This would be a sad story of lost love and regret, but two elements elevate it: the lonely, hollow organ chords underneath the main melody, and the bridge. So simple, yet so compelling. The first song Springsteen wrote for the album. The sense of duty, the courage. An optimistic, boisterous statement of intent.
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The emotion in the vocals is what sells the song. Everybody jumps back in, though, as Bruce keens with anguish to close the track. Springsteen at his most dramatic and deliberately cinematic. Pure pop for modern people. He loosens up even more in the last verse, just after a warm and bubbly sax solo from Clemons. It more than succeeds. Springsteen has a habit of writing songs for other people, then liking them so much he hangs on to them.
The E Street Band is perfectly dialed into that groove, but Bruce plants it firmly back on his side of the road with sharp, incisive guitar solos that slice right through the beat. A full-throttle rocker, the kind of song that the E Street Band eats for lunch. Initially an outtake from Born in the U. Springsteen delivers the best of his street-hipster cool alongside a musical arrangement that does the story justice. Just so much fun.
Springsteen has a special knack for capturing the ritual of getting ready to go out on the weekend. It was a ferocious, note-perfect tribute.
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Springsteen gave this one away, folks. He wrote it and gave it to Southside Johnny, who recorded and released a fine version , to be sure.
Southside is more Otis, Bruce is more Sam Cooke. The E Street arrangement is jazzy, dominated by piano, organ, cymbals, finger snaps, and the best part, the band singing on the choruses. His voice is filled with a mixture of resignation and desperation, which crashes against a frantic, agitated, full-on rock performance. His voice carries exultation and relief, buoyed by ringing, heraldic guitar chords.
Yes, the synthesizer comes in eventually, but the guitar and vocals are righteous enough to overlook it. Anyway, the big, the big thing that these records had, you see, was that on it the audience was at least twice as loud as the band. When it moves you! It ranks as high as it does for two reasons: the power of the actual song, and how it absolutely improves any concert set list. Springsteen openly admitted that he stole the title of this song from Roy Acuff, but he liberally borrowed other elements from country music as well: the melody, the organ riff, and the stark brutality of the story.
After such an intense, emotional experience, the listener needs to breathe and recover. An unflinching portrait about hard choices, family ties, and our essential humanity. This one hits you right in the gut. In , Springsteen offered an unexpected explanation : He used to drive by one of his childhood houses all the time, and when he started seeing a therapist, he asked why he was doing it.
Something went wrong, and you keep going back to see if you can fix it. Plus, a decent guitar solo covers up the worst of the production garbage.
Bruce spits out the words, while Nils Lofgren strums big, melodic chords. This one still comes out on tours when he wants to make a particular point, but nowhere near often enough. This is the dark horse of the record, which is a pity. It sounds more modern, with an almost Gaelic atonal chanting of the first verse.
Springsteen creates an entire world in less than five minutes. Buon viaggio, mio fratello. The drum roll is fast-paced until the entire band comes in on the midpoint, and then once again before they break for the guitar solo, so elegant and full of tension. I always appreciated the balance of its construction: In the second verse, Johnny walks out on Mary Lou; in the fourth verse, a man gets stood up at the altar, subverting expectations. This River outtake is one of the great lost Springsteen songs.
Bruce sings his own counterpoint coming out of the left channel. At the end, the song kicks into another instrumental refrain, with Weinberg driving the beat for a few seconds before a melody swings back for the true reprise. A deliberately overwrought song. Springsteen toggles convincingly between world-weary and strung-out before blasting unrestrained into the choruses. Federici backs all of this with solemn, churchlike chords, and the whole band comes in swinging. Bonus points for the tightly wound guitar solo. The most interesting, forward-thinking, experimental song of the post-reunion era.
And somehow, it still has bona fide ties to everything that came before it. Even though he ultimately asked Michelle Moore to handle the rap verse. It soothes your heart and uplifts your spirit, which is exactly what gospel is supposed to do. If you swapped out the references, this could be any tale of a man falling afoul of the law, getting trapped by his own mistakes.
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You can easily imagine hearing it next to a campfire, sung by a lone cowboy roaming the Plains with a guitar strapped across his back. Springsteen played it solo acoustic in the Enormo-domes on the Born in the U. The horns are hot from the first note, the guitar intro is already on fire. The gauntlet is immediately thrown down. When performed live, though, the song becomes something else. Federici was in his element in those moments, playing with an energy and a deftness that broadcasted his instinctive, deep-seated feel for the music. The lyrics are concise and precise; the images evocative and heartrending.
The E Street Band are sounding the goddamn alarm, telling you to wake up and pay attention. The guitars are a combustion engine, driving the energy up and pushing the song forward. The most breathtaking moment is the handoff to the sax solo, both at the bridge and the end: Bruce stops soloing under the rhythm line, and after just a breath, Clarence comes in for his solo, picking up the baton like he and Bruce are a pair of relay runners.
Springsteen abandons the rhyming dictionary to tell a story about Wild Billy, G-Man, Hazy Davy, and Killer Joe on a soft summer night, lightning bugs flickering in the distance. There are better boardwalk songs, better beach songs, and better tales of Shore legends.
The best song on the first record. Bruce writes eloquently about his relationship with his father, the race riots in Asbury Park, the economic aftermath of white flight, and its ensuing impact on his generation, his neighbors, and his titular hometown. People love this number for its old-timey singalong style, the repetition of the organ chords, and its general celebration of drinking, beer, and baseball. On The River documentary, Bruce admits it was a mistake to leave this song off the album. Springsteen delivers a perfectly pitched vocal, full of anguish and longing, while Van Zandt adds harmonies in the chorus.
The song has a more urgent pace, and the final solo is fervent and direct. The song has swung from tribute to triumph to remembrance, and powerfully so. You can see physical scars today, if you drive up Springwood Avenue past the train station. The empty lots and boarded-up windows are still there. A great song like this one can transcend its original meaning, too.
When Springsteen chose to perform this song for America: A Tribute to Heroes, it was presented with quiet solemnity. At the first Jazzfest after Hurricane Katrina, it was about anger and survival. Are we missing anybody?