Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Ghost of Tom Joad


Welcome to Day 10 of our 12-day examination of the 12 songs on Bruce Springsteen's new album, High Hopes. As we indicated at the start, rather than a straight review, we're having a running dialogue based around each song as we listen to it. 

So. Day 10, Song 10: "The Ghost of Tom Joad."


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Dan Tapper
Ghosts!!!
Scott Peterson
Hey, the album's about to get good again. Is this the most backloaded album he's ever done?
Born in the USA. Maybe The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle. Otherwise, I'm going to say it is.
Dan Tapper
Backloaded...you mean dipping back in years?
Scott Peterson
No, I mean, most albums used to front load the hits and such. Put your strongest up top. His have always been more balanced. But maybe not so much here.
Dan Tapper
OH! Um...I think Wild is.
But this is close. Magic, too.
Scott Peterson
When you think about what he plays off any given album, it's often from the beginning or the corners.
I mean, I think most of the stuff he plays regularly off The Rising is from the first side (if it's a four lp set), plus the title track, for instance.
Dan Tapper
I'm really interested to see what he incorporates off this album into his live sets this coming tour. Does he do a lot of it? Only a couple? Interested to see.
Scott Peterson
Interesting about Magic. Hm. 
I think even more interesting is what he's still playing by the end of the tour, as well as subsequent tours. That often disappoints me, when artists—and he's not nearly as bad as, say, Eric Clapton, in this regard—play almost an entire album on the supporting tour, and then not one thing from it's heard on subsequent tours. I mean, I get it: you need to push the current record, and with each album you have a larger catalog to choose from and choices have to be made, and how are you not going to play, say, "Born to Run" or "Layla" or whatever. 
Dan Tapper
He plays 4 Rising tracks with regularity anymore: "Lonesome Day," "Waiting on a Sunny Day," "The Rising" and "My City of Ruin." And after he played nearly the entire Magic album on that tour, he doesn't play anything regularly from that album anymore. "Radio Nowhere" gets the most play still. And then maybe "Girls in Their Summer Clothes." But nothing regularly. And certainly nothing as regularly as, say, "Sunny Day."
Scott Peterson
You know there was one show on the Reunion tour, I think it was, where he didn't play a single Born in the USA song?
Dan Tapper
Working on a Dream tour started with, I think, 4 songs. And by the end of the tour was down to 2.
Wow—not one? Not even "Dancing in the Dark?"
Scott Peterson
Not even "Dancing in the Dark." Oddly, when I said the title track to The Rising just now, I was actually thinking of "My City of Ruin," oddly. True story. I don't know what that means. But I think my theory has utterly collapsed. Newman! 
Dan Tapper
When did you last see him? Working tour?
Scott Peterson
Yeah. I tried to get tickets for the Wrecking Ball shows but even with both of us trying on different computers and in different browsers, couldn't get anything that didn't suck. And I just couldn't afford to spend hundreds of dollars and lose a few days of work in order to go to a concert where I couldn't even really see him, you know? 
Dan Tapper
I do. I asked because the Working tour was the one and only time I've seen him do this next song live. In any form. But in Boston 2009 he did this version that we're about to hear. I'd only heard Rage Against the Machine do it this way up to that point.
Scott Peterson
I saw him do it—solo and acoustic, of course—on the Tom Joad tour in Wallingford. That was it. He and Morello played it in LA...either the night before or the night after I saw him there, I forget which. Great sadness was mine.
Dan Tapper
As well it should have been! As I mentioned a few days ago, I had trepidation of "American Skin" appearing on this album. I had none with "The Ghost of Tom Joad." I was excited as hell to hear it with studio polish.
Scott Peterson
I'm going to say, before we listen, that he'd played an electric version on the Reunion tour a few times. Which was good, but was nowhere near being in the same league as the electric "Youngstown."
Dan Tapper
See, I'd never heard it at all until that night in Boston. Interesting!
Scott Peterson
The Reunion tour version was...much more polite than the Reunion "Youngstown." It was essentially the same arrangement as the LP, just with some more instruments. Kinda country. 
Dan Tapper
And the electric "Youngstown" is one of the best live songs he's ever done, BTW.
Scott Peterson
But with Morello....
Yes. His electric "Youngstown" is indeed electric. And incendiary.


Dan Tapper
Soozie!
Scott Peterson
This opens kinda like the live opening of "Lost in the Flood" at first.
Dan Tapper
Nice little touch from her at the start. His voice is great.
Scott Peterson
Not the same 'tude vocally as the original LP version.
Dan Tapper
What I love is we know what's going to happen in a few moments, but the tension in having to wait for it is great.
Scott Peterson
No Garry yet again. 
Dan Tapper
Poor Garry.
Here we go!
Scott Peterson
Interesting choice of Tom's, to go down on the last line of his first verse.
Dan Tapper
I love the way Morello sings. He pays the song such reverence—you can tell how much this song means to him.
Harmonies here just knock me out.
Scott Peterson
Did I just hear Bruce yell in the background right before they start singing together?
Dan Tapper
I love that! He does it at both times. He's excited!
Scott Peterson
I find it odd just how good a harmony singer Bruce is, considering he's been the sole lead singer for decades.
Dan Tapper
And this solo. This solo.
Scott Peterson
You know, is the first solo Bruce? I think it is. Neither of them is listed as lead guitar.
Dan Tapper
It's really 3 solos coming here, y'know? First is straight melody line, not unlike Bruce's on "The Rising." And then the second...just wow.
Scott Peterson
I feel like it's 4 solos, with the 4th overlapping the 3rd.
Dan Tapper
Yes, I think that's Bruce on the 1st and them Tom on the next two doing a Hendrix impression (somewhat)
Oh! Inneresting! 
And then...near silence before the final verse. Awesome.
Scott Peterson
Yeah, just that sweet pickin'.
Dan Tapper
Again, listen to Tom's vocals. He takes ownership, almost. He seems to really love what he's singing.
These two are having a ball singing this.
And now this is all Morello, right?
Scott Peterson
This is so very much all Tom.
One of the things I really appreciate about Brendan O'Brien's production—not on this, but for taking over for a few years—is that he got Max to really open up on the hi-hat. 
Dan Tapper
What I think I appreciate most about this version of the song is it really never needed to be done. I mean, right? "The Ghost of Tom Joad" in its original acoustic packaging in 1995 was a Top 50 Bruce Springsteen song, a song filled with importance and meaning that achieved exactly what he had hoped. Same went for "Youngstown." So for it to work in full-blown rock mode, it kinda had to go that extra mile. It does just that. It did when the band performed it on past tours, and it works here. And Tom Morello, who clearly loved this song with all he's got, brings exactly what he thinks is needed to the table, right up through that dizzying solo at the end. That's why this song works so well. It didn't have to be done. Yet it was. And it worked beautifully.


***
COMING TOMORROW—TRACK 11 FROM HIGH HOPES: "The Wall"

10 comments:

  1. Disclaimer: The last time I saw Springsteen - indeed the only time -- is on the Magic tour. So Girls in Their Summer Clothes is one of my favorite songs.

    Oh, my GOD, when the guitars come in before Bruce can even complete singing the title, it sends chills down my spine. Like the raw heat and pain of the song can't even wait, a primal scream that refuses to obey song structures....

    The solos sound like they were coached by Neil Young. In fact, can we petition to have Neil join them to play this song?

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  2. I have to disagree with Dan, though. I think this version of the song HAD to be done.

    I think Morello made it his mission to reconnect Springsteen to his power and passion and fire. And I think it works SO MUCH BETTER in full blown rock mode, rather than the Nebraska mode.

    Of course, I love loud pain songs.

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  3. Again, the chills come in (not the NZ band) whenever the two of them sing "waiting for the ghost of old Tom Joad" over the squalling guitars.

    Gosh, it works so much better in Sonic Youth Mode.

    ...wait, can we get Thurston to join Neil, Bruce and Tom? Cuz I will go wherever necessary to see THAT.

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  4. Looked, I warned you I was going to go Zardoz on this song (check with Ol Really Small Fish for explanation. Otherwise, just ride along).

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  5. Agree, though, that Tom Morello pulled a lifetime highlight out of his muse to make this one happen and work.

    I like Rage, and I like Morello's solo work, but after this I love the man with a love that is illegal in Utah. Next time he comes through, I am so there, just to shake his hand...

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    Replies
    1. I like Rage, and I like Morello's solo work, but after this I love the man with a love that is illegal in Utah.

      Morello is amazing. His voice! Holy shit, I had no idea. What a song.

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  6. Sweet FSM I will just listen to it AGAIN.

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  7. For me, this song justifies every other thing on the entire album.

    Although reading through your comments for the other songs, it seems that you guys, after initially kind of dismissing the "Bruce 'n' sods" approach, find much to like, even love, about these Hopes of High.

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  8. One other, other, other thing. Springsteen has to have tons of respect for Morello, as well as comfort in his own ego, to let Tom re-build this song so completely, even letting the long coda solo be Tom.

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