “My Beautiful Reward”
Album: Lucky Town

A quick look at the title and the song’s placement on “Lucky Town” might lead you to believe that this was another of the many happy marriage-inspired tunes cropping up around that time from Springsteen. The music, all warm keyboards and perky acoustic guitar, fuels that speculation even further.

But closer inspection reveals unease at the heart of the song, which, considering its placement at the end of the album, sends “Lucky Town” out on a fascinatingly ambivalent note. All of the contentment that Bruce had displayed up until that time is momentarily set aside. After all, the song says that he’s “searching,” present tense, for his reward.

I would even venture a guess that the song was more inspired by his failed first marriage than his successful second one. The bridge talks about him briefly finding salvation, only to crash back down to reality. It’s as if he was retracing his steps to make sure he didn’t make the same mistakes.

Even more mysterious is the final verse, in which Bruce transforms into a large bird to survey the territory. The music might lead you to believe that he’s already found what he covets, but the words will tell you that the search continues.

Song 136: “Leah”
Album: Devils & Dust

In past years, when the Springsteen express was an unstoppable force and received airplay for every utterance he made on record, a song like “Leah” would have been swept up by the momentum of it all and possibly found a spot on the charts. It is an expertly constructed and good-hearted to its core, full of touching but never treacly sentiment.

That’s because Springsteen always has a firm hand on the tiller and knows how to balance the gooey stuff like love and redemption with the darker corners you have to navigate to get to those lofty heights. Thus, his narrator here lays his mistakes bare: “With this hand I’ve built/With this hand I’ve burned.”

And Bruce also knows that even domestic contentment takes vigilance: “I wanna live in the same house, beneath the same roof/Sleep in the same bed, search for the same proof/As Leah.”

Set to a ringing acoustic guitar and featuring a distant trumpet part by Mark Pender, “Leah” also hits the musical pleasure center much more accurately than some of the less tuneful numbers on “Devils & Dust.” All but the diehards might have missed it the first time around, but it’s worth searching “Leah” out if you haven’t made her acquaintance.

Song 135: “Better Days”
Album: Lucky Town

After years of turmoil, Bruce was beginning to feel pretty good about himself in the early 90’s. Maybe some of his fans weren’t ready to celebrate though, because they greeted his double-release of “Human Touch” and “Lucky Town” with a shrug compared to the rapturous reception for most of his other work. “Better Days” is the poster child for this happier Springsteen, and, as such, sometimes gets a bad rap.

If there is a flaw with the song, it’s that it seems calculated to be the kind of big anthem that Bruce tossed off with little effort throughout the 70s and 80s. Some of that strain is audible, but a radiant chorus goes a long way to hiding it. Extra credit should go to the backing vocals of Lisa Lowell, Patti Scialfa, and Soozie Tyrell, because they really send the refrain skyward.

It’s also easy to miss some of the self-reproach inherent in the lyrics if you focus on the uplift. “It’s a sad funny ending to find yourself pretending/A rich man in a poor man’s shirt,” Bruce sings, a line that speaks volumes about his ambivalence toward the fame and fortune his superstar status has accorded him.

So maybe “Better Days” never became the anthem it was intended to be. Maybe it never stood a chance. At the very least Bruce earned the right to sing about the good stuff for a change, no matter what his audience might have wanted.

Song 134: “You’ll Be Coming Down”
Album: Magic

Bruce could just as easily be speaking to a young pop star as he is to a former love. That’s how malleable the lyrics are in “You’ll Be Comin’ Down,” a catchy bit of mid-tempo balladry off “Magic.” The message is the same: Be careful when things are given to you easily, because just as easily they can be taken away.

I’m not sure that the mix does this song a lot of credit. It’s all a bit jumbled once you get into the heart of the song, and that’s too bad because there are certain elements which deserve a clear listen, such as the bell-like acoustic guitars at the start and the rumble-and-snap interplay between Garry Tallent and Max Weinberg. At times, even Bruce’s even-tempered vocals seem to get buried.

If Bruce’s message is a bit trite, the methods he employs to convey it carry the song out of the hum-drum. Color seems to be the main motif here, as just about everything in the crayon box short of Burnt Sienna can be found in Bruce’s descriptions. He also does a nice job of interweaving the mundane details of a dreary life with fantastical elements that portend bad tidings.

“You’ll Be Comin’ Down” is yet another example of Bruce taking what could have been a mediocre track and imbuing it with enough forceful personality and dazzling talent to push it across.

Song 133: “Working On a Dream”
Album: Working On a Dream

Springsteen’s affection for Roy Orbison is well-documented and easily detected by listening to certain songs. The title track and lead single off his 2009 album, “Working On a Dream,” rises and falls acrobatically like some of Orbison’s best, and you can only wonder what that supernatural voice would have done wrapped around this excellent offering. Still, the soaring harmonies of Bruce and Little Steven aren’t that bad of a substitute.

As all singles should, the song goes down smooth and grabs you at first listen, even if it isn’t the meatiest offering in the man’s catalog. Crisp and clean, there isn’t an ounce of flab on the song, and the whistling solo is something new.

A lot of folks tried to tie the song to the ’08 election, and Bruce’s vocal support of President Obama did nothing to dissuade this reading. While the tenor of the song might have fit in with the prevalent mood, in the literal sense it’s more a song of longing than anything else. The narrator is toiling away at some sort of back-breaking manual labor while dreaming of his love that’s far away.

Though ultimately hopeful, there are elements of sadness and desperation in those harmonies that can’t be denied. Those elements linger with you even after the feel-good power of the music dies away.

Song 132: “Dead Man Walkin’”
Album: The Essential Bruce Springsteen

I saw it a long time ago, but I recall being pretty impressed by the film “Dead Man Walking.” Considering it was coming from Tim Robbins, I was expecting a pretty heavy-handed diatribe against the death penalty, but instead the film simply told a story and let everyone else do the judging if they wished.

When Sean Penn admits his guilt to Susan Sarandon right before his execution, it’s a pretty powerful moment.

No, I’m not auditioning for Roger Ebert’s job, just simply making a point that Springsteen’s theme song for the film is treated in a similarly restrained, yet still potent fashion. I’m always a little leery of movie themes that try to work the title of the film into the song, and I have to say I’ve never been able to fully put that aside with this song.

Bruce repeating the title seems a bit forced to me, and it also deprives the song of some of its meaning out of context.

But I will say he keeps the rest of the lyrics vague enough to evoke emotion for people other than death-row inmates. The line, “Between our dreams and actions lies this world,” is a pretty concise summation of the way that the circumstances of life can derail the best intentions.

The spare acoustic rendering certainly brings chills. So, while it might not quite be up to the level of some of his other soundtrack work (which does set the bar pretty high), “Dead Man Walkin’” gets this reviewer’s thumbs-up.

Song 131: “My Best Was Never Good Enough”
Album: The Ghost of Tom Joad

An oddly sarcastic and funny postage stamp stuck on the somber envelope of “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” this song finds Bruce taking umbrage with all vapid bromides designed to make us feel good about our miserable existences. I’m particularly grateful that he took aim at Forrest Gump because I’m still bitter about that piece of tripe winning best picture over Pulp Fiction — even if it did happen way back in 1994.

Outrage, I say. Still, 16 year later. (I know. You’re thinking, “Again with the movies.”)

This is the kind of tossed-off, humorous trifle that Dylan might have thrown on one of his early albums with a throwaway title like “Cliché Blues #27” or something like that. Bruce deepens it a bit by adding the romantic angle. The reason he’s hearing all of these one-liners is because he couldn’t hold on to his girl, which probably makes the sappiness of those sayings even more infuriating.

Or maybe this is Bruce’s way of saying that the social ills he had categorized in the album’s previous songs were all too easily dismissed by such tired slogans. Whatever the case, “My Best Was Never Good Enough” is a strikingly odd way to end things, and yet somehow ironically apropos.

“Queen of the Supermarket” is Underrated, “The Rising” is Overrated: The Truth in Springsteen Songs 130-121

By Jim Beviglia
May 16th, 2010 at 2:24 AM
When Bruce Springsteen turns his vocal cords on supermarket fantasies, Sept. 11, the silliness of sudden fame and an Al Bundy-type character, you can probably expect the results to be mixed. That’s what the Ultimate Springsteen Countdown reveals as it reaches songs 130-121.

You’ll probably be surprised to see “The Rising” this far out of the Top 100, but the truth is that critically-aclaimed monster force was a near miss. Of course, you might even be more shocked when you discover that what some reviewers dubbed. “The worst Springsteen song of all-time” ranks only one spot worse than “The Rising.”

Hey, this is a countdown for the thinking man. Toss out those preconceptions and listen again. Then, let us know if you still disagree.

Song 130: “Queen Of The Supermarket”

Album: Working On a Dream

A lot of reviewers went a bit apoplectic when this song arrived on “Working On a Dream”, giving some WTF reactions and pointing it out as an example of Springsteen losing touch. I think they misinterpreted it and took it straight; if you can imagine Bruce singing it with a nod and a wink, then you’ve got the spirit.

Bruce was supposedly inspired by a trip to his local megamart, which apparently is an infrequent journey for him (imagine seeing Springsteen in the produce aisle!) Anyway, Bruce equated all of the products on display with a sort of garden of earthly delights, and even saw something sexual in the way a customer’s every desire, for food, that is, can be met.

Those of us who’ve had to deal with a line 10 deep when all we have to buy is a loaf of bread might not feel so randy, but artists just see things differently, I guess.

And so Springsteen imagines a working-class schmo who becomes enthralled with one of the checkout girls, further intermingling the desires for food and sex. (George Costanza would understand.) He never confesses his ardor, content to catch a fleeting glimpse and a smile. Anyone who could miss the humor in a line like “A dream awaits in aisle number two” isn’t listening close enough.

It helps that Bruce packages it in dream pop accompaniment. The groove sounds like it was borrowed from the Drifters, circa 1961.

And hearing the tinkling chords of Roy Bittan accompanying a shopping cart instead of a street race is quite a jolt. “Queen Of The Supermarket” is filled with amusing little quirks like that; it’s just a matter of opening both the mind and the ears to hear them.

Song 129: “The Rising”
Album: The Rising

Very few Springsteen songs have been so honored. “The Rising” nabbed a pair of Grammys in 2003 and was favored to take the illustrious Best Song trophy before getting waylaid by the Norah Jones express. In the end though, I think the song can be appreciated and admired more than loved.

The subject matter is so overwhelmingly potent that right off the bat the song almost has to be perfect to do it justice. I’d say that the lyrics come pretty damn close. Springsteen takes a subtle approach here, imagining a 9/11 firefighter’s ascent in both literal and spiritual terms.

The first verse is a blow-by-blow of his climbing the stairs up into the burning building, but he veers away from this description in the second verse, relating instead how what began as an idyllic day turned into a nightmare in seconds, a telling reflection on the fragility of grace.

The final verse is when Springsteen really hits his stride, as the firefighter begins to see visions of his afterlife, religious imagery everywhere. In the last build up to the refrain, the sky flashing in front of his eyes is a juxtaposition of wonder and sorrow. There is an uplifting feel to this final verse, and this is the point when the song really feels like it achieves the Herculean feat of honoring its topic.

Unfortunately, those lyrics are tied to a melody that is stubbornly earthbound. The muscular rock that Bruce and company chose for an arrangement also feels a bit ill-suited to the task.

In that last verse you get a feel for what might have been when the instruments fall away save for a low hum behind the vocal, only to have the music ratchet up the drama into the chorus. More of this would have gone a long way.

As it is, “The Rising” always feels like a bit of a struggle for all involved. Then again, a near-miss on an attempt with such a high degree of difficulty is still a notable achievement.

Song 128: “Fire”
Album: Live 1975-1985

Unable to record due to a legal battle with former manager Mike Appel, Bruce Springsteen spent a portion of the late 70s attempting to write songs for other artists.

Freed from the constraints of having to write material that might fit into whatever thematic kick he was on while still meeting his extraordinarily high standards, Bruce started writing songs that had the immediate appeal that some of the 60s music he worshipped as a kid possessed.

“Fire” was one of those songs, originally composed with Elvis Presley in mind (and there’s a lot of The King in Bruce’s version, don’t you think?) Alas, Elvis left the earthly building before laying it down, and it ended up in the hands of The Pointer Sisters, who turned it into a No. 2 smash.

Springsteen started playing it live, as he says on the version on “Live 1975-85,” “for all the girls out there.”

That version isn’t the most dynamic, and he doesn’t really ham it up like he has done at other times, which is too bad. The song itself has all the attitude and swagger in the world however, and Bruce puts that across without breaking a sweat.

“Fire” is a lot of fun, but the subtle shift it and other songs of its ilk helped to bring about in The Boss’ songwriting was no joke. It would pay off big dividends when Springsteen’s own recordings started dominating the pop charts themselves.

Song 127: “Ain’t Got You”
Album: Tunnel of Love

When it was released in 1987, “Tunnel of Love” wasn’t yet the “divorce album.” For all the world knew, things were rosy between Bruce and Julianne Phillips. In that context, “Ain’t Got You” seems like a rollicking ode to an unrequited love, with Springsteen hollering out the lyrics while battering his acoustic guitar and chugging away on his harp.

Maybe keen observers would have noticed the prevalent mood of the rest of the album was mostly dark, and then they could have surmised that Bruce, ever the stickler for unity, maybe had more in mind for the opener. But it was really only with hindsight that the song took on weightier implications. Knowing how his marriage turned out, the “you” he lacks suddenly doesn’t refer to an unrequited love, but instead to the supposed love of his life.

The song is also notable for Springsteen’s blunt observations on fame. Don’t forget that his own notoriety was at its zenith at the time of “Tunnel of Love,” fresh as he was off the mega success of “Born In The USA” and the legendary concerts to support it.

Bruce pokes a hole in any pretensions in cutting fashion, seeing right through the silliness of fame: “And folks wanna kiss me I ain’t ever seen before.”

You can debate all you want if Springsteen’s marital woes are audible in “Ain’t Got You,” but his view on celebrity is crystal clear: “Well you’d think I might be thrilled but baby I don’t care.”

It sounds like he’d take his chances on love over fame any day of the week.

Song 126: “Last to Die”
Album: Magic

Springsteen has often talked about wanting his songs to co-mingle the personal and political, and the effort to do just that is pretty overt on this grinder off “Magic.” Propelled forward by outstanding bass work by Garry Tallent, “Last To Die” captures the E Street Band pounding out some brawny rock without missing the drama of Bruce’s construction.

The title phrase comes from a John Kerry speech about Vietnam. Bruce initially uses it to describe the casualties of a loveless relationship: “We don’t measure the blood we’ve drawn anymore/We just stack the bodies outside the door.”

As the song progresses however, it becomes clear that there’s more on the narrator’s radar than his crumbling romance, as the local news jars him to the core: “A downtown window flushed with light/’Faces of the dead at 5.” In the final refrain, Bruce is as obvious as he will ever get in his condemnation of warmongers: “Darlin’ will tyrants and kings fall to the same fate?”

It’s a delicate tightrope on which Bruce balances these disparate elements, and at times it does seem to tip over. In the end though, the momentum of the band and the conviction of Springsteen keep things together and “Last To Die” reaches the other side just fine.

Song 125: “Lonesome Day”
Album: The Rising

When fans heard that the E Street Band would be reunited for “The Rising,” they probably expected a little of the old anthemic magic, the scene-setting piano followed by the big guitars and drums, eventually leading to The Big Man on sax with the final word. They were probably a tad surprised that “Lonesome Day,” the first song on the album, sounded a bit more like a gospel hoedown.

Soosie Tyrell’s violin certainly drives the action with that probing main lick, and the backing vocals do seem to be testifying. But old fans will notice the familiar E Street style of spare verses leading to big refrains still holding sway. Just some of the stuff around the edges had changed.

Springsteen also makes the wise choice of laying off the more overtly 9/11-themed material on the first song, serving up one that doesn’t require such heavy emotional lifting right off the bat. Still, some of it does seep into the last two verses. The second verse seems to hint at bigger problems than just a broken love affair. And the final verse asks the listener to be mindful of making quick reactions to the trauma:

“Better ask questions before you shoot/Deceit and betrayal’s bitter fruit/It’s hard to swallow come time to pay/That taste on your tongue don’t easily slip away.”

Those lines turned out to be profound, on-the-mark, and also way ahead of the tide of public opinion on the whole retaliate-or-not matter. Give Springsteen credit for his insight and for the restraint to keep his feelings within the context of the song, rather than haranguing the audience until they deliberately avoid the message.

Song 124: “I Wanna Marry You”
Album: The River

Springsteen’s habit of peppering his live shows with cover versions of songs from all over the musical spectrum really started to pay off when his own material began to more clearly reflect his influences. On a song like “I Wanna Marry You,” for instance, the E Street Band transcends all of these past echoes and makes the song uniquely theirs.

It is fun to hear all of the different elements coalesce here. The driving force is clearly Danny Federici’s Italian wedding organ, bobbing and swaying like a tipsy uncle. Roy Bittan’s piano fills in some of the gaps, while Bruce’s tremolo-laden guitar sleepily plays in the background. Garry Tallent’s bass is part “Under The Boardwalk,” part “Stand By Me,” and the backing vocals take their cues from both doo-wop and The Beach Boys.

The music is the right fit for Springsteen’s down-to-earth, yet hopelessly romantic tale of a guy trying to do right by a lonely single mom. The narrator is refreshingly realistic about his hopes: “To say I’ll make your dreams come true would be wrong/But maybe, darlin’, I could help them along.”

His heart is so far out on his sleeve it might as well be an epaulet: “There’s something happy and there’s something sad/’Bout wanting somebody, oh so bad.”

We never find out if the girl says yes. But with a proposal this romantic, backed by a band so persuasive, she’d be a fool to say no.

Song 123: “Jesus Was an Only Son”
Album: Devils & Dust

A fascinating and at times downright beautiful offering off of “Devils & Dust,” this song ignores the divinity of Christ and instead focuses on his humanity, particularly his interaction with his mother. There is a touching tenderness to these scenes, and Bruce shifts back and forth between quiet moments like Jesus reading as a boy or being tucked into bed by Mary, and the moments on which much of Christianity is based, such as his walk up Calvary hill with the cross.

The penultimate verse is the most curious, as it deviates from the specifics of the scene to make general ruminations about loss and wasted lives. My guess is that this was Springsteen’s way of saying that Jesus was someone’s son, just like all of the sons whose lives are being cut short due to violence or war. The inclusion of this verse, interrupting the narrative, equates the tragedies.

Bruce handles all the music here, and he does a great job with the lovely organ work and the tasteful piano. His instrumental abilities have always been the most underrated part of his game, but they’re on full display here. The lyrical stuff, which he once again swats out of the park, well, that’s a given.

Song 122: “Surprise, Surprise”
Album: Working On a Dream

It may be the sunniest sounding song in the history of the group. Blasting out of the speakers with ringing guitars and in-your-face hooks, “Surprise, Surprise” may come as just that to unsuspecting longtime E Street Band followers.

There’s a little bit of “Rubber Soul”-era Beatles in there, a lot of Byrds, and a dash of any one of a million one-hit wonders with spectacularly garish names that came down the pike in the 1960s.

The lyrics, what lyrics there are outside of the oft-repeated refrain, are warm-hearted and gracious, the sound of a man loving life and wanting his partner to share in the joy. Essentially, it’s a birthday song, but the well-wishing it does is clearly meant to be a lifetime thing.

You have to love the final refrain, when Nils Lofgren, Soosie Tyrell, and Patti Scialfa each take a turn singing “Let your love shine down” amidst the day-glo orchestration. Would you believe a psychedelic E Street Band? Maybe that’s pushing it, but “Surprise, Surprise” was clearly born in the ’60s.

Song 121: “Highway 29”
Album: The Ghost of Tom Joad

The lovers on the run at the heart of this song could just as easily have been found rumbling through Springsteen’s Nebraska. This pair feels less like victims of circumstance than some of the other tortured souls on “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” This pair has nothing to blame but their own self-destructive tendencies.

As you might expect, the instrumental backing is kept to a minimum here, just Bruce on gently plucked acoustic guitar with some atmospheric synths in the background. He sings the song almost abashedly, as if his protagonist is afraid to speak up and tell the world about his actions.

That protagonist appears to be a shoe-store clerk (Al Bundy jokes accepted and welcomed here) who meets a femme fatale and follows her lead.

The two stick up a bank and eventually attempt a getaway across the border, but crash while being chased. It seems to be a fatal accident for the woman (“She wasn’t sayin’ nothin’”), and the song ends with him in the middle of his fleeing, possibly as he’s being gunned down for his crimes (“I closed my eyes and I was runnin’/I was runnin’ then I was flyin.’”)

What’s telling about the narrative is the senselessness of it all. The characters never reveal their reasons for their behavior.

The man can’t even articulate his weakness, but he knows it’s there: “I told myself it was all something in her/But as we drove I knew it was something in me.” The road is usually a source of freedom in Springsteen songs, but here, “Highway 29” represents a road to nowhere, the final resting place for two souls whose demise hauntingly offers no moral and no answers.

<<SONGS 140-131

Springsteen Tape Takes Us Back To ‘Rock & Roll Future’

The evening of May 9, 1974, is legendary in the annals of rock ’n’ roll. It was the night the little-known Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band opened for Bonnie Raitt at Harvard Square Theater, dazzling the critic Jon Landau into writing “I saw rock & roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen’’ in the local alternative weekly The Real Paper. Now a tape from that night — one of the most revered in rock history — has emerged as a museum object 36 years after the storied event.

The tape, never available for public hearing, is included in the Springsteen exhibit “From Asbury Park to the Promised Land’’ at Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, on display through summer. It has been digitalized and streams to a single listening station, where two people at a time can listen to it on headphones. It is not available on the museum’s website, nor can a copy be purchased in the museum store.

The sound has some rough patches, and there are no seats for relaxing. But the radical effect of the music on the audience then (this writer was there and can attest to that) can still be felt. The band aims for the mystically transcendent one minute and party-hearty, sax-fueled retro-rock raucousness the next, keeping everyone off guard. Springsteen was in Cambridge to promote his second album, “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle.’’

The idea for an exhibit centering on Springsteen’s career came about because the Hall of Fame’s induction ceremonies were going to be in Cleveland last year and chief curator Jim Henke wanted a big show to accompany it. He approached Springsteen, who had been inducted in 1999. Springsteen agreed and provided items ranging from his “Born to Run’’ Fender Esquire guitar to his favorite songwriting table.

The exhibit drew so well in 2009 — 423,000 visitors — that it has been extended into this summer, with newer artifacts added, including the jacket he wore to President Obama’s inauguration, his 2009 Kennedy Center award, and the Golden Globe he won for “The Wrestler.’’ But it is the Harvard Square tape that remains one of the most fascinating parts of the exhibit, just as that night itself remains an enduring, pivotal moment in the Boss’s career.

“It was my idea to include it, because that show is so famous because of Landau’s review,’’ Henke says. “So we contacted [Springsteen’s organization], and they had a tape of the songs played there. He and the E Street Band were a great live band, and that does come through in those tracks.’’

Springsteen’s band at the time of the Harvard Square booking featured a pianist with strong jazz and classical leanings, David Sancious. (He left in August 1974.) It is Sancious who makes the band’s first impression so strong, opening with a long, melancholy, and ruminative solo on “New York City Serenade.’’ It slowly leads into Springsteen’s yearningly searching vocal, with the impressionistic, romanticized lyrics that seem part Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row’’ and part Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.’’ The song was aiming for theatrical grandeur and also reverent intimacy, and the effect it has on hushing an audience can still be felt today.

But then he moves away from that territory on “Spirit in the Night,’’ a song that still has its cryptically spooky Dylanesque lyrics but also builds into a more traditional soul shout-out, thanks to Clarence Clemons’s saxophone solo. The band then goes into soul-oldies heaven with a cover of “I Sold My Heart to the Junkman,’’ which had been a 1962 girl-group hit. On these three songs and five others, it’s evident that Springsteen and his tightly rehearsed ensemble were trying simultaneously to draw from the music’s past and to create a future. This is the night they came to be forever recognized for it.

It took luck for Springsteen’s audio engineer, Toby Scott, to find the tape. He lives in northwest Montana and met a Boston emigre, musician/retired music teacher Michael Atherton, at an open-mike night at a bar in the town of Whitefish. Atherton, a resident of Trego, said he had a tape for him — Springsteen at Harvard Square Theatre, 1974. He had made it himself, lugging in a professional-model cassette recorder with external microphone and taping the show from a seat in the back. At the time, Atherton was a natural-foods baker (with his wife) as well as a musician. “I saw every concert we could afford to — of course, we were broke most of the time,’’ Atherton recalls. “I don’t even know how I knew who Bruce Springsteen was. When we baked, we listened to WBCN all the time and even took doughnuts over to them because we thought they were so cool. So maybe that was it.’’

Smuggling the bulky recorder into the show turned out to be easy, because he was prepared. “My father was a news photographer for 40 years and instilled in me a rule to always look like you know what you’re doing when confronted with any possible security situation,’’ he says. “So I put it under my peacoat, where it probably looked like I was pregnant. Then I put it in my lap and held the microphone up in the air.’’ He also recorded a bit of Raitt’s headlining act, before the batteries gave out.

Over the years — as Atherton and his wife moved to first New Hampshire and then Montana, he has made a few copies for friends — which may have something to do with the bootleg copies that some Internet sites say exist. But he has only played it once for himself. “It was every bit as good as I remembered it,’’ he says. “It was the greatest band concert I’ve ever seen — completely together, completely refined, the dramatic intent clear from beginning to end.’’

Actually, Landau — who went on to become Springsteen’s manager — didn’t see the performance that can now be heard at the hall of fame. He went to the second show that night, when the set list not only was somewhat changed — Springsteen opened with “The E Street Shuffle’’ — but showcased a new song, “Born to Run.’’ Landau had seen Springsteen at a Cambridge club called Charlie’s Place just a month earlier.

Landau declined comment for this story, but the music writer Dave Marsh — Landau’s editor at the time — recalls The Real Paper review well. “It was playing off ‘A Christmas Carol’ — it was Dickensian in the way he talks about rock ’n’ roll’s past, present, and future. It always gets quoted as being in a prophetic voice, but it wasn’t.’’

Marsh went on to write two Springsteen biographies and “Bruce Springsteen on Tour: 1968-2005.’’ While he and Landau had seen Springsteen earlier in a small Cambridge club, Marsh didn’t make the Harvard Square show. “This is a horrible thing to say,’’ he says. “I had a ticket but was sick.’’

Is Bruce Springsteen Running Out of Gas? His Car Tunes an Uneven Bunch in Songs 150-141

NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER
Is Bruce Springsteen running out of gas? His car tunes an uneven bunch in songs 150-141
By Jim Beviglia
May 1st, 2010 at 9:22 AM
Bruce Springsteen’s obsession with cars and other motor vehicles (buses! motorcycles!) come into full focus on songs 150-141.

Song 150: “Open All Night”
Album: Nebraska
Rushing by like the highway when you’re going about 80mph, “Open All Night” has Bruce pulling out the electric guitar for the one and only time on “Nebraska”. The Chuck Berry-riff extends throughout the entire song, spare accompaniment which is fitting because Bruce is all alone on his mystical journey through the New Jersey night.

I’ve always wondered what this recording might have sounded like with a full band behind him. I have a feeling that the E Street Band really could have cranked this one into anthem territory. As it is, it fits with the aesthetic of the album, but on its own it’s a little like a fun B-side, nothing more.

Some of the lyrics are borrowed from other sources, including the “Tracks” song “Living On The Edge Of The World” and “State Trooper,” also from “Nebraska.” I prefer the darker vision of the subject matter on “State Trooper,” but this song still has some killer Springsteen lines, foremost among them his comparison of “New Jersey in the mornin’ like a lunar landscape.” The details are perfect as well, including the hilarious image of him and his girl getting chicken grease all over a road map on one of their nightly jaunts.

The narrator never does quite get to his baby by song’s end. He’s left to search for his salvation in the rock and roll songs on the car radio. In much the same way, “Open All Night” never quite reaches its intended destination, but it’s a helluva ride to nowhere.

Song 149: “Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?”
Album: Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.

Springsteen’s Dad was a bus driver, which may be the impetus for this song off his 1973 debut album. I don’t know that anyone in history has ever taken such a vivid ride on public transportation without the aid of hallucinogens, as Bruce’s word-association lyrics paint quite the picture. Sample lyric: “Wizard imps and sweat sock pimps/Interstellar mongrel mimps.” It sounds a little like Dewey Cox channeling Dylan in Walk Hard, doesn’t it?

The track, like many on “Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.,” never ignites much excitement, bogged down by a garbled production which makes most instruments inseparable from the main mess of sound. It’s fun to hear Bruce going off with his wordplay though, elevating the characters he witnesses on the trip out of the mundane.

Maybe the most interesting facet of this song to me is its ending. Up until then it’s a good-time, high-speed joyride, but it slows quickly in the final lines into a bluesy dirge, David Sancious’ piano tinkling sadly. Shortly after on the album, “Lost In The Flood” begins with more piano, and it’s clear that Bruce was going for a continuous effect.

He also did this once on “The Wild, The Innocent, & The E Street Shuffle,” but abandoned the technique afterward. Bruce’s albums always had thematic unity, but these two instances are the closest he ever came to something resembling a concept album’s method of a continuous piece of music. Wouldn’t it be fascinating if he ever tried that whole-hog? A Springsteen rock opera? A guy can dream.

Song 148: “Ramrod”
Album: The River

Springsteen never wrote openly about sexual situations in his early years. He was the rare rocker to play up the romance and never seemed to have lascivious thoughts, at least overtly. But he could do the innuendo, as Don Henley once sang, as well as anyone else, and “Ramrod” ranks right up there with any car-as-phallic symbol song to ever come down the pike.

It’s isn’t very subtle, either. Even a half-wit could catch the drift of a line like “I wanna ramrod with you honey, till half past dawn.” Elsewhere, he sings of what he might do when he can’t have his baby near to ride with him: “I swear I think of your pretty face when I let her unwind.” Let’s hope he covers the car seat with a towel.

Danny Federici’s organ is the star of the instruments, strutting and preening in the solo after those great staccato blasts early on. Clarence also gets to blast away alongside some hand-clap percussion. There’s nothing new here musically, but the band plays with great verve.

What’s interesting is that even after lusting over his girl throughout the song, Bruce turns his thoughts to marriage in the final verse. Apparently this means they can do their ramroddin’ in the eyes of God. Or something like that.

Song 147: “The Big Muddy”
Album: Lucky Town

The Big Muddy is another name for the Mississippi River, but it’s the metaphorical Big Muddy that Bruce is referencing on this moody “Lucky Town” track. It’s the place you end up when your expectations compromise your ideals, so that “You start out standing but end up crawling.”

Springsteen got an assist on the song from novelist Pete Dexter, whose acclaimed mid-80’s book Paris Trout provided the line “Poison snake bites you and you’re poison too.” It’s a good line, but, for my money, I like Bruce’s couplet in the final verse even better: “How beautiful the river flows and the birds they sing/But you and I we’re messier things.”

It’s an honest, if downbeat, assessment of human frailty, which is what the song is all about.

The track itself is all atmosphere, with Roy Bittan’s ominous keyboards providing the bedrock and Springsteen’s delta guitar twang jutting out at unkempt angles. The one negative I have is that the supposed shady dealing could have used a bit more detail. It’s a little too vague to make it as a cohesive tale. But the brooding spell it casts helps outweigh this flaw, making it one of the more salvageable tracks from Bruce’s solo foray in the early 90’s.

Song 146: “Cadillac Ranch”
Album: The River

I’m going to make an admission that may startle some of you: I love Bruce Springsteen’s music but I am not a car guy. I wouldn’t know a Rolls Royce from a Yugo. I’ve been driving a Ford Escort around for over 10 years now. It has a gazillion miles on it and goes up hills like it’s being sucked down by a giant magnet, but it’s reliable and it gets me from point A to point B.

This does not prevent me from liking Springsteen’s car songs however. As this list progresses, you’ll notice some very high marks for songs with an automobile playing a big part. But those songs are usually only tangentially about the car and use it as a symbol for something, be it freedom, or power, or desperation, or whatever. The songs where the cars are just celebrated for being cars, well, I can’t say that they’re my cup of tea.

All that said, “Cadillac Ranch” is such a fun blur as it goes by that I can’t help but enjoy it, even if the advantages of said model are lost on me. Bruce name-checks some icons who drove Caddys to glory, including James Dean, Junior Johnson (a Nascar star of the 50’s and 60’s and, yes, I had to look that up) and Burt Reynolds. (I personally think Bruce should update the song to include Morty Seinfeld.)

The band is in excellent form here, with Max Weinberg snapping off the fourth-gear beat, Bruce clipping off the riffs in yet another homage to Chuck Berry, and the keyboard duo of Roy Bittan and Danny Federici providing technicolor fills throughout. No, I can’t say that I understand the allure of the Cadillac. But until Bruce sits down to write “The Ballad of the Silver Escort That Smells Funny and Violently Shakes When It Reaches 63 MPH,” well, “Cadillac Ranch” will have to do.

Song 145: “Matamoros Banks”
Album: Devils & Dust

Sending “Devils & Dust” out on a sad yet somehow graceful note, “Matamoros Banks” finds Bruce inhabiting the skin of an illegal immigrant attempting to cross the border. Springsteen takes the unique approach of telling the tale in reverse, so that we find out very quickly that this journey is destined to fail.

By depicting, in graphic detail, the dead body being torn apart in the river, Bruce is trying to show the horrors of the situation, and he maybe succeeds a too well. Set against that lovely melody, it’s a little too jarring a juxtaposition for comfort.

Much better are the closing verses, which finds this character in hopeful pursuit of his love, who waits on the other side. His dogged determination is moving, and it makes it all the more heartbreaking at song’s end when he dives into the river to avoid the gunshots he hears. Suddenly, the Matamoros Banks become a spiritual destination, since the only way the two lovers will now be reunited is in the afterlife.

It’s a tenderly sad finish, but the dignity with which Bruce portrays the character makes his plight even more powerful, and it shines a harsh light on the humanity wasted. Whatever your views on the issue, “Matamoros Banks” reminds you of what’s at stake.

Song 144: “Real World”
Album: Human Touch

I’ve read that Springsteen has played this song live in a slowed-down, stripped-down fashion, bemoaning the fact that the recorded version got away from him a bit. I can see his point in some ways. Certainly, the anvil percussion effect is distracting at best, and Bruce screams the song more than he sings it, stripping it of some of its tenderness. And the less said about Springsteen’s wail-a-thon with Sam Moore during the fadeout the better.

If you can put those things aside though, it’s an otherwise solid performance by the ad hoc band assembled for “Human Touch.” Roy Bittan wrote the music with Bruce filling in the lyrics, an arrangement unprecedented in Bruce’s career. The rhythm section of Randy Jackson on bass and Jeff Porcaro on drums provide this song with just enough R&B sway to differentiate it from some other, more generic rockers on the album.

The lyrics find The Boss trying to overcome the scars of his past and looking toward the future without reservation or rancor. He can understand the reality of love, the day-to-day grind: “Aint no church bells ringing/Ain’t no flags unfurled/Just you me and the love we’re bringing into the real world.”

He finally shakes off all of his doubt by song’s end, urging his love to come with him and ride “the tumblin’ dice.” If love is a gamble, it’s better to risk it all than play it safe, and “Real World” comes to that conclusion in satisfying fashion.

Song 143: “Life Itself”
Album: Working On a Dream

This is a love song drenched in darkness. Two lost souls grasp at each other with everything they have in the midst of turmoil and strife, finding a moment of grace amidst the chaos. In the final verse, however, that grace appears to be fleeting, as the narrator becomes distraught at the way that two people can destroy the thing that matters most simply out of their own weakness.

That darkness permeates the music as well, all moody, minor-key guitar. Some moments of light do bust through, noticeably the sighing backing vocals and the backwards guitar in the breaks. Those little touches from producer Brendan O’Brien add just the right bit of mystery to the construction.

“Life Itself” certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but the solid performance by the band, an affecting vocal by The Boss, and a mature look at the perils both within and without a relationship, make it a worthy addition to the man’s brilliant oeuvre.

Song 142: “Galveston Bay”
Album: The Ghost of Tom Joad

Your feelings for “Galveston Bay” likely depend on your tolerance for doing a little work to go with your listening pleasure. This song doesn’t have anything to grab your attention right up front. The music is minimal, just some acoustic guitars by Bruce and distant keyboards. The melody is an afterthought, with Bruce often straying from the main song structure to squeeze in an extra line here and there if the story dictates it. There certainly isn’t any hook.

The story, however, is a stunner. Two men fish the same waters: A Vietnamese immigrant who fought alongside the Americans in the Vietnam War and an American vet. Xenophobia prevents the two from seeing their connection and tragedy intervenes. Bruce just sticks to the details, and leaves any judgment of these two men out of the equation.

In the end, the Vietnam vet resists the urge to seek vengeance on the immigrant, but it doesn’t feel like a redemptive moment in any way. The immigrant has been stained by the blood he’s been forced to shed, and the American is stained for even contemplating the act he eventually decides against. As they fish the waters at song’s end, the unease hangs heavy in the air. It may not be a feel-good pop song, but “Galveston Bay” is worth the effort.

Song 141: “Gypsy Biker”
Album: Magic

Springsteen has often shined a spotlight on the difficulties of veterans returning home from wars. In “Gypsy Biker,” it’s those left behind who are in the spotlight, because the returnee here is coming home in a coffin. It’s a harrowing portrait of the way that war can tear apart the lives of even those who never fire a gun.

The folks left behind here show their grief in different ways, all telling. Eventually they take the bike, polished for the deceased’s return, and burn it in a useless tribute. But the narrator holds even less regard for those who would try to honor his brother’s death: “The favored march up over the hill/In some fool’s parade/Shoutin’ victory for the righteous/But there ain’t much here but graves.” The small towns seem to bear the brunt of war’s damage on the homefront, as Bruce makes it chillingly clear.

I just wish the arrangement didn’t sound so claustrophobic. You hear a lot of talk these days about the poor production techniques used so that songs sound better on computers. Indeed, once the acoustic guitar and harmonica opening gives way to the drums and electric guitars, everything blends into a drone, making even Bruce’s vocals hard to distinguish.

That’s a shame, because “Gypsy Biker” is a story that needs to be clearly heard.

<<SONGS 160-151

E Street Band, Music, The Boss
Bruce Springsteen, Danny Federici, Garry Tallent, Randy Jackson

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NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER,Still Worlds Apart: Springsteen Countdown Hit Songs 170-161

NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER
Still Worlds Apart: Springsteen countdown hits songs 170-161
By Jim Beviglia
April 17th, 2010 at 7:07 AM
We’re quickly rising up the countdown! Songs 170-161 span Springsteen’s entire career with entries from his first record, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., and his latest, Working on a Dream.

Song 170: “Countin’ On A Miracle”
Album: The Rising
Although it’s more covert about it then some of its counterparts on The Rising, “Countin’ On A Miracle” is without a doubt 9/11-inspired. Bruce uses the trappings of fairy tales to depict what the narrator’s life once was. The reality is much harsher: “Your kiss was taken from me,” he sings in the bridge. In the final verse he speaks of a need to transcend his earthly limitations: “If I’m gonna live/I’ll lift my life/Darlin’ to you.”

And so the impossibility of a miracle is the only reality that makes any sense to him. Bruce had already hit on the theme that made Joan Didion’s The Year Of Magical Thinking such a trenchant treatise on sudden loss. I just wish he had coupled the lyrics with something a little more original than the grinding rock arrangement he chooses here. The darker aspects of the words deserved a more delicate treatment.

What makes it even more frustrating is that there are hints of what might have been in some of Brendan O’Brien’s production. The acoustic intro is lovely, and I like the string breakdown even more. Those moments are more apt to the song’s message.

As such, the best they can do is to provide some much-needed balance. Springsteen clearly was trying to force some uplift into the proceedings here, but it comes off as, well, forced. The inherent sadness is much more appealing in this case.

Song 169: “Balboa Park”
Album: The Ghost of Tom Joad
If nothing else, The Ghost of Tom Joad was a fearless depiction of the situation on the southern border of the U.S at a time when it wasn’t exactly a hot-button issue. Springsteen’s insistence on telling these tales through the eyes of the immigrants granted those folks a resilient dignity and forced listeners to identify with the problem more than any amount of statistics concerning the situation ever could. While he wasn’t alone in his crusading (Bruce himself had his eyes opened by some literature on the subject), he was by far the most famous and had the biggest cultural clout.

As such, it’s OK that much of the album eschews the trappings of pop music, since Bruce understood that anything that would distract attention from the bare-bones of his stories would have been detrimental. Songs like “Balboa Park” will never be blasted at full volume through stereo speakers, but their force is not mitigated in any way.

There is a feeling of sameness running through the album though, and this song falls victim to it somewhat. The main frame of the story, i.e. an immigrant who, devoid of other options, takes to illegal means in the U.S. to provide for his family across the border, is told again and again throughout the album.

Although the particulars may be different, there’s not enough in “Balboa Park” to distinguish it as more than a solid effort. Only the final image lingers, a harrowing snap shot of the main character being run down in the street by the American Dream.

Song 168: “Empty Sky”
Album: The Rising
The acoustic groove that this song works up really conjures the dread and anguish of the lyrics. Those guitars are strummed with tangible force, Max Weinberg’s drums snap like wayward firecrackers, and Roy Bittan’s piano thunders down in the second verse. When Bruce’s harmonica wails in the break, it’s a howl full of helpless sorrow.

The lyrics are more workmanlike (save for a brief trip to Jordan in the final verse) and evoke emptiness with images both inescapably terrible (blood falling from the sky) and subtly devastating (a man pondering the impression of his wife’s body on his empty bed).

What’s even more notable is Springsteen’s owning up to the desire for revenge so closely associated with the 9/11 tragedy that inspired The Rising. By mingling it with the need for love (“I want a kiss from your lips/I want an eye for an eye”), he accurately described the infinitely complicated mix of emotions that roiled inside so many of us at the time.

“Empty Sky” ends up feeling a tad too focused and earnest; you sort of have to avert your eyes from all of that coiled intensity in the song.There is no release from it, but, then again, for those who lost loved ones on that day, release is likely still impossible.

Song 167: “The Angel”
Album: Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.

Most people associate “The Professor” Roy Bittan’s piano with Springsteen, but David Sancious did the honors for Bruce in the pre-Born To Run days. His elegantly sad piano is the highlight of “The Angel” from Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.

Those somber chords are a counterintuitive accompaniment for Bruce’s tale of a motorcycle rider who sweeps an unsuspecting beauty “in a trainer bra with eyes like rain” off her feet and rides off into eternity. You can see the seeds for the Springsteen highway obsession that would continue throughout his career; certainly the “interstate’s choked with nomadic hordes” couldn’t be very far removed from the “highway’s jammed with broken heroes.”

The sorrowful piano hints at a darker side to the born-to-ride ethos by which The Angel lives. The imagery might be just a bit too florid here, which may be caused in part by the fact that the debut album was the only one in which Bruce primarily wrote the lyrics before the music. That would also help to explain the lack of a chorus, which leaves the title character wandering around a bit aimlessly by song’s end.

Springsteen’s reluctance to play this song live lends it an unmistakable air of mystery that’s exacerbated by the lack of closure in the lyrics. Somewhere The Angel still rides unrepentantly across the highways in the night, “poison oozing from his engine.” Woe to the Sunday drivers in his path.

Song 166: “Two Faces”
Album: Tunnel of Love

The dichotomy between the parts of us that want love and the parts that shun it is explored to its very core throughout Tunnel Of Love. Nowhere is this dichotomy spelled out any more clearly than on “Two Faces.”

Bruce dilutes the power of this message by sticking to rather obvious hello/goodbye opposites to get his point across. What profundity the song contains comes from the unchecked admission of his own fallacies in this situation. The willingness to share the blame rather than cast it all on the other person is what makes the album such an incisive portrait of a relationship in crisis.

Musically, there isn’t a whole lot in the offing here, with the exception of Bruce busting out a song-ending organ solo that recalls Del Shannon or ? & The Mysterians. The man’s love of 60’s rock and roll is never far from the forefront of his music.

Combining that appreciation of rock’s history with a lyrical power rarely paralleled in the genre is at the essence of what sets Springsteen apart, and that combination makes even an obscure album cut like “Two Faces” a genuine gem.

Song 165: “Book of Dreams”
Album: Lucky Town

This song off Lucky Town has the same warm keyboards found on “My Hometown,” although this time it was Bruce himself doing the honors on the instrument. Recounting the wonder and mystery of his wedding night, the song is sweet and vaguely sad, which is odd considering the context.

Maybe that’s because Bruce had already been around the marriage block once before, and the first one didn’t turn out so well. Certainly this song has many warm images inspired by his marriage to Patti, but it’s the darker side that gives the song an unexpected heft.

That dark side doesn’t come into play until the final verse. Up until then we witness a bemused Bruce standing outside the reception in quasi-disbelief at his good fortune, followed by the consummation scene, a scene of coital bliss far different than the one we heard about in “Reno.”

It’s that fourth and final verse that gives pause. Backing up in time to describe the actual moment that this union becomes official in the eyes of God, the terms used by Bruce are quite ominous: “ritual,” “strangers,” “mystery,” “danger.” The last image is the couple dancing toward the “darkening trees.” It’s clear that Springsteen was indeed sublimely happy at the time he wrote “Book Of Dreams.” But it’s also clear that the “scars” he talks about in the song weren’t quite healed.

Song 164: “Pony Boy”
Album: Human Touch

If you’re a rock star, it is a rite of passage that you must write a lullaby for your child and stick it somewhere on an album. Since Bruce skipped many of the other rock-star rites of passage, like the drug arrests and ill-advised concept albums, no one could begrudge him the opportunity to celebrate his first-born with the last song on Human Touch.

Bruce really doesn’t deserve all the credit for the song, as it is a traditional that eventually morphed into a Western tune at the turn of the twentieth century. But he changed enough of the lyrics for it to be considered more than a mere cover.

It is admirable that Bruce doesn’t try to give advice to his son like so many of his peers had done in their own odes to their kids. He just keeps it simple, asking his son to join him on his ride through life. When wife Patti joins in at the end, it’s a truly sweet moment and the high point of this gentle charmer.

Song 163: “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day”
Album: The Rising

One of the few light spots on The Rising, which was appropriately serious for the most part, “Waitin On A Sunny Day” finds the E Street Band as close as they were on that album to their classic sound. Think “Hungry Heart” with some violin thrown in there, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of this track.

Though this song doesn’t quite ascend to the luscious heights of that classic Top 10 smash, it’s still pretty tasty ear candy. Max Weinberg sets the pace with his muscular beat, Danny Federici adds color with well-timed chords, and Clarence Clemons is all over his solo at the end. I don’t know that Soozie Tyrell’s violin is quite the right fit here, but at least it recedes a bit after figuring prominently at the song’s outset.

You’ve also got some “sha-la-la” backing vocals and chiming bells to add to the mix. Had this been released in 1984 or so, it certainly would have found a place on the charts. On The Rising, it provides a needed respite in the midst of some truly harrowing stuff.

Song 162: “Cross My Heart”
Album: Human Touch

The romantic gray areas prevalent on Tunnel Of Love find their way onto this track off Human Touch. “Once you cross your heart/You ain’t ever supposed to lie,” sings Bruce toward the end of the song, uncoiling the line in a high register after staying muted to that point. It’s never that simple, the Boss seems to say, but it damn sure ought to be.

These sentiments are aided by one of the better productions on an album that’s hampered by some poor ones. Each instrument is given room to carve out its space and make an impact, as opposed to becoming just another indecipherable part of the mix. Once that’s established, it leaves room for Springsteen to let loose some feral solos.

The lyrical sentiments are ones that Bruce had already adequately expressed in the late 80s, so there’s a bit of a retread feeling to the track. Given that, the power of the music gets it across and makes it a keeper on an album unusual in the Springsteen canon for being somewhat devoid of them.

Song 161: “Worlds Apart”
Album: The Rising

Unlike Paul Simon or Peter Gabriel, peers of Springsteen who successfully melded world music with traditional Western rock to create vibrant new sounds, Bruce’s rock has always been distinctly American. There was no better time though to venture to new musical lands than when it came time to lay down this track off The Rising, hence Bruce’s employment of Pakistani Asif Ali Khan and his group of vocalists and experts in the music known as qawwali.

“Worlds Apart” begins with just the sounds of a tabla and the otherworldly vocals of Khan and his group, and it’s jarring to hear Springsteen’s familiar drawl invade upon this world. But the first verse proves to be a mesmerizing juxtaposition. Bruce’s melody is well-suited to the exotic background, creating a hypnotic and seductive effect.

I actually prefer this part to when the rock guitars come crashing in, breaking the spell. The song loses some of its uniqueness from that point forward. The instrumental fade-out is a bit better, with Bruce’s guitar squeals approximating the emotional exhortations of the vocalists.

It all comes in service of a song that’s about the difficulties of making connections between cultures. On a basic level, the song refers to two lovers from far different backgrounds, trying to outrun the tradition that separates them (“May the living let us in/Before the dead tears us apart.”)

On a larger level, Springsteen was peering beyond a black-and-white response to the kind of enmity that led to 9/11. The song’s daring, both in terms of its sentiment and its music, helps to outweigh its faults. It’s just too bad that the understanding found in “Worlds Apart” still at times feels worlds away.

Summer Celebrations at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

The secret to a perfect summer is simple: sunshine, barbecues and good, old fashioned rock’n roll. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame wants to make sure that travelers get the most out of there summer. Take a look at their the summer celebration weekends.

June 4-6 celebrate The Boss with Rock Hall’s Bruce Springsteen Weekend. Events are planned to celebrate his pivotal role in rock and roll. See his iconic guitar and immerse yourself in a special exhibit.

June 25-27 commemorate the King of Pop. Michael Jackson will be honored all weekend long.

August 13-15 is Les Paul Weekend. Come celebrate this icon and creator of the electric guitar.

End summer with a bang on September 2-5 with the Rock Hall’s 15th Anniversary Weekend.

For more information visit rockhall.com.

Super Bowl Halftime: Springsteen Lets It Slide

| The Record (N.J.)

The moment that will get the Cryogenics treatment, frozen for future Super Bowl halftime artists to dissect, ended with a collision.

In the waning moments of his opener — “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” — Bruce Springsteen ran the length of the stage, dropped to both knees and went into a classic rock ‘n’ roll slide.

And he slid …

And he slid …

Was the stage coated in vegetable oil or axel grease? Springsteen didn’t stop until his knees carried him into the camera on the side of the stage. He gathered his bearings, shot a quick smile into an audience of millions and continued with his set.

Springsteen told the crowd he was going to bring the righteous and mighty power of the E Street Band “into your beautiful home.” And he did. His show was fun, bursting with energy.

His set list was just about perfect.

Was it the best halftime show we’ve ever seen? Well, it wasn’t U2.

But the Boss we saw on stage Sunday night was the same Boss we’ve seen at Giants Stadium. And that was a good thing.

He arrived on stage dressed head-to-toe in black. After some light banter with the crowd, Springsteen channeled “Radio Nowhere,” asking the audience this question:

“Is there anybody alive out there? Is there anybody alive out there?”

It led to “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” a Springsteen concert staple.

He leaned deep into the crowd, thrusting the microphone its way, urging fans to sing along with him.

He followed Tenth Avenue with “Born to Run,” windmilling his way through one of the biggest hits of his career. It cranked the energy level up a few decibels, even though at times he was doing more talking than singing.

No surprise that he used the third song to introduce “Working on a Dream,” the title track from the album that hit stores Tuesday.

A choir of gospel singers wearing silver robes joined Springsteen on stage, offering a different-but-interesting take on the song.

He closed with “Glory Days.” It was the best song of the night.

At a press conference in Tampa, Fla., last week, Springsteen joked that it would be a short gathering if reporters wanted to ask him about football. Springsteen tweaked one of his classic lyrics to “He could throw that Hail Mary, make you look like a fool …”

Maybe Max, Clarence or Steven helped him with that one.

He played a shade over 12 minutes (12:38, actually, for those holding scorecards). At the end, he lifted his guitar to the sky.

It was a show to remember. Or a slide to remember, anyway.

Bruce Springsteen, Halftime Extravaganza!!!!! 12 Minutes of Classic Bruce Sringsteen & The E Street Band

12 minutes from “Is anyone alive out there to I going to Disneyland!” It’s finally over, who ever had 10th Avenue Freezeout, Born to Run, Working on a Dream and Glory Days wins the pool!  What a show,  how about the fireworks to Mighty Max’s Hard Hitting Drums.   It was a complete show in just 12 minutes.  With the interception run back for 100 yards by Pittsburgh’s James Harrison to that 12 minute burst of energy By Bruce and the boys, wasn’t the best 13 minutes of Super Bowl History, I am not sure what game you were watching.  It was great to see the Miami Horns back, wondering if they will be there for the full tour. How about Steve playing that Les Paul on Glory Days and Bruce playing his famed Fender Esquire/Telecaster.  That was a nice touch.  I guess you bring to the dance the thing that helped get you there.  That guitar is as much a part of Bruce Springsteen as is the E Street Band.  It was a great show!   Now that halftime is over, do we who cares who wins, I mean hasn’t already been decided.