Monday, June 30, 2014

Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)

Sure, you might think a young R.E.M. playing a great version of one of their earliest songs is the highlight of this clip.

You'd think. And then you'd actually watch and see that the internet commenter who said
"The audience members apparently learned to dance from A Charlie Brown Christmas"
was right on the money. I mean, seriously, I think I see Pig Pen in the back.

I believe, incidentally, in the original script, those dance moves are known as secret stigma, reaping wheel, diminish, and poster torn. True story.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Arthur's Theme

There've been a spate of articles over the past year or two talking about the death of the very concept of the guilty pleasure. When it comes to art and/or entertainment, you like what you like and no need to apologize for it: if it brings you pleasure, no need for guilt.

I could not agree more.

Except when it comes to Christopher Cross.

Look, I like a lot of stuff that used to be considered by most people of discernment as bad: Genesis, Yes, Barry Manilow, the Carpenters, Air Supply, Eric Clapton, Wings. Most (although very much not all) of those have had their reputations restored, to a greater or lesser degree, over the years. Through it all I pretty much just shrugged, sometimes offering a reasoned defense and sometimes just explaining that the heart wants what the heart wants.

And it's true.

Except when it comes to Christopher Cross.

His music is simply bad. Never mind that the lyrics tend to be trite and clunky—even the gist of an idea behind the lyrics is often terrible. (Sailing! He had a hit about sailing! The next time anyone complains about music today and how much better it used to be, there's your trump card counterargument right there. You win.) ((Although I do have a serious soft spot for "Think of Laura," so maybe this entire piece is void and null.)) His voice, singing melodies that are undeniably catchy, has the amazing tonal quality of sounding completely and undeviatingly flat, even as it's actually on-key.

Now, to be fair, I only know four Christopher Cross songs. But I feel confident making such claims about his entire oeuvre anyway. Because this is a guy who got Michael McDonald to sing backup on a song, and decided to use his guest's voice...for exactly one line. Over and over. Just that line. Just that same six word sentence fragment. Anyone with judgment that bad deserves all the hackjobs he gets.

All that being said, I love this song.

It's not good. It is, in fact, bad.

But it's catchy and stupidly romantic and the theme song to one of my very favoritest movies of all times.

And the heart wants what the heart wants.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Tryin' to Live My Life Without You

Self-awareness can be a wonderful thing.
“I was not impressed,” Henley said of “American Wedding” in this new interview. “He needs to come up with his own ideas and stop stealing stuff from already established works. [He] doesn’t seem to understand U.S. copyright law. Anyone who knows anything should know you cannot take a master track of a recording and write another song over the top of it. You just can’t do that. You can call it a tribute or whatever you want to call it, but it’s against the law. That’s a problem with some of the younger generation, they don’t understand the concept of intellectual property and copyright.
Aw...isn't that just adorbs? For Don Henley, of all famous rock stars, to get all hot and bothered about a smidge of borrowing?

Allow me to elucidate.

This? Is such a great song.

 No wonder the Eagles stole it.

Sure, the Eagles made who knows how many millions off their cover. (Well, "cover.") But I'll bet, at least now and then, in the long dark teatime of his soul, Henley can't help but think about the drumming of the great Howard Grimes on the original and knows he's never once played drums even a quarter that sweet, no matter how much he wishes he had. And the private jets and multiple mansions and cheering throngs tamp down the pain of that knowledge...but not entirely. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Oh My Love

I recently found this list on the redoubtable Stereogum of the 10 Best John Lennon songs. I've often mentioned how much I love such lists, and I give props to anyone foolhardy enough to even taking a public stab at such an endeavor.

And it's a good list. It's not perfect, it's not the one I would have put together, but then I repeat myself. But it's good, really good. And while a few personal faves have been omitted—I not only prefer "Watching the Wheels" to "Staring Over," I think it's superior, but can see the reverse argument—I really only have one major beef, and that's that any list which omits this is seriously flawed.

The lyrics aren't my favorite of Lennon's—considering his (deservéd) reputation as one of the greatest lyricists ever, they tread perilously close to a sorta lovesick zen version of a McCartney song—but they're fine, effective even, and the music...oh, the music. As a guy who knows a thing or two about both music and lyrics said not too long ago:
"There have been many great songs which have had really appalling lyrics, but there have been no great songs which have had appalling music."—Peter Gabriel
These lyrics are lightyears away from appalling—they are, in fact, quite appealing and have a certain painting on rice paper ephemeralness—and the music is simply transcendent. "Oh My Love" is the single prettiest song John Lennon ever wrote, and that's saying something.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Little Martha

Yesterday afternoon was a lovely early summer New England day, and with our son out of town and nothing really on the agenda, the Prime Minister and I decided to take a drive. No particular place to go, as the man said, so we just set out on a 90-minute car excursion, something we do oh so rarely yet provides such a nice and tranquil break in the day.

Our brief travels took us both to and past a few hidden Connecticut gems, off-the-beaten path places that you really need to live here to know about.

Like here, Old Newgate Prison, which amazingly enough was just two prisons ago for Connecticut:

And here, Enders State Forest, which is a stunning little hollow located fewer than 100 steps from a main road:

And ultimately to here, Barkhamsted Reservoir, which is a pretty breathtaking place all unto itself, in part because it kind of feels like it comes upon you out of nowhere:

So anyway, these sites plus the Prime Minister's wondrous company really did make for just an awesome 90 or so minute jaunt to parts not so far away, yet far enough away to remind you of how pleasant these drives can be.

But of course this is not a Connecticut Travel blog; it's a music blog. So now I shall get to it.

As I often do when we drive together, I put my much better half in charge of the music. And on this trip she chose one of her favorites to play:

Right on.

It's such an eclectic and oddball album, Eat a Peach, the last Allman Brothers Band album that guitar savant Duane Allman would appear on before he died (actually he died a few months prior to the record's February 1972 release, which adds an even greater haunting feeling to it all). The record is sui generis in the rock-n-roll world for a few reasons. Start with its sprawling nature (nearly 70 minutes in length) and the posthumous release. Then mix in the fact that it bounces between live and studio. And finally consider the content; its indelible mix of some of the band's most popular tracks ever ("Melissa," "Blue Sky," "One Way Out") with some of its most innovative and, let's face it, experimental (Dickie Betts' nine-minute "Les Brers in A Minor" seems like advanced calculus, but the band's 33-minute stemwinder "Mountain Jam" makes the former track practically sound like a pop ditty).

So we took all of this in, even every second of "Mountain Jam" which, seriously, needs to be played in the background as such, because it simply cannot be a song you sit down to simply listen to the way you would, say, "Ain't Wasting Time No More" or "Melissa." And it provided the letter perfect soundtrack to our brief but delightful journey.

And it all wrapped up, as we pulled back into town, with the last song that Duane Allman ever wrote, as well as the only song he ever wrote just by himself for the Allmans. It's the song that, sadly but fittingly, serves as his elegy:

"Little Martha," despite it being just Duane all by his lonesome just a few weeks before his fatal motorcycle crash, has so much to it. It's bouncy and playful, while at the same time (perhaps due to the tragedy that would soon come) possessing a mournful and melancholy pull. It's got a typical Allman Brothers backstory to it, funny and dreamy and perverse, something about how this song came to Duane in a dream he had of Jimi Hendrix using bathroom faucets to play the melody. And it has this gentle, unpolished and, really, unfinished soul about it. A meditation on not only the magic Duane Allman was capable of, but also on just how fleeting that magic can be.

And on a beautiful early summer Sunday afternoon in northern Connecticut, "Little Martha" served the simple but essential purpose of bringing us home.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

R.E.M.'s secret weapon

is not, in fact, Mike Mills. (Nor, for that matter, is it Mick Mills.) Because a secret weapon isn't a secret weapon if everyone knows about it, and certainly by the time of Monster, at least, if not long before, everyone who was anything like an R.E.M. fan knew just how great Mills was (and is!) and how vital his contributions were to the band. Which meant it was no secret.

But you and I, we've been through that. And since if you're on this site, you know just who R.E.M.'s real secret weapon was.

(What an odd, odd choice of song, incidentally, for their induction, given how large and varied their catalog was. Iconoclasts to the end.)

((Also too: he wrote the music to and played the piano on the original recording of this.))

I mean, come on.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Dancing in the Street

Amazingly, or perhaps not, this is significantly better than the original, if only because it's shorter and Bowie isn't so oddly overshadowed.

[H/T: the great Dangerous Minds.]

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Walk Like a Man

In an only slightly different world, this would have been one of the biggest country hits of the decade. It'd also be far, far better known than it is—sure, the album sold more then 3,000,000 copies, but that's a fifth of what his previous studio LP had sold, and this isn't one of the better known songs off it.

Which is a shame since it contains some of his very finest writing, as well as some of the greatest writing ever about fathers and sons.

I remember how rough your hand felt on mine
On my wedding day
And the tears cried on my shoulder
I couldn't turn away
Well, so much has happened to me
That I don't understand
All I can think of is being five years old, following behind you at the beach
Tracing your footprints in the sand
Trying to walk like a man

By Our Lady of the Roses
We lived in the shadow of the elms
I remember ma draggin' me and my sister up the street to the church
Whenever she heard those wedding bells
Well, would they ever look so happy again
The handsome groom and his bride
As they stepped into that long black limousine
For their mystery ride
Well, tonight you step away from me
And alone at the alter I stand
And as I watch my bride coming down the aisle I pray
For the strength to walk like a man

Well, now the years have gone and I've grown
From that seed you've sown
But I didn't think there'd be so many steps
I'd have to learn on my own
Well, I was young and I didn't know what to do
When I saw your best steps stolen away from you
Now I'll do what I can
I'll walk like a man
And I'll keep on walkin'

Also, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, we realize that last line meant far more than we could have known at the time. Which just illustrates how very hard those steps can be.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Not One of Us

I have always had an instinctive distrust of message songs. Music all by itself is so inherently powerful that grafting a political statement on top of it runs the risk of sliding into propaganda mighty easily. That's one of the reasons it took me so long to give U2 a fair shake, despite having more or less theoretically similar values.

And yet I've always loved this, thanks to its context in the place of Peter Gabriel's finest LP, surrounded as it is by songs sung from the point of view of a nasty home invader, an assassin, a prisoner of war and an inmate in an insane asylum, amongst others.

Most of all, however, it's the deftness of the writing.

It's only water in a stranger's tear

is an amazing line, as it could come from a literal sociopath or, more likely, is simply analogous to the rationalization that the majority of the western world's population employs as a way of getting through the day. Yes, the fact that my electronics are made by children in third world sweatshops is horrible, it is, it really is, but if I don't have 24-7 access to my work emails I'll lose my job and won't be able to put food on my family. And if there's a more sadly cogent, concise summation of the social experience of human than

How can we be in if there is no outside?

I've yet to hear it.

Plus, of course, it's got the beat, the beat, the beat.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


I've always had a fondness for this, the last song on the first side of Peter Gabriel's first solo LP. It works far better than it should, given the lyrics, which have some nice bits, including an arresting opening couplet, but which, overall, really desperately needed another draft. Still, if

I ride tandem with the random 
Things don't run the way I planned 'em

is rather overly clever, it does sum up the way the next several decades of Gabriel's life would seem to go.

I suspect PG himself would consider it, as with the magnificent concluding track, the majestic "Here Comes the Flood," rather overproduced by Bob Ezrin and, as in that case, the great artist would would be mistaken. This is big, pompous, overstuffed and it totally works.

Monday, June 9, 2014


So the great Nils Lofgren, the second (of three) 2nd guitarists in the E Street Band, offers online guitar lessons.


is considered "intermediate."

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Long May You Run

So Nils Lofgren is one of the great electric guitarists, with a style unlike anyone else. So the idea of him doing an acoustic album is interesting but seems like something of a wasted opportunity, perhaps, even if him covering his original mentor Neil Young is cool.

But then you listen to it and realize it's a match damn near made in heaven.

I wonder he found himself singing the "oh Caroline no" bit in his head.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Angel Eyes

It began with a mix tape.

I've made a metric ton of mix tapes in my time and have written about my love of them. I still like to make playlists with themes (Summertime, Cocktail hour, Thanksgiving). As much as I love the art of the entire album, one whole and fully realized collection of songs, I do enjoy throwing disparate tracks onto a list and being delighted when I hear them pop up in some seemingly random order somewhere down the line.

This particular mix tape was mostly made of ballads, slower stuff. It began with Dire Straits "Why Worry" and ended with Otis Redding's "These Arms of Mine." Along with way it had slow and lovely tracks such as Jackson Browne's "Late for the Sky" and Tracy Chapman's "Baby Can I Hold You" and Elvis Presley's "I Can't Help Falling In Love" and R.E.M.'s cover of Velvet Underground's "Pale Blue Eyes."

Why did I make this tape? For women, of course! Not that I had them pounding at my door, but this tape seemed to be "mood-inspiring" enough to put on when in the company of, as Radar O'Reilly would say, "a lady of the opposite sex."

Months after I made it the tape still had seen no use. Alas.

But then I met the woman who would become my wife (22 years ago today, actually - June 6, 1992) and one evening during dinner (I think) I put it on. And it made for lovely background music.

But it was when one song came on—Jeff Healey's stunning version of John Hiatt's perfect love story, "Angel Eyes—that my life changed.

I loved that song; I didn't care how produced it was or the fact that rockers likely busted out their air guitars when Jeff broke out some letter-perfect and metal-riffic (although still ballad-worthy) solos. I loved the sentiment, the melody, the earnestness of the words and the tireless, devout honesty of what is essentially a triumph of the underdog. I loved this song. Still do. Both Healey's popular version and Hiatt's original.

"Oh my God," my future wife said when "Angel Eyes" came up in the mix, "I love this song!"

That's what I knew I would marry her. Whether she wanted to or not. (I think she did...unless of course these 22 years have been part of a long con...if so, all I can say is "Well played, m'lady.")

"Angel Eyes" became the first dance at our wedding and the song that basically came to define us to each other. John Hiatt wrote it for his own, and that's awesome. But this isn't John's song anymore. It's ours.

Girl you're looking fine tonight,
And every fella has got you in his sight.
What you're doing with a clown like me
Is surely one of life's little mysteries.

So tonight I'll ask the stars above,
"How did I ever win your love?
"What did I do? What did I say?
To turn your angel eyes my way?"

I'm the guy who never learned to dance
Who never even got one second glance
Across the crowded room was close enough
I could look but I could never touch.

So tonight I'll ask the stars above,
"How did I ever win your love?
"What did I do? What did I say?
To turn your angel eyes my way?"

Don't anyone wake me if it's just a dream,
Because she's the best thing ever happened to me.
All you fellows, well you can look all you like,
'Cause this girl you see is leaving here with me tonight.

There's just one more thing I need to know.
If this is love, why does it scare me so?
It must be something only you can see,
'Cause girl I feel it when you look at me.

So tonight I'll ask the stars above,
"How did I ever win your love?
"What did I do? What did I say?
To turn your angel eyes my way?"

This song is about the win, the win you never thought you'd get and maybe never thought you'd even deserve. But you got it, you won. We won.

Happy anniversary to the girl who turned her angel eyes my way.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Born in the USA: a look back

In honor of this being the 30th anniversary of the release of Born in the U.S.A., we decided to take a look back at that album. We were both not quite 16 at the time, preparing to enter our junior years in high school. When we returned for junior year after that Summer of 1984, Born in the U.S.A. made up a lot of what most people around us were talking about. The "Dancing in the Dark" video, the blistering title track, the massive tour that had launched and even spent a couple of nights in Hartford in September of that year. Those seemingly (or so we thought) patriotic themes that appeared to march in beat with that summer's Los Angeles Olympics and Ronald Reagan's "Morning in America" re-election campaign. Bruce Springsteen was everywhere. And to young fans such as us at the time, he wasn't just a huge figure in rock-n-roll then. He was rock-n-roll.

So what did it all mean? What was Born in the U.S.A. then and what is it now? The two of us engaged in a detailed discussion about it, and that has been transcribed below.


I took the liberty of re-listening to Born in the U.S.A. this morning, straight through.

You know why you could do that? You know why you had that liberty? Freedom. That's why. Sorry, you were saying? 

First time in many years I did that.


First thing that struck me is fairly obvious—how much Max dominates this album like he hadn't quite before.

Yes. Although you know what I noticed yesterday, listening to it? His drums do...but you can barely hear his cymbals. I remember noticing that at the time, actually, but it hit me again yesterday.
Meanwhile, for all the guff (deserved, to an extent) the synths take, Danny's organ is the really dominant instrument in a bunch of the songs.

You may very well be right...are the cymbals audible on stuff like "I'm Going Down" and "Bobby Jean?" Thought they were. But damn, right from the get go, those drums are just jarring.

The thing that hit me was that, for all "Dancing in the Dark" gets singled out as not quite fitting in with the rest of the LP, there's nothing else remotely like the title track either—in fact, there's nothing else in his catalog quite like it. It's got a weird position with hardcore fans—we all know it was misunderstood and we get it...but I'm not sure it's really beloved, either. It may not be sorta kinda disdained the way some of the other songs from this album are, but I'm not sure it's in almost any hardcore fan's top ten either. The only power chord song he ever recorded?

Read about someone reading the lyric sheet the day it was released, hours before he was able to get to a turntable, and thinking it was the most depressing Springsteen ever—even more so than Nebraska. And then he heard the music.

Yes about the synths. And I gotta tell you—they work.

One of the main trump cards about Born in the U.S.A. is more than any record he'd done to that point (and likely since) it juxtaposes the upbeat and cheery music with some incredibly dark lyrics. And the synths have a lot to do with that—they set the pace well. Hell, if you listened to just the music, no vocals, you'd think it was a celebration!

Exactly so. And if you just read the words, you'd think he was trying to combine Woody Guthrie with Sylvia Plath.

The other main thing was this—the album has a theme of moving on, maturing. Not quite on the emotional level that we'd see in Tunnel of Love, but in terms of transitioning into a new point in his life, into a more mature adult. But it doesn't just do that—it prepares to move on while actively slamming the door on the past. Lines like, "There's a war outside still raging you say it ain't ours anymore to win" from "No Surrender" and "I hope when I get older I don't sit around thinking about it" from "Glory Days" show a conscious cut being made. Or at least trying to be made.

You know, given where we grew up, by, like, 1986, I was already tired of most of the songs on the album, thanks to our Hartford radio stations playing them non-stop, both classic rock and top 40, as well as 'cuz I played the damn thing to death myself.

But our pal Chris Cullina suggested sitting down and actually listening to the album as an album, front to back, and claimed it held up really well then, and even the tunes I was sick to death of worked in context. And I did and he was right. And that's still the case for me today: when one of the Born in the U.S.A. songs comes up in the rotation on my Springsteen playlist, I'm often a little (just a little!) eye-rolly. But on those very rare occasions when I listen to the entire thing, it totally works.

Interesting grab about the moving-on bit. But some of the moving ons are not voluntary: the "Working on the Highway" dude's in the slammer, "Darlington County"'s being forced out of town, Bobby Jean left the narrator. The vet from the title's mired in figurative quicksand, "Downbound Train" can't let go of his lost love (is she dead? did he kill her? is he in prison at the end?)...

Yes, "Bobby Jean" he's being forced to move on. But "Downbound Train" and "I'm Going Down" (where he realizes it's gone dead cold, albeit in a cheerier sounding way than it does on "Brilliant Disguise") it's clear that he's realizing it's time to forget the past and move ahead. And then with the final track, he's done. He's now preparing to move on, knowing what he had come to expect from these places and people would never be the same.

I agree with "My Hometown," but I'm not sure I do with the rest. I think he's maybe getting ready to start moving on, but I don't think he's actually even starting to move on yet, much less already moving on. He's maybe ready to start preparing to get ready to move on.

Yeah, boy howdy, there's a disconnect between the music and lyrics of "I'm Going Down," maybe the starkest on the album. I love it, naturally.

Yes, that is what I meant. He's realizing it's time on many, many tracks. And then on "My Hometown" he takes action. Or at least appears as if he's about to.

And, again, on "I'm Going Down," he realizes all these things...but I think he's still there.

Agreed. He does realize them, though. That glimmer of hope that used to be there in even his darkest song (Think of "The River," for instance—"but I remember us riding in my brother's car...") ain't really there anymore.


Great point about the album front-to-back thematically that Chris offered, and that's exactly the way to listen to it—as a whole narrative. And interestingly, it starts with one raw emotion (anger of the title track) and ends with another raw emotion (resignation of "My Hometown") and those are really the only places we see something so definitive. Everything else in between is couched—yes, he realizes things are changing, but doesn't fully accept it until the end.

It's common on many of his best albums. Born to Run starts with a big romantic idea and that still exists even at the end of the closing song ("Together they take a stab at romance...") before, of course, falling apart brutally. Darkness begins with defiance ("I don't give a damn for the same ol' played out scenes") and ends with defiance ("I'll be there on time and I'll pay the cost.") Born in the U.S.A. starts with something definitive - something lost, a broken promise, a broken spirit - and ends with the final toll it takes.

He did like closing an album quietly back then, didn't he? From The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle up until...well...The Ghost of Tom Joad, I guess.

Kinda The Rising too, no? And Working on a Dream with "The Last Carnival."

Yeah. It's just that they all ended softly up until The Ghost. And then others still have since, it's just that the streak was unbroken. Or then broken, I guess I mean.

Also, a funny thing? Again, for all the synths are the thing people often first talk about when it comes to this album? The very sound you hear when it starts, even before the synths or drums is...the piano.

Indeed it is. It sounds like a damn Patriot's Day rally.
Let me ask you a question, seeing as how we're kinda talking about the title track.

But of course.

For all of the rage in his voice and in those words, the last thing he says sticks out like a sore thumb, or at least could. "I'm a cool rockin' Daddy in the USA!" Why does he sing this? Is it defiance? Denial? Is it akin to Robert Plant punctuating things with "Ooh mama mama?" It perplexes me.

Great question. I remember even Dave Marsh pointed out that line, asking "what the hell does that even mean?"

I'm going to say it's sorta kinda whistling past the graveyard. I think the singer means it as he's singing it, trying to convince himself of that fact, even though the rest of the song makes it clear he is, in fact, no such thing.

But. Maybe it's meant to be sarcastic?

That's what I see—the defiance, convincing himself. As maybe trying to employ that same strut his characters had in "Out in the Street" and songs like that?

(Tangent: I remember watching No Nukes and noticing that James Taylor's nonsense syllable that he'd vamp on between lines—a lot of singers seem to have their default syllable—was "no." He'd sing "oh no no no no" during "Your Smiling Face" or whatever, and it was really jarring, this upbeat song by a smiley crooner, constantly negating himself.)

I read today that someone suggested the narrator of the title track was in prison, doing ten years. I'd never heard that before, and don't think I agree. You?

No, I don't agree with the prison thesis. I think the narrator has been 10 years home from Vietnam and still lost.

It's a fascinating album, isn't it? At its lightest, it's very lightest, a guy gets arrested and stranded down south, out of work and out of money ("Darlington County"). At it's quietest ("I'm on Fire") something very sinister is lurking. And at its most jubilant ("I'm Going Down," "Glory Days" and "Dancing in the Dark") the guy is out of love, tired and filled with self-hatred.

Yeah, buddy, "I'm on Fire" is disturbing.

"Only you can cool my desire." Um....stay away from my daughter, sir.

I remember Mr. Reardon talking about that in class, how dark a song it was, and us being all "get outta here!" But, yeah, no, ol' Paulie was right on the money on that one.

He was! Hell, "I'm On Fire" could've been a prequel to, say, "State Trooper."


Sometimes it's like someone took a knife, baby, edgy and dull 
and cut a six inch valley through the middle of my skull.
At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet 

and a freight train running through the middle of my head.

And remember, that was a line in a popular song!


Yeah, Mr. Reardon's story was about hearing his 7-year-old daughter walking around singing it and thinking, hold the phone...

Now, maybe it's just 'cuz I've been reading a bio of Ted Bundy recently...but...I dunno, man...Mr. Everyman Bruce Springsteen sure seems to go some dark damn places sometimes...

Also, weird structure, with those lines being almost the last of the song. It's like verse-semichorus-verse-semichorus-bridge-semichorus, I think? Odd.

Ayuh. Can't you see this guy getting up out of his soaked bed, loading a body into his trunk, heading down the NJ Turnpike and praying that a cop doesn't pull him over? Because he knows he'll have to kill the cop?


That's exactly so. Yes. Yeah, this is not a well man.

Okay. Least favorite song on the album?

"Cover Me." 


Didn't take you long to think about that one, did it? 


I know it's a better dong than I give it credit for. It's dark and it's edgy and the band plays brilliantly. I just don't feel it, I guess. Which is rare for me on his more popular songs.


Yup. Agreed. But "Working on the Highway" isn't far apart for me.
The only reason I appreciate "Working" more than "Cover" is it's so upbeat and happy sounding. And the lyrics are so not. It's almost over the top; absurd that he made a song that started off as the terrifying "Child Bride" sound like that.

And there are still some of those "Child Bride" hints in there.

I love the line, "I looked straight at her and she looked straight back."

Again, knowing the song's origins...disturbing.

You know, thinking it over, I wonder if this is one of the very few albums by any artist I like where I vastly prefer the second side.

Me too! I mean, the album's best song is "Born in the USA". But I could argue it's 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th best all come on Side 2.

Oh, hey, you'll like this: you know what struck me about "Bobby Jean" yestereve? Bobby's essentially that most wonderful of fictitious creations:

"Bobby Jean" is easily one of my Top 10 favorite Bruce songs ever, even though, yes, I know it's not one of his best. But I never ever even considered that! Damn.

[takes a bow] You're welcome.

(That's actually me, by the by.)

Consider this, too, of what I thought was the happiest song on the album. "No Surrender." Lotta nostalgia there, lotta memories. And I used to hear it as sheer defiance. "No retreat, baby, no surrender." But now, not so much.


Jesus, there's nothing that's really close to a happy song on the entire album, is there? You get duped, even if you know better, by the sing-songy "sha-la-la"s and such. "Hey a bop-a-bee-down-down." (That's a direct quote.)

Because he says this, "we made a promise..." He's talking about a promise they made, not a promise they kept. And even though he wants to keep it ("I want to sleep 'neath the peaceful skies...with a wide open country in my heart and these romantic dreams in my head.") we're not sure he actually does. And since he says things like "The walls of my room are closing in," that could be evidence right there that that dream died too.


Yup. Yup. He wants those things...'cuz he ain't got 'em. Maybe because he refused to make any concessions whatsoever.

Not that I'm advocating mindless conformity, mind you.

But it's so wonderfully crafted. Hell, he culled these 12 songs out of more than 100. Leaving a ton of A-List material ("Janey Don't You Lose Heart," "Shut Out the Light," "My Love Will Not Let You Down") by the wayside. He had a vision, clearly. This is very much on purpose. And this was the album that launched him as a megstar—the one with the most upbeat music and downbeat lyrics of his career. How'd he do that?


It's intoxicating and disorienting to consider what could have been, if he'd nixed "Cover Me" for "My Love Will Not Let You Down" or whatever. I mean, and I know we've talked about this oh so many times, but for FSM's sake he cut "Janey, Don't You Lose Heart."

Sweet fancy.


Ayuh. And yet, can you really hear "Janey," even though it's better than at least half the tracks on the album, fitting on Born in the U.S.A.?


No, that's the thing. I can't. At all. Or "Shut Out the Light" even though, again, better than much of the album. And that goes for so many of them. When others put together alternate track listings, including things like "Man at the Top," I just can't wrap my head around it—the album's too much a part of my DNA.

I now realize why it was so maligned all those years ago—for Bruce's hardcore fans, it was so different. Maybe even more different than Nebraska. It didn't necessarily feel different in 1984, but it was.


It's also always a mixed bag when your favorite artist breaks through to massive mainstream success.
We felt it, to some extent, with REM, even if we were actually happy for them. Or if The Replacements had managed it, maybe, instead or repeatedly shooting themselves in the feets.

Indeed it is. Though how in the hell did anyone hear that opening of "Born in the USA" and not pop up and scream "HELL YEAH!"

REM took a ton of guff, starting with Lifes Rich Pageant and definitely on Document, which may be their best record.

To me, to sum up, this is a great record because Bruce had maybe his most complicated vision to date. It needed to sound like rock-n-roll, like a celebration. But it needed to convey something much darker, much deeper. And it did. More than anything to me, that's the genius of Born in the U.S.A.


I remember the massive "R.E.M. sold out!" when Green came out.

I think it has a bit less of a coherent vision than Born to Run or Darkness on the Edge of Town or Nebraska or Tunnel of Love—it's more akin to The River, I guess, or Magic—but as a collection of songs it's amazing,with its jarring juxtaposition of dark dark dark lyrics obscured by happy go lucky upbeat music. And it deserves every bit of its astronomical success.

Born in the U.S.A. and Purple Rain kept passing each other for the #1 slot on the charts. Not a bad year for albums, huh?

Wow. I would say so. Along with Reckoning and Let it Be or Zen Arcade on the indy circuit, and stuff like War and Speaking in Tongues (I think) in the mainstream.

Ayuh. And Like a Virgin. When discussing greatest ever years, 1984 is way up there.

Indeed it is. And one very big reason dates back 30 years today my friend. June 4, 1984.


Hey, nice capper.



I'm sorry, who? 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Born in the U.S.A.

It was thirty years ago, on June 4, 1984, that Born in the U.S.A., the album that made Bruce Springsteen a global superduperstar, was released.

Listening to the title cut now, it seems incomprehensible that it was ever misunderstood, that it was possible to be misunderstood. What part of

Born down in a dead man's town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
End up like a dog that's been beat too much
'til you spend half your life just covering up

is ambiguous in any way? How is that not crystal clear? And those are the very first words he sings on the record.

Looking at video from that massive tour, it's more than a little embarrassing, how close to a parody of himself he already seems...and yet.

The deadly seriousness. The energy. The passion. Other than Howlin' Wolf, James Brown or maybe Iggy Pop, what popular singer had ever bared his soul on stage quite like that, looked so nearly possessed? Sure, with his bandana and bulging biceps and painted-on jeans he may have looked like Rambo with a Tele, but when he moans "oh my god no" at the end, how did anyone convince himself this song was a commercial for blind flag-waving?

[Also, as DT pointed out, thirty years earlier...Elvis Presley was still a month away from recording "That's All Right, Mama."]

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Maybe I'm Amazed

Ran across an article about power ballads, which led to another and then another. (This one's especially funny.)

As with so many things rock, there's a lot of disagreement as to what the very first one was. Aerosmith's "Dream On" and Styx's "Lady"—both from 1973—have pretty solid claims to the arguably somewhat dubious throne.

But for my money—and with apologies to its predecessor "Hey Jude," with which it shares many traits, not least of which is the same guy singing and playing piano and who may have something to do with the writing—the true original power ballad is this.

Admittedly, due to its one-man-band origins, its a bit less obvious in the original studio recording than in its more famous live version from a few years later.

Now that's a power ballad.

Mullet and sequins and adorbs mugging or no, sweet FSM that man could sing. And, perhaps sometimes overly sweet pop confectionary aside, that was one hell of a band. It's not entirely surprising artists as talented as Joe English and Jimmy McCulloch chafed at being dictated to but, on the other hand, crazy good as they were, they simply were no Paul McCartney. Which, hey, is no crime: semantics aside, there really has only ever been one of 'em.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Ohio/Machine Gun

One of the things most remarked upon about the amazing if relatively brief lifespan of the Beatles is just how much they progressed and developed over that time, going from, essentially, a boy band prototype and Motown-worshipping cover artists to...well, the band that recorded Revolver, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road, all in about seven years.

Some other artists have made somewhat similarly unexpected transitions: Genesis went from insanely arty prog-rockers to stadium-filling classic rock pop stars. The Bee Gees went from a sorta kinda second wave British Invasion band to disco superstars. Eric Clapton from desperately impassioned young bluesman to country wannabe to soft-rock glider. Bob Dylan went from being Robert Zimerman to Bob Dylan to the new Bob Dylan to the newer Bob Dylan to the newer yet Bob Dylan and about seven more transitions and we're still only up to 1975's Blood on the Tracks and he's barely warmed up.

But has anyone ever had the longevity, breadth and extended excellence of the Isley Brothers?

They went from this

(which, hey, is a pretty sweet career all on its own)

to this

to this

(and, yes, I know "That Lady" is obviously the bigger hit off this same album, but I like this one better)

in the span of the span of 14 years. And it was still nearly another half-decade before they even started to run out of steam. That's pretty hardcore.