Saturday, February 13, 2010

Bruce Springsteen: Born To Run

On Saturdays, I like to feature a pivotal album, at least for me, and lead off with one of its better tracks. Today’s feature is the 1975 release of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” album. I debated on which song to feature; however, it is hard to top the album’s first single release – “Born to Run.”

Although he had two albums out before Born to Run, I was oblivious to the man and his music until one Saturday in October when I was walking through the library of Kentucky Christian College (now University) and I spied two magazine covers that featured the same man – “Bruce Springsteen.” I thought, “Who is this Bruce Springsteen and what is all the hype about him?”

October 27, 1975 issues of Time and Newsweek

I would soon find out as “Born to Run” was being played everywhere. Listening to this song bring backs memories of discovering the tasteful use of glockenspiel by Danny Federici who also played organ on the record. It probably isn’t the first rock song to use a glockenspiel, but it is probably the heaviest rock tune to use this instrument of the tuned percussion family. Typically, when we think of the glockenspiel or its portable sister, the bell lyre, it conjures up images of a high school band playing during the half time at a Friday night football game. That imagery is definitely not present here.

 Ist das nicht ein Glockenspiel?
Ja das ist ein Glockenspiel.

When listening again to this cut this morning, I noticed two things that I had never noticed before – the wah-wah guitar which is down in the mix and Clarence Clemmons on baritone sax that adds to the song’s low end. You can hear both following Clemmons' tenor sax solo. At the end of the instrumental bridge – the sustain pedal on the piano is kept open too long creating an intentional musical collision of sounds that is joined by an organ swell. This occurs at approximately at 3:02 in the accompanying video.

Only charting at 23 on Billboard’s Hot 100, I doubt if there is an American (of a reasonable age) that doesn’t recognize this anthem of recklessness. The song was named as one of Rolling Stone’s 500 hundred greatest songs of all time and placed at #21. It is one the Recording Industry Association of America’s top 365 songs of the twentieth century and ranked midway at 135. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame listed “Born to Run” on its unranked list of the Top 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

The album is great as well. When I finally got it in 1976, I remember thinking “wow” after the tone arm lifted at the end of “Jungleland.” There is not a bad cut on this album from beginning to end.

The album cover is a classic that has been often copied and parodied.  It features a gatefold cover of Springsteen leaning on Clarence Clemmons. As it appeared in shrinkwrap, Bruce was on the front and Clarence on the back of the cover.

The album has produced numerous questions regarding Springsteen’s guitar. It has “Esquire” on the headstock, but the body is that of a Fender Telecaster. For years, Bruce kept quiet about it and it sparked speculation that it was a mistake made by Fender or a factory second. Years later, Bruce admitted that it was a Fender Frankenstein – an Esquire neck on a Telecaster body – an aftermarket modification made by the guitar’s previous owner.

 One pickup "Fender Esquire"

 Two Pickup Fender Telecaster (the bridge pickup is hidden under the chrome cover)

Springsteen brings back two memories. In late 1981 while working evenings at WCIR in Beckley, WV, I made an offhand remark about only being able to understand about every third word that Bruce sang. A few days later, I received a seven page, single spaced, typewritten hate letter from a listener who was a recent transplant from New Jersey. The young woman threatened my life if I ever made such a comment about the Garden State's musical legend again. It was the only piece of hate mail that I ever received and I still have it. By the way, I never dissed Bruce again on the air - fearing retribution from a psychotic listener.

The other memory is seeing Bruce and the E-Street Band live in 1985 at Pittsburgh’s now defunct Three Rivers Stadium. It was a great show and the highlight was the acrobatics by his guitarist Nils Lofgren. Lofgren's ability to play guitar while tumbling across the stage was purely amazing.

To allow you to enjoy the "Born to Run" LP, I have included a YouTube playlist of the entire album with the songs in order.

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