(Above: This is not the version of the LP that I own, but I’ve been looking for one of these for years. It’s the promo release.)
We’re getting to the top of the list of my favorite LPs. The list will become more predictable from this point, but I’ve got stories for each of them.
#3. Bruce Springsteen, Born To Run (1975)
August 25, 1975 was an important date in rock and roll. For it was on that date that Bruce Springsteen shifted from simply being “the next Dylan” to a force in music. It took a little bit longer for Bruce to cement his role, though. That required both Time and Newsweek to put him on the cover, which happened in the final week of October. Before too long “The Boss” was a part of the canon that is classic, blue-collar American rock.
In the fall of 1975 I was six years old and in the first grade. Needless to say, I wasn’t a part of the revolution. That didn’t happen until several years later in high school. I first discovered Springsteen in early 1984, at the end of my sophomore year. A group of us would get together and, it seemed, see just how out-of-place we could be compared to the rest of our classmates. A typical afternoon would be spent throwing on an old Dylan LP, discussing which girls we’d be asking to (and not accompanying to) a school dance, and essentially being 15-going-on-40. My friend Dave, who went by Fritz to avoid confusion with two other Daves, brought a copy of The River one afternoon, and that caught my attention. I started doing a bit of research, and – upon discovering Born to Run – picked up a used copy.
Springsteen once described the first hearing of Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” as “having the door to your mind kicked open.” And so it was for me with Born to Run. The album may well not have a single weak track on it. Side One, Track One may be one of the best s-1-t-1’s ever done. My inescapable memory of “Thunder Road” is sitting in the Rosemont Horizon in July of 1984 at my first Springsteen show. The show started about twenty minutes late, there was no opening act, and suddenly the lights went down. A single harmonica riff filled the air as a spotlight illuminated the man playing it. As the recognizable riff came around, Bruce sang the first line.
“The screen door slams… Mary’s dress waves.”
That was all he sang. The entire crowd took over and sang the entire first verse through to the chorus, even splitting parts with some singing the lead and some singing the backup. We all applauded our effort and let The Boss sing lead for the rest of the show. Since that date it’s been a favorite, and not just because of the sing-a-long. It’s one of those songs that creates an image in the mind. You see a girl on the porch, you hear Roy Orbison, and you see the unsuccessful suitors chased away as the hero gets the girl. It’s damned near perfect.
The whole album is full of stories. “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” is the story of the band’s formation; think “Creeque Alley” but much cooler. “Night,” which might be the weakest track on the LP, still paints a clear picture of kids in the street being themselves.
Side Two opens with the title track. What does “Born to Run” signal to me? At the end of our sophomore year, finally tired of hearing yet another Billy Ocean record at the school sock hops, we actually convinced a DJ to play this record. It cleared the dance floor in seconds. So, we took to it – about four or five guys, singing along with the “whoa-oh-ohs” as our classmates tried to figure out just what the hell was wrong with us. I’d still throw it on at a party today.
“She’s The One” is an underrated track. It’s a love song about that elusive lover that extends just out of reach, and yet you still think that, some day, you have a shot. I can’t think of anything that sums up high school dating any better except to note that the object of the desire changes every two class periods or so.
“Meeting Across the River” was a song that I didn’t appreciate at 15, but do now. I think that speaks to the sophistication of the album; there’s always something to find and discover.
The LP finishes with “Jungleland.” If we start to make a list of artistry captured on vinyl, this is the first thing that goes on the list. It stands as an expert example of Springsteen’s writing. We get the story of the Magic Rat and all the characters that inhabit his neighborhood. I picture them all, sitting barefoot on the Dodge by the Exxon sign. You can’t not see it in your mind’s eye. Sure, it’s over seven minutes long, but the tempo changes and the story keep you riveted right up to the last verse. These four songs on Side Two represented a lot of plays in the bedroom while pretending to study.
But, of all the songs on the album, the one that stands out most for me is “Backstreets.” I’ve only been to see Springsteen twice, and each time I had hoped to hear it live. It didn’t make the cut for either show and remains my white whale. It’s yet another song about a love affair gone wrong. Actually, that’s an oversimplification: The singer and Terri are friends, but he wants it to be something more than that. They enjoy each other’s company, but Terri finds a guy, and leaves the singer to wallow in no small amount of “why not me.” Every time Bruce hits the bridge and sings “Blame it on the lies that killed us/Blame it on the truth that ran us down/You can blame it all on me Terri it don’t matter to me now,” you can feel the pain. If I had to find one song that summed up the time in high school that coincides with the time that I discovered this album, “Backstreets” would be it. Music for me has always had a time-and-place function; hear certain songs, and they become time machines. The piano solo from “Backstreets” is a trip to the summer of 1985.
See if it becomes a soft infested summer for you. You can hear “Backstreets” by clicking here.