Thursday, January 29, 2015

How Do You Pick Your Bruce Songs?

FranT and I wanted to have a draft of Bruce Springsteen songs, but it needed some parameters. Top 10? Top 20? 50? Our decisions needed consequences, and every pick had to matter.

So we decided to take one song each from Bruce's Top 5 Albums according to a Rolling Stone reader poll, along with an extra pick from Born in the U.S.A., which was No. 6. It left plenty of classics unmentioned, but we felt the only way to get a draft done in under a year was with some limitations. Here's how it went down...

BK - "Atlantic City" (Nebraska)
I'll start her off. For my Nebraska selection, I'll take "Atlantic City." Favorite line: "So I drew what I had from the Central Trust/ And I bought us two tickets on that Coast City Bus."
FT - "Rosalita" (The Wild, the Innocent & The E Street Shuffle)
Aw, nuts! I love that song. I think I listened to it about 48 times in the week leading up to our buddy Jim's bachelor party in A.C. I guess I'll hold off on my Nebraska selection so I can get the first crack at another album.

Since there are only seven songs on The Wild, the Innocent & The E Street Shuffle, I'm going to jump on "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)." The thing I love about that song is that it's just seven minutes of that quintessential Springsteen energy. He was only 24 when he released it, and his youthful passion carries the listener on a roller coaster ride. Rosie's mommy might not like Bruce 'cause he plays in a rock-and-roll band, but I'm glad that's the path he chose.

BK - "Badlands" (Darkness on the Edge of Town)
That's the clear pick off of that album for sure. Whatever song I get will be the Keith Van Horn to Rosalita's Tim Duncan. Another of my favorite lines is "My tires were slashed and I almost crashed but the Lord had mercy/ My machine she's a dud I'm stuck in the mud somewhere in the swamps of Jersey."

But next, I'm going to use my Darkness on the Edge of Town pick on "Badlands." Perhaps one of the best intros of any Bruce song, as most of his tunes tend to build up but this one just comes out swinging from the one-second mark. Favorite part: "Poor man wanna be rich/ Rich man wanna be king/ Rich man ain't satisfied til he's got everything/ I wanna go out tonight I wanna find out what I got." I feel you, Bruce. Normally I find I don't got much, but I always want to find that out, too. 
FT - "The River" (The River)
It ain't no sin to be glad you're alive, right?

For The River, I'm going to take the title track. Bruce elicits such sadness with his harmonica and the lyrics are actually based on the relationship between his sister and his brother-in-law. "The River" is the song I always think of when I imagine Bruce as a blue-collar guy in some alternate reality.
BK - "Jungleland" (Born to Run)
Yeah, it's heartbreaking but just incredible stuff, like "Then I got Mary pregnant, and that was all she wrote/ And for my 19th birthday, I got a union card and a wedding coat."

I'm going to grab from the only album yet to be covered, and take "Jungleland" from Born to Run. I swear I'm not just trying to be cool by not picking "Born to Run." "Jungleland" is one of the best Bruce songs in terms of that New York/New Jersey mythology that he basically created out of nothing, and yet that always makes perfect sense in his songs. 
FT - "Glory Days" (Born in the U.S.A.)
I want to say something snarky about you taking another song ahead of "Born to Run" and "Thunder Road." But "Jungleland" is awesome, especially the sax solo by the late Clarence Clemons. Experts said that the 2014 NBA Draft was stacked, but this Springsteen one has it beat. I'd compare drafting off the Born to Run album to NFL teams choosing among Elway, Marino, and Jim Kelly in the 1983 Draft. You just can't lose.

We'll get back to Born to Run in a little bit, though, because we actually omitted Born in the U.S.A. (Gotta love the sixth man!) I'm going to take "Glory Days." I don't care that it's a little corny the 400th time I listen to it. The older I get, the more I see that it's true how so many people try to cling to years past. It's especially true for athletes who never quite made it. And speaking of athletes, Bruce's baseball-playing in the Glory Days music video is high comedy. 
BK - "4th of July, Asbury Park" (The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle)
Ah, the trusty 6th man. Not going to send mine in just yet. I'm going to take the obvious choice left on the board for The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle: "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)." This is probably the worst day of the year to talk about a 4th of July anthem as it's currently 7 degrees out, but I guess it's fun to think of warmer times.

How about this line: "Sandy that waitress I was seein lost her desire for me." Only Bruce would talk to his current love interest about his previous one and still get away with it and sound cool. Anyone else would just sound like a jerk or a brooding loser. 
FT - "Born to Run" (Born to Run)
Every time I hear "Sandy," I think of us as 19-year-olds playing it over and over on a boat CD player at 2 a.m. on Fourth of July weekend.

For my first pick of the second round, I'll suck it up and make a decision about the Born to Run album. After much deliberation, I think I'm going to take "Born to Run" over "Thunder Road." They're my two favorite Bruce songs, so I hated making this decision. "Born to Run" gets the nod because every time I hear it, I want to listen to it again right away. Midway through Bruce's "Uh-oh-oh-oh-oh..." closing, I want to hear the song's car metaphors, "1-2-3-4!" lyric, and pulsing drums all over again. 
BK - "Hungry Heart" (The River)
"Born to Run" vs. "Thunder Road" is one of the great rock debates. Fitting that they each lead off their respective "sides" of that album, when that was still a thing. 

Getting down to the wire here. My penultimate pick is from The River. Flirted with "Sherry Darling," but couldn't turn away from "Hungry Heart." I have no idea what "Kingstown" is, and I doubt I am supposed to, but I do know that I feel sad and weird when he says "Now here I am down in Kingstown again." Man.

FT - "Nebraska" (Nebraska)
Apparently, Bruce originally wrote "Hungry Heart" for The Ramones, but it seems like so much more of a Springsteen tune to me.

My last two picks will come from Nebraska and Darkness on the Edge of Town. Let's tackle Nebraska first. I'm going to be lame and take the title track on this one, too. The song "Nebraska" is one of Bruce's most depressing, with lyrics telling the mostly true story of a Lincoln couple's killing spree in 1958. But "Nebraska" is weirdly beautiful, too, and I don't just mean because of Bruce's melancholy voice or the hypnotizing guitar and harmonica music. It's beautiful because of what it reveals about human nature. Using a murderer of 11 people as his narrator, Spingsteen attributes all those heinous crimes to the idea that there is "just a meanness in this world." Most of us could never justify murder, but we do often attribute our immoral actions to factors beyond our control. Bruce hits on that fact in "Nebraska" in a way that I'll never be able to describe as well in writing. Just go listen to the song and have a good cry.
BK - "Dancing in the Dark" (Born in the U.S.A.)
Another great Bruce original is Patti Smith's "Because The Night."

Going to my bench late here, but I'm throwing in "Dancing in the Dark" from Born in the U.S.A. I couldn't take the title track. It's iconic and politically loaded and historically significant and a host of other things, but it always bothered me a little bit how people sing it blindly every summer without much thought for its complex nature. Maybe that's the point. But anyway, I'm going to avoid that can of worms entirely and keep it fun and safe...or at least as fun and safe as "Dancing in the Dark" allows. This rounds out my group of songs nicely because I missed the boat on "Rosalita," "Thunder Road," and "Born to Run." And while I would not put this song on that level, it fills in as my "upbeat invitation to chase some wild romantic adventure" Bruce song. 
FT - "The Promised Land" (Darkness on the Edge of Town)
I agree with your pick of "Dancing in the Dark" over "Born in the USA." "Dancing in the Dark" was the safe pick there, like choosing Kevin Durant over Greg Oden in 2007.

With my last selection, I'll take "The Promised Land" from Darkness on the Edge of Town. Although the song was originally released in Europe, I feel like it's very much about what it means to be an American. Even more to the point -- for a Bruce fan -- it's about what it means to be a blue-collar, hardworking American. The pieces about being a man and not a boy also mirror Springsteen's real-life maturity by that point.

So whose team of six would you rather have? What would your top selection be from each of these albums? Let us know in the poll on the side of the page.

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Follow FranT on Twitter at @frantweet and follow Brian Kavanaugh at @btkav

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