Check Out 'A Beginners Guide to SPRINGSTEEN' in Celebration of New Documentary
To celebrate the release of "Springsteen and I" in select U.S. movie theaters on Monday, July 22 and Tuesday, July 30, check out 'A Beginners Guide to Springsteen' AKA The Boss!
WHO: Often sporting a goatee and greasy t-shirt, songwriter, storyteller, rock and roller. Loves / hates New Jersey. Sensational live performer. The Boss.
WHY: Springsteen had a run of almost flawless albums in the 70's and early 80's, each selling millions of copies and earning the adoration of blue-collar workers and liberal college students alike. However, he went into an artistic seclusion after 1987's Tunnel of Love and never quite recovered. Now, he's mocked relentlessly for things that simply aren't true, like being a flag-waving jingoist with songs like "Born in the USA" as the evidence. I hope this primer serves as a guide to re-discovering the Boss and showing he doesn't fall in the Lee Greenwood camp.
BEGIN: 1975's Born to Run. It's often regarded as one of the best rock albums ever, and sold somewhere in the millions. Each individual song on this record could be seen as a concise lesson on everything great about the Boss. Tenth Avenue Freeze Out proves Springsteen's backing band, the E Street Band, is utterly essential for his sound, with the late Clarence Clemons providing the bouncy saxophone melody for Springsteen's gravelly yelp. The title track is the prototypical driving song, up to lyrics comparing a woman to a car (or vice versa. It hardly matters. "Strap your legs 'cross my engines"). Closer Jungleland contains the most glorious rock saxophone solo ever. The entire record is a deliriously joyful experience.
NEXT: If you liked the brief, concise rock songs like Born to Run and Thunder Road look for 1978's Darkness on The Edge of Town. Springsteen tightened up his sound for his post-Born to Run record, with a minimum of lengthy saxophone or orchestral passages. Every song has a very easy-to-love melody, and vocals-wise, he never sounded better than on this record.
If you liked the longer, epic style songs like Jungleland and Backstreet, listen to 1973's The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle. The average song length here is about 7 minutes, and Springsteen hadn't yet found his preferred "style." Several of the tracks here tell a story, like the West Side Story-aping Incident on 57th Street. The E Street Band gets a workout here too, with an abundance or saxophone, organ, piano, and background choirs.
No matter what you liked, Born in the USA is essential as well. It's vital to understanding Springsteen. The title track has been adopted by various groups over the years who haven't listened to the actual lyrics, they'd find dark material like "Got in a little hometown jam / So they put a rifle in my hand / Sent me off to a foreign land / to go and kill the yellow man." Not the patriotic anthem individuals like Ronald Reagan wanted in their campaign commercials. Spawned several hit singles including one of his staple tunes 'Dancing in the Dark'.
OTHERS: Nebraska is a moody, acoustic album about serial killers and other various ne'er do wells. Springsteen never wrote better lyrics, but it's a dense slog through some pretty dark places, and very off-putting for some not familiar with him. The River is a sprawling double album with a bunch of good to great tracks, and some odd little genre experiments. He clearly wrote it for his fans, and even though it's his most uneven pre-1987 album, it's worth a listen after you've listened to his more accessible material.
AND FINALLY: Springsteen rounded up a herd of veteran session musicians to compose 2006's We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, an album of Pete Seeger covers. It's actually quite fantastic, even if he never meant it to be anything other than a session of a bunch of great musicians playing country music standards. 2002's The Rising is his best post 1987 album, but it's difficult to listen to, as it's a concept album about 9/11. It's surprisingly sensitive at a time when Springsteen could have lazily cobbled together a bunch of cloying clichés and sold millions of records (which he did anyway).
With more than 120 million albums sold worldwide and numerous awards, including a staggering 20 Grammy Awards, Bruce Springsteen's music defines a generation. In celebration of 40 years of iconic music, NCM Fathom Events and Arts Alliance Media present "Springsteen and I" in select U.S. movie theaters on Monday, July 22 and Tuesday, July 30
More On: Lee Green, Thunder, The Edge, Ronald Reagan, Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen.