Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Bruce Springsteen 3: Born To Run

Then there was the breakthrough. Born To Run puts all the key Springsteen elements in place with the addition of Max Weinberg on drums and, more prominently, Roy Bittan on tinkling, heavy-on-the-arpeggios piano. From the day of its release, you could pretty much bet on hearing at least one song from this album on a certain New York radio station, up until their format was changed, scattering all the DJs across the dial.
Some will call it a concept album, which is incorrect. It does, however sport two very well-sequenced sides that neatly mirror each other. In order, four songs detail the quest for freedom, a joyful celebration of the moment, a glimpse of what the evening might bring, and an epic lament at dreams that have died.
The plaintive harmonica begins “Thunder Road”, a cinematic achievement of a song. You can see the screen door slam, and the song gains momentum as the singer achieves his goal of getting away. “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” is more successful theme song for the E Street Band than the previous album’s shuffle, from the goofy pub-rock piano and horn arrangement to the shout-out to the “Big Man” amid the otherwise cryptic lyrics. (And a theme song it is, now that Clarence Clemons is dead. In current performances, the song stops for several minutes mid-bar so the crowd and Bruce may pay tribute.) “Night” isn’t as successful, at attempt at an anthem that instead comes off as too eager. The song that does connect is “Backstreets”, beginning with the piano variations over the same two chords. The ambiguity of “Terry” obscures the facts, but that doesn’t kill the feeling in the song.
The title track is part of the national fabric, and rightfully so. It was an easy song to hate when it was jammed down your throat, but time has managed to show the excellence of its construction (recorded, incidentally, before the arrival of Weinberg and Bittan), particularly in the rising keys before the solos, the obvious descent afterwards, the visible gear change in the third verse, and the dynamics of the repeated chorus. “She’s The One” has its roots in the Bo Diddley beat and “Magic Bus”, making a perfect excuse for another sax solo. “Meeting Across The River” is as quiet as we expected “Night” to be, and another cousin of Tom Waits. At the end of it all is “Jungleland”. As lyrically dense as anything he’d done so far, it basically comes down to a rumble between rival gangs, while carnal pursuit colors the edges. But the arrangement is more than that: the violin joining the piano for a duet before disappearing completely; the build in the verses hiding the key changes; the expertly constructed guitar parts (all Bruce); the two-minute Clemons solo that might be the greatest saxophone performance of all time, and this is coming from a guy who hates saxophones; the eternal piano trawl back into the song; and the dizzying minute-long finale.
Bruce has said that his intention on Born To Run was to write like Bob Dylan, produce like Phil Spector, and sing like Roy Orbison; but every “HWAAWW” he lets out on this song proves he ain’t no Orbison no how. Still, one out of three is considered successful in baseball, and he learned that all he had to do was make his music his way (or at least whatever Jon Landau and Dave Marsh told him) and the world would beat a path to his door. (For example, Jim Steinman scraped the ingredients for what made Meat Loaf so unbearable off this very placemat, even going so far as to use some of the E Street Band.)
Naturally, it was a prime candidate for a 30th Anniversary repackage, which arrived on time and with two DVDs, one a making-of documentary and the other a previously unreleased concert from London’s Hammersmith Odeon. That show was eventually released as a standalone two-CD set, and presents two hours of the E Street Band in its prime.

Bruce Springsteen Born To Run (1975)—4

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