June 4 – A Worldwide Phenomenon No Matter Where It Was From

The Boss” got promoted on this day in 1984. Bruce Springsteen put out his seventh album, the iconic (and perhaps ironic) Born In The U.S.A. While Bruce was already popular and had already famously been on the cover of Time and Newsweek simultaneously, this was the record that took him to an entirely new level of worldwide popularity.

The cover photo is iconic, being right up there with the other mega-hit of the early-to-mid ’80s, Thriller, when it comes to fame and recognition. It’s also where the irony begins. It looks about as patriotic and flag-waving as it could be – it has the flag as a backdrop after all – but hides the fact that much of the record’s message is about the problems of America in the 1980s and the woes of the ordinary American. Barry Miles noticed that discrepancy, but gave Springsteen some latitude for it. Writing in The Greatest Album Covers Of All Time, he opines “the choice of working class symbols (such as the baseball cap and Levis) rather than the symbols of corporate America reveal Springsteen’s leftward leanings and pro-working class stance.” Of course, the only leads into the title track and it’s similar dichotomy of an anthemic, in-yer-face “Born in the U.S.A.” bellowed between gritty lyrics about the country’s disregard for its veterans. Journalist Bruno MacDonald noted that as well, pointing out “millions heard the song but not all listened – then-president Ronald Reagan cited the song’s ‘message of hope’”.

The rather discouraging lyrics on songs like that one, “Glory Days” and “My Hometown” don’t stray far from the downbeat themes of the album’s predecessor, the acoustic Nebraska. But the sound itself was something entirely different – mainly loud, rocking and enthusiastic. Springsteen himself says of it, “if you look at the material…it’s actually written very much like Nebraska – the characters and their stories, the style of writing. It’s just in a rock band setting.”

Whether people heard it as a message of a middle class in decline and indifferent politicians or just a great Friday night party soundtrack, hear it they did… and buy it. It was easily the biggest of his career, hitting #1 in most major markets including his homeland (where it topped the charts for seven weeks), Canada, Australia, the UK and Germany, where he’d never even had a top 30 hit before. When all was said and done it had sold something in the range of nearly 30 million copies – about 15 times that of Nebraska. It ended up as the biggest-seller of 1984 in Canada and of 1985 in the U.S., helped along by a major world tour of huge outdoor stadiums and the many singles.

The album dropped an incredible seven singles – there were more singles than songs not released as 7” 45s on it – and more incredible, all seven hit the Billboard top 10, something only Thriller could match in the decade. From the first, the lively “Dancing In The Dark” (which went platinum as a single in both the U.S. and Canada) to the final one, “My Hometown”, the singles dominated rock radio for fully two years.

Critics at the time largely loved the album. The Village Voice picked it as the top album of 1984; LA Times gave it a 4-star rating (their highest) loving how he got his political message out to a wider audience with solid rock songs, and Rolling Stone lauded his “rowdy indomitable spirit”. It said of the songs, he “May shove his broody characters out the door” but at least “he gives them music they can pound on the dashboard to.” The same publication would rank the album among the 100 greatest of all-time nearly thirty years later calling it “immortal” and buoyed by a “Frank mix of soaring optimism and the feelings of, as he puts it, ‘being handcuffed to the bumper of a state trooper’s Ford.’” Allmusic rate it a perfect 5-stars, noting that he “remembered that he was a rock & roll star” and for the “first time… Springsteen’s characters really seemed to relish the fight and to have something to fight for. They were not defeated and they had friendship and family to defend.”

And yes,if you haven’t noticed it before, that is a young Courteney Cox he dances with in the video for “Dancing In The Dark”. Imagine how big the record would’ve been if he’d used Jennifer Aniston!


April 25 – The Boss Overcomes A Quick Session To Make A Great Record

After over 30 years performing, 13 studio albums, several of them selling well into the millions and numerous world tours, it’s understandable that an artist might want to shake things up a little and not get too comfortable in a routine. And that’s just what Bruce Springsteen did this day in 2006 with the release of We Shall Overcome : The Seeger Sessions. It was a tribute to great folk singer/songwriter Pete Seeger, and shake things up for Bruce it did.

Seeger of course was a renowned folkie in the ’60s who made the old spiritual “We Shall Overcome” a popular rallying cry and wrote a number of hits for other artists like “Turn Turn Turn” and “If I Had A Hammer.” But he also sang many old traditional tunes, and that was the part of his career The Boss wanted to highlight.

The title track had actually been recorded for a 1997, multi-artist tribute to Seeger. Apparently he mentioned doing more and with some encouragement from his daughter, curiously enough, decided to make a full album. He and his wife Patti Scialfa (of his E Street Band) rounded up a number of local session musicians, who dubbed themselves the Sessions Band, including trumpeter Mark Pender who’d played on Max Weinberg’s Tonight Show Band and violinist Soozie Firschner. They got together for just two brief sessions and recorded live. Springsteen himself at times played mandolin, tambourine and organ besides his regular guitar.

The standard edition of it (a double LP or single CD) contained 13 songs often performed by Seeger, although surprisingly enough, not written by him (although a few had been modified from their original form by Pete). They included old chestnuts like “O Mary Don’t You Weep”, “Jacob’s Ladder”, “John Henry” and even “Froggie Went A-courtin’”. It also came out in some deluxe versions which included a DVD and a few extra tracks like “Buffalo Gals.”

You can be forgiven if you didn’t notice it when it came out; Columbia didn’t release any singles off it and hence radio more or less ignored it utterly. But reviewers didn’t, and by and large it got raves. The Guardian and Rolling Stone both graded it 4-stars, Pitchfork 8.5 out of 10; Entertainment Weekly an “A-”. Uncut called it “a great teeming flood of Americana…a powerful example of how songs reverberate through the years.” Pitchfork declared it “a boisterous, spirit-raising throwdown on which The Boss tackles the tangle of war, strife, poverty and unrest without sacrificing joy.” Although there were a few dissenting voices, like The Observer which deemed it “too corny.” Later on, allmusic graded it 4.5-stars noting how quickly it was made and that it “does indeed have an unmistakably loose feel” but was still “unique” because “he has never made a record that feels as alive as this.”

Perhaps the most important opinion was that of Pete Seeger himself. The singer who was 86 at the time called it “a great honor. He’s an extraordinary person as well as an extraordinary singer.”

As for the public, considering how odd it was compared to most of his releases and its lack of single, it did quite well. It reached #3 in the U.S., Canada and Britain and actually went to #1 in Italy. The album was certified gold in both the states and Canada and an impressive double-platinum in Ireland. What’s more, it won Bruce his 14th Grammy, this one for Best Traditional Folk Album… which surprisingly he’d won once before, for The Ghost of Tom Joad in 1997.

April 14 – Turntable Talk 13 : Next Stop, Asbury Park

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! Thanks once again to all the regular readers and welcome to any new ones. If you’re keeping count, this is our 13th instalment…hopefully lucky 13! For any new readers, briefly, on Turntable Talk we have a number of guest columnists from other music sites, sounding off on one particular topic. This month, our topic is This Song’s Going Places! We’ve asked our guests to pick a song, or even album that is all about going somewhere…there’ve been tons of great songs about traveling, either geographically or mentally , not to mention ones about specific destinations. A big category, and I look forward to seeing what piqued the others imaginations.

Today we check in with Max, from Power Pop blog, where currently he’s on a well-deserved short spring break but normally he discusses great tunes from the ’60s through ’90s as well as thought-provoking sci-fi TV on a daily basis. His tastes are varied, so where will he go with this?:

After Dave asked us to write a post about traveling, it was between “Promised Land” by the Big E and this one by Bruce Springsteen. I had to go with this one: “Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street”?

This song is a journey through an enjoyable play of words. It was written about a bus journey to a girlfriend’s house. I listened to it so many times that I know every word to this day. I was surprised to see that he still plays this in concert every now and then…but you can’t beat the studio version.

I was around 19 (1986) or so when I found this album, or when the album found me, and I was going through an angry young man phase. I had just bought a 1976 Fender Musicmaster guitar (I still have it) and a black leather jacket so I was ready. The imagery flows like water with Greetings From Asbury Park, Bruce’s debut album in 1973. It’s not very polished but that adds to it. The songs have a stream-of-consciousness feel to them. It was critically praised but did not have huge sales. The album only peaked at #60 in the Billboard Album Charts.Springsteen 1973

This album is my favorite of Bruce. Yes, I love Born to Run and Darkness… along with it, but I love the wordplay in this album. I think the only song that halts the album is “Mary Queen of Arkansas”. This song is based on people and places Springsteen met in his early years as a songwriter. His father was a bus driver for a time, which helped inspire the song.

I hear some Dylan and a very strong Van Morrison influence on this album and song. It is rough and raw and unpredictable.

Wizard imps and sweat sock pimps

Interstellar mongrel nymphs

Rex said that lady left him limp

Love’s like that (sure it is)

Queen of diamonds, ace of spades

Newly discovered lovers of the Everglades

They take out a full-page ad in the trades

To announce their arrival

And Mary Lou, she found out how to cope

She rides to heaven on a gyroscope

The Daily News asks her for the dope

She said, “Man, the dope’s that there’s still hope”

Songs like this helped give Springsteen the tag ” the new Dylan” and he was the one performer who actually lived up to it…strap in and ride the Springsteen driven bus.

February 25 – Pointers Career Heated Up Thanks To The Boss

On this week in 1979, For the second time in two years, Bruce Springsteen saw one of his songs jump high into the Billboard top 10. And like the first time, it wasn’t recorded by him! Almost two years to the day since Manfred Mann hit the top with “Blinded by the Light”, the Pointer Sisters scored the biggest hit of their career to that point with their take on his song “Fire”. It hit #2 on this day 40 years ago.

Springsteen had written the song after seeing an Elvis concert and recorded it with Darkness on the Edge of Town. He liked it well enough but felt it didn’t fit into that album, so shelved it. Somehow producer Richard Perry (of Nilsson’s “Without You” fame) heard it and showed it to Oakland girl group the Pointer Sisters.

The Pointers had been around all decade long, starting as a duo of Bonnie and June, then known as Pointers a Pair, who’d sung backup for the likes of Boz Scaggs and Grace Slick. They added in two more sisters, Anita and Ruth, changed to their current moniker and got signed onto Atlantic Records. Although they had some decent success on R&B charts in the ’70s, they’d not done a whole lot on mainstream radio. They decided to change that with their late-’78 album Pure Energy. They brought in Perry to produce it, musicians including Randy Bachman, Waddy Wachtel, Toto’s David Paich (who plays keyboards on this single) and Jeff Porcaro, Elton John’s guitarist Davey Johnstone among others to work on it and covered songs like Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work”, Loggins & Messina’s “Angry Eyes”, Fleetwood Mac’s “Hypnotized”… and the Springsteen one.

It worked well. The album became their third to go gold at home, and broke through to the north in Canada, going platinum, but the real difference was this hit. The smoldering single that critic Christine Arnold notes “might well have been done by the Ronettes in the ’60s” got to #2 in the U.S., #3 in Canada (where they’d not been in the top 30 before) and topped New Zealand charts. As Anita says, it “became our first gold single…one song is played over and over all over the world. It really became a major hit for us and made a total difference in our careers.”

Indeed it did. they’d go on to notch six more top 10 singles in the ’80s with songs like “Slow Hand” and “I’m So Excited”, although that #1 rank remained elusive to them.

The Pointers continue on to this day, although with the death of Anita last New Year’s Eve, only Ruth remains of the original sisters. As for Springsteen, he’s done not too badly himself since then! And oh, the public finally did get to hear him do it himself – he released a live version of it as a single in 1987, although it only got to #46 on the charts.

February 23 – The Week The Upstart Upended The Boss

A British David vs Goliath battle of sorts this day in 1985 saw the little guy winning. That was the day The Smiths hit #1 on the album charts over there…knocking “the Boss”, Bruce Springsteen off the top. Brits were buying Meat is Murder in bigger quantities than Born in the U.S.A. that week, which is a bigger deal than it might seem at first glance.

You see, while Springsteen was an established superstar on one of the world’s biggest record labels, Columbia, The Smiths were quite new and on a tiny, indie label, Rough Trade. Britain has had its share of little, feisty indie labels as long as there’s been recorded music it seems, but they really took off when punk did, around 1977. Sort of makes sense, punk was supposedly rebelling against the establishment, so why not have a distributor that was doing the same. Or perhaps, many punk and alternative acts simply couldn’t get a deal with the biggies like Columbia, Warner Bros. or MCA. So many artists put out records on these little labels that the Official Charts began a separate chart for “indie singles” by 1980. This because, those little labels often had spotty distribution (some large chains didn’t want to be bothered stocking them, and merely shipping the records out across the whole land might have been difficult for some companies) and vastly smaller marketing budgets than the major labels did. Thankfully, there were a lot of independent record shops as well, and a few prominent media types like John Peel on the BBC who kept an ear to the ground and regularly played and promoted some of the up-and-coming acts.

The Smiths, as noted were on Rough Trade, and for you Canadians wondering, no, it wasn’t associated with Toronto punk-ish band Rough Trade but did take its name from them. It was started by Geoff Travis in 1976. Geoff at the time ran an indie record store in London’s Notting Hill district, and he seemingly had the idea of helping along some of the new acts that were customers of his put out records. Their first release was in early-’77, a single by Metal Urbain. That didn’t exactly set the sales tallies aflame, but Rough Trade was up and running. Soon after, they put out their first whole LP, Inflammable Material by Stiff Little Fingers. That one did catch on, and in fact got to #14 in the UK, a record for an indie release at the time, and sold past 100 000 copies – good enough for a gold record there. Pretty impressive for a company run from a High Fidelity-style shop! Travis also endeared himself to other indie music types by starting a distribution company that got indie records by other small labels like 4AD and Factory to the shops.

Soon after he’d signed Scritti Politti, who shared his leftist political ideas. Travis in fact tried to run Rough Trade as a co-op rather than a traditional corporation. Their fortunes were elevated greatly though when he came across and signed the Smiths in 1983. The Manchester quartet caught the public’s attention right away with the refreshing combination of Johnny Marr’s jangly guitars and Morrissey’s dour lyrics and vocal delivery. The Brit press went crazy for them, and their second single, “This Charming Man” – also on Rough Trade – went platinum.

Of course, The Smiths in-fighting kept their time in the spotlight to a few short years, and after they disbanded, Rough Trade would falter. By the end of the decade, it had gone bankrupt but Travis, never one to give up easily, resurrected it in the ’90s and had The Strokes among other acts on it.

The Smiths would have a couple more big albums, but not #1 ones, although one of their greatest hits albums did do so in 1992, but by that time Warner Bros. had their account. After Meat is Murder, the next indie album to top British charts was The Innocents by Erasure in 1988.

As for the “Goliath”, it’s probable Bruce Springsteen didn’t really notice his album dipping from #1 overseas. Although it spent one short week at #1 in the UK (though later it would return to the top that summer), it had spent seven weeks at #1 in the U.S. and was well on its way towards its 17X platinum sales there.

January 17 – Turntable Talk 10 : Words, Words, Words

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! Thanks to all the regular readers and welcome to any new ones. Briefly, on Turntable Talk we have a number of guest columns from other music fans and writers, sounding off on one particular topic. To kick it off in 2023, our topic is They’re a Poet Don’t You Know It... we look at a song that made a great impact on our contributors for its lyrics.

Today we finish up the topic with a few thoughts (or maybe more than a few) from me at A Sound Day.

First, I’d like to thank all seven of our guest writers who took part and each added some very interesting thoughts on the topic and a truly diverse range of songwriters that spanned the musical landscape from international superstars to British beat poets to heavy metal icons. I think we all learned a bit about at least one or two acts we might not have known, or came to look at them through new and improved eyes.

To me, lyrics are something I usually notice and the good ones really make me take note and admire the work. Guess it follows since ever since school, I’ve gravitated towards writing – short stories, longer works, magazine-style articles, blogs like this – and when I very briefly, in high school, fancied becoming a musician I mostly wrote lyrics. I had no aptitude for putting together melodies and was mediocre at best trying to play keyboards, but I had at least some sense of how to put words together.

That’s not to say I only like songs with great lyrics. Far from it. Some of my favorite artists have songs that seem either meaningless or so oblique as to be mysteries, but I still love the music. I admit too, many songs I love I don’t even know the lyrics to – if I happen upon a TV music site or similar that displays the lyrics as the song plays I often find myself going “Really!? That’s what they’re saying?” But if a song has a great sound and great lyrics, well that’s something that catches my attention.

If I was assigned the same thing I asked my guests to do this time, I would have had a terrible problem picking just one. There are so many truly outstanding songs with impactful lyrics out there. Some of the ones which quickly came to mind included Bruce Springsteen, who was picked by Max for “The River”, and what to me was the standout on his massive Born in the USA “My Hometown”. Man, there are a lot of people who lived in cities like the one he tells of, and those who didn’t, certainly had driven through them… “now Main Street’s whitewashed windows and vacant stores, seems like there ain’t nobody wants to come down here no more/ theyre closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks, foreman says ‘these jobs are going boys, and they ain’t coming back…” Perfectly encapsulates the despair of so many fading towns and the people who feel stuck in them.

Then there was his rural counterpart, as I think of him, John Mellencamp, who right about the same time, 1985, was ranting on behalf of the poor small farmers, having so much difficulty holding their heads above water in “Rain on the Scarecrow” : “crops that grew last summer, weren’t enough to pay the loan; couldn’t buy the seed to plant this spring and the farmer’s bank foreclosed/ called old friend Schepman up to auction off the land, he said ‘John it’s just my job, and I hope you understand’/ ‘well calling it your job Ol’ Hoss, sure don’t make it right, but if you want me to I’ll say a prayer for your soul tonight…” Kind of made you look at those rural corn and chicken 40-acre plots differently when you drove by them, didn’t it?

Continuing on the concept of celebrating the “losers” or at least those who have it rough, were one of my favorite bands, Toronto’s Blue Rodeo, who kind of hit you out of the gates with the title track of their debut, Outskirts. It starts “here, on the outskirts of life, dreams seldom come true”. Well, you get an idea you’re going to meet some interesting characters and not hear much of caviar and Rolls Royces don’t you? And feel like it will be an interesting ride. And it put me in mind of another beloved Ontarian, Gordon Lightfoot. Would anyone remember that ship the Edmund Fitzgerald if he hadn’t set its sorry last voyage to music ? “The legend lives on from the Chipewa on down of the big lake they call Gitchee Gummee, the lake it is said never gives up her dead, when the skies of November turn gloomy…” We actually studied the song in English class when I was about 12 years old; I can recite those lyrics more or less to this day, something I sure can’t say about any Shakespeare we read.

While some of those North American musicians can come across very seriously in songs like those, some of their British counterparts have a way of being just as snarky but doing so with a sense of humor. After I watched the interviews with Harry and Megan recently, I thought of Joe Jackson’s 1979 hatchet job on the British tabloids, “Sunday Papers” : “mother’s wheelchair stays out in the hall, why should she go out when the TV’s on?/ whatever moves beyond these walls, she’ll know the facts when Sunday comes along…”

There are so many songs that stand out to me for their lyrics, my pick would change from day to day. I considered Steve Earle’s brilliant look into the mind of an Appalachian rebel, “Copperhead Road.” And Aussie Midnight Oil’s scathing opinion of the mining industry “Blue Sky Mine.” And Don Henley’s time-out from all those cocaine-fueled parties of the ’70s with the Eagles sober look at California, “The Last Resort” : “some man came and raped the land, nobody caught him/ put up a bunch of ugly boxes, and Jesus people bought ’em…” And I didn’t forget the fantastic autobiographical wonder of Gerry Rafferty, “Baker Street” nor Dire Straits whimsical “Industrial Disease.”

But today I’ll leave you with one of the ’80s great surprise hits, a comeback of sorts that their record company didn’t want out as a single . A humorous yet touching bit of nostalgia and family life courtesy Ray Davies, the fine frontman of the Kinks. His tribute to his late elder sister Rene, who loved to dance when she was young and carefree. “Come Dancing” became the Kinks biggest North American hit in over 15 years. These somewhat autobiographical lyrics of Ray’s deserve a second look:

They put a parking lot on a piece of land
When the supermarket used to stand
Before that they put up a bowling alley
On the site that used to be the local pally
That’s where the big bands used to come and play
My sister went there on a Saturday
Come dancing
All her boyfriends used to come and call
Why not come dancing, it’s only natural
Another Saturday, another date
She would be ready but she’s always make him wait
In the hallway, in anticipation
He didn’t know the night would end up in frustration
He’d end up blowing all his wages for the week
All for a cuddle and a peck on the cheek
Come dancing
That’s how they did it when I was just a kid
And when they said come dancing
My sister always did
My sister should have come in a midnight
And my mom would always sit up and wait
It always ended up in a big row
When my sister used to get home late Out of my window I can see them in the moonlight
Two silhouettes saying goodnight by the garden gate
The day they knocked down the pally
My sister stood and cried
The day they knocked down the pally
Part of my childhood died, just died
Now I’m grown up and playing in a band
And there’s a car park where the pally used to stand
My sister’s married and she lives on an estate
Her daughters go out, now it’s her turn to wait
She knows they get away with things she never could
But if I asked her I wonder if she would
Come dancing
Come on sister, have yourself a ball
Don’t be afraid to come dancing
It’s only natural
Come dancing
Just like the pally on a Saturday
And all her friends will come dancing
Where the big bands used to play

Songwriters: Ray Davies

Come Dancing lyrics © BMG Rights Management

January 13 – Turntable Talk 10 : This River Wasn’t Exactly One Of Dreams

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! Thanks to all the regular readers and welcome to any new ones. Briefly, on Turntable Talk we have a number of guest columns from other music fans and writers, sounding off on one particular topic. To kick it off in 2023, our topic is They’re a Poet Don’t You Know It... we look at a song that made a great impact on our contributors for its lyrics.

Today we have Max from Power Pop Blog. There he gives us a great song or two daily with a great writeup, and coming soon apparently an episode-by-episode look at Star Trek. Will he pick a great power pop song, or might he go where no man has gone before?

Dave stated, “I just want you to pick one song that you think has fantastic lyrics, or one you like because of the lyrics, and say a bit about why you love it.”

I went through many songs to get to this one. Dylan songs mostly before I realized this one hit home. This was the title track to Bruce Springsteen’s 1980 double album The River. I picked this song because it is so easy to relate to. I’ve known friends who have lived this song. This is not a party starter song by any stretch of the imagination. The lyrics are downright sad because they are so damn real. It contains one of my favorite Springsteen lines “And for my nineteenth birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat.

I grew up in a small town with a population of around a thousand or so at the time. The jobs there were dead end jobs and the pay was even worse. I saw a cycle even at an early age by seeing parents and their kids doing the same thing generation after generation. It was enough inspiration for me to explore and find new things…and to get out. Some of my friends never made it out. They are doing now what they swore they wouldn’t do before.

I saw my sister get into the same position as the Mary character in the song. It ended many years later in a divorce but at least she is happy now so there are good endings! Her son was the best thing that happened to her. The funny thing is I ended up moving back near that town but I’m doing what I want to be doing not in a job or rut that I hate. Some of my old friends are not in that position.

I came to realize…it wasn’t the location at all. It was and still is a nice small town. No that wasn’t it. It was the lack of expectations at the time set upon everyone that made it seem pre-ordained for bad choices to happen.

The wedding in the song relates to Springsteen’s sister, who got married when she was still a teenager. She knew it was about her and her husband the first time she heard it. It was also based on conversations Springsteen had with his brother-in-law. After losing his construction job, he worked hard to support his wife and young child but never complained.

The songs lyrics are outstanding. Even the opening lines are so close to how I grew up. I did grow up in a valley. I come from down in the valley,
Where mister when you’re young, They bring you up to do like your daddy done.

It’s so easy to relate to. I’m sure many people can relate to this song with completely different circumstances than me.

Bruce saves the best for last though. He is talking about the dreams we have when we are younger about what we are going to do in life until life wakes you up with a bang.

Now those memories come back to haunt me
They haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true
Or is it something worse

The song didn’t chart in America or Canada but did make it to #35 in the UK. The album was #1 in the Billboard album charts, #1 in Canada, and #2 in the UK.

The River

I come from down in the valley
Where mister when you’re young
They bring you up to do like your daddy done
Me and Mary we met in high school
When she was just seventeen
We’d ride out of that valley down to where the fields were green

We’d go down to the river
And into the river we’d dive
Oh down to the river we’d ride

Then I got Mary pregnant
And man that was all she wrote
And for my nineteenth birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat
We went down to the courthouse
And the judge put it all to rest
No wedding day smiles no walk down the aisle
No flowers no wedding dress

That night we went down to the river
And into the river we’d dive
Oh down to the river we did ride

I got a job working construction for the Johnstown Company
But lately there ain’t been much work on account of the economy
Now all them things that seemed so important
Well mister they vanished right into the air
Now I just act like I don’t remember
Mary acts like she don’t care

But I remember us riding in my brother’s car
Her body tan and wet down at the reservoir
At night on them banks I’d lie awake
And pull her close just to feel each breath she’d take
Now those memories come back to haunt me
They haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true
Or is it something worse
That sends me down to the river
Though I know the river is dry
That sends me down to the river tonight
Down to the river
My baby and I
Oh down to the river we ride

December15 – Santa Came Early For Springsteen

Santa Claus came to town a year ago for Bruce Springsteen. It was on this day in 2021 he and Columbia Records/CBS seemed to finalize a deal selling them the rights to his entire music catalog to that point… for a cool $500 million, or perhaps a little more! It capped off a year of spending by Columbia that tallied over $1 billion, with them doing similar deals with Paul Simon and other artists. Meanwhile Bob Dylan and Stevie Nicks were among the artists who’d made similar (but smaller) sales to their record companies. The New York Times reported the Springsteen deal was “the biggest transaction ever struck for a single artist’s body of work.”

I am an artist who can truly say that when I signed with Columbia Records in 1972, I came to the right place,” Springsteen said, adding “I’m thrilled that my legacy will continue to be cared for by the company and people I know and trust.”

There were two parts to the deal, Springsteen’s recorded music back catalog and his songwriting/publishing credits. Thus any copies of say, Born in the U.S.A. that sell in the future will give money only to Columbia, not “the Boss”, and every time someone streams “Hungry Heart”, they too get the money. And it gives Columbia the right to license out his music for use in TV, movie and ads and take in the revenue. Potentially insiders say Springsteen could have raked in even more money from those sources, but hey, when you’re 72, financially comfortable (to say the least), why not take the one-time winfall and enjoy it while you still can, not to mention have a lot less paperwork to deal with in the future collecting royalties? Besides, he’ll still make money on any future music he releases and from any tours.

It makes a lot of sense from Bruce’s standpoint, but one might raise an eyebrow over how beneficial it is to CBS. No one doubts Springsteen’s impact and popularity – 17 different platinum-selling albums in the States including Born in the U.S.A., which has sold beyond 17 million there alone – and a great run of songs still popular on rock radio and streaming services from “Born to Run” to “Tunnel of Love” and the perennial Christmas favorite, “Santa Claus is Coming To Town.” But still, in an age of rapidly declining sales of hard copy music like CDs and even LPs and reduced listenership to radio, one might think it seems a quickly declining source of revenue for the large companies. The days of people rushing to stores and buying albums, old or new, in the millions seems long gone. And it takes a lot of plays for streaming services or Youtube to really generate money for the artist – Spotify, for example, pays about half a cent for each time a song is streamed. But, with over 400 million users, most using it daily, that can add up! This deal (and the others, including $300 million for Dylan’s catalog) suggest there is still a lot of money to be made in music. It just arguably is finding its way into fewer and fewer hands.

As for The Boss, he did indeed come up with a new record, Only the Strong Survive, an album of cover songs, last month.

November 22 – Little Steven’s Big Career

Every great boss needs some fine workers answering to him. So today we salute one of Bruce Springsteen’s finest, Steve Van Zandt. “Little Steven” turns 72 today! Guitarist, singer, writer, activist, actor, producer, radio executive… Van Zandt isn’t ready to be put out to pasture anytime soon.

Although he was born in Massachusetts, his family had moved to New Jersey when Steve was truly “little”. Like so many other kids of the ’60s, he was inspired by seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and soon after that formed his first band, in high school. He met Springsteen in a club watching a band when he was around 16 or so. Although he found a little success in his role with Jersey band Southside Johnny & the Asbury Dukes, his big break was getting back together with his friend “The Boss” in 1975. He helped Bruce come up with the guitar sound for “Born to Run”, and joined the E Street Band – Bruce’s backing musicians – to tour for the Born to Run album in ’75-76. He quickly took the role of being the main lead guitarist, and at times adding some horn bits, and by 1980 helped produce The River.

While working with Bruce much of the time since then, Steve and his Hawaiian shirts and bandanas ventured into solo work in the ’80s, with limited success at home despite putting out seven studio albums. He did have fleeting success in Scandinavia in the ’80s, with his Voice of America album being a top 10 hit there as was the single “Out of the Darkness.” Which perhaps explains the fact that he recently co-wrote and starred in the Netflix series Lilyhammer, a show set in Norway about an aging Mafia boss in hiding. Which kind of takes up where The Sopranos left off; he had an ongoing role in that show as Jersey strip club owner Silvio. And yes, his wife in that one, Maureen Santoro, is his real-life wife. Springsteen was his best man at the wedding.

If not working with Springsteen, promoting his own music or acting as a mafioso, Van Zandt’s kept busy at times touring with Bon Jovi, producing Gary U.S. Bonds and Arc Angels albums and playing with Lone Justice and Jackson Browne from time to time. And running his own record label, Wicked Cool Records. Not to mention his ongoing syndicated radio show, Little Steven’s Underground Garage, which he began in 2002. That helped him start two different satellite radio stations on Sirius. And much like his best man, he has a conscience too. Steven started the ’80s act Artists United Against Apartheid, which put out the single “Sun City” to protest South African racial policies and now runs a non-profit called Teach Rock, which helps educate kids and put music in context of other studies. If that’s a lot to keep track of, you could try going through his memoir, Unrequited Infatuations, which he published last year.

Whew! We hope he finds time to blow out the candles on that cake today… and continues to enjoy a few more “Glory days.”

September 23 – Billy’s Experiment In Nylon

The two of them might not love it, but many of us seem to lump today’s birthday boy, Bruce Springsteen (wishing him a happy 73 today!)  and Billy Joel together in the same sort of musical box. Here we like both so it doesn’t seem to be much of an insult to me, but I digress. Anyway, both singer/songwriters came to prominence in the mid-’70s, emerged from the greater New York area and were quintessential blue collar musical heroes, singing about the ordinary people they knew and respected. And by 1982 we thought we had them both pegged when they both took a hard left turn and came out with surprisingly downbeat and different-sounding records. On this day, Joel released his eighth studio album, The Nylon Curtain. A week later, Springsteen gave us his acoustic Nebraska.

Anyway, Joel’s The Nylon Curtain was something of a polarizing album. After delivering his most rock & roll-oriented, fun-loving Glass Houses in 1980, this one was a deeper but more challenging release. The short story – critics loved it, fans more or less panned it. But there’s more to it than that.

Joel was looking around America and wasn’t optimistic about what he was seeing. It was, after all, an era of inflation, unemployment, a growing chasm between the Wall Street rich and the ordinary workers in the companies they owned, fear about the Cold War… “It was during the Reagan years and… all of a sudden, you weren’t going to be able to inherit the (lifestyle) your old man had,” Joel remembers. Curiously, he was also listening to mid-era Beatles a lot at the time. Thus The Nylon Curtain came to be, an album Rolling Stone considered his most ambitious.

The album is a loosely thematic look at the U.S. in decline through the eyes of a blue collar Baby Boomer. Although the first single was the jarring “Pressure” and it contained a few missteps, like the “venomous” (in the words of Rolling Stone again) “Laura” about a guy who hates his girlfriend but realizes “living alone isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be” either, and perhaps the experimental “Scandinavian Skies” which he says was directly influenced by the sound of Beatles singles like “I Am the Walrus”, it contains some very good material and two of his best – and most under-rated – tunes: “Allentown” and “Goodnight Saigon”.

The former was actually inspired by a trip he paid tt Bethlehem, PA but that name didn’t fit the song structure as well. Regardless, it described any number of “Rust Belt” cities and the unfortunate workers caught in the changing times and closing factories. Rolling Stone applauded the “tune, language and singing are all brazenly direct” and felt it “could be a scene from The Deer Hunter set to music.” The mayor of Allentown, PA was impressed enough to give Joel the keys to the city next time he played there.

Goodnight Saigon” is a haunting, 7-minute epic complete with helicopter and cricket sounds (the Beatles experimentation rubbing off) that Rolling Stone called “the ultimate pop music epitaph to the Vietnam war”… “a stunner”. The piece about the band of brothers trained on Parris Island shipped out to the horrors of the Asian war with only their Doors tapes and Playboy who’d “All go down together” indeed is one of the most compelling musical takes on the reality of war and one of Billy’s best achievements.

People magazine approved, saying “Joel jackknifes (sic) into adulthood (with) a striking cycle of nine songs about the current plight of boomed babies” which are “vintage Joel with clever hooks.”

For all that, the public wasn’t nearly as enthusiastic. While by no means a flop, it was his least-successful release since 1976, selling less than even 1981’s compilation of live tunes and outtakes, Songs in the Attic. At home in the U.S. it charted to #7 and went double platinum; it topped out at #12 in Canada and only #27 across the sea in the UK. Somehow though, it did hit #1 in the Netherlands. The singles “Pressure” and “Allentown” both it the top 20 in the States, his 10th and 11th such hits, and “Allentown” although it never got higher than #17 on the weekly charts, had such enduring popularity that it was among the 50 biggest records of the year. “Goodnight Saigon” was released as a third single, but being 7 minutes, lacking a normal kind of verse/chorus structure and being about the horrors of war, was a tough sell in a time of happy synthesizers, safety dances and Duran Duran playing with bikini-clad models on yachts.

For it all, Joel says the album is “the recording I’m most proud of.” And he rebounded very nicely the next year with his more upbeat An Innocent Man which catapulted him back to the top. (Springsteen’s fate with his Nebraska similar and he too bounced back with the multi-million selling Born in the USA less than two years down the road.)