As a lifelong Springsteen fan, I have re-visited this record many times and last week I did so again in preparation for this article. This was the 2nd Bruce album I bought and when asked to review it for its 40th anniversary I thought it would be pretty easy. But this time, while listening to a re-mastered copy, the depth of the music and lyrics really came out.
Having a favorite song on an album is normal. Having a go-to song for our own moods is also normal. However, I came away from last week’s listen with yet another favorite song and heard even more on the album that I haven’t before. As with all digital listening, there is so much more to hear than years ago on my original vinyl copy and the piano playing really stands out here especially when slotted between the guitar-led “Darkness on the edge of town” and the stark but brilliant “Nebraska” albums.
From the opening first bars of “The ties that bind” Bruce leads us through the first side with a strength of songwriting that many would envy. “Sherry Darling” has a big party atmosphere to it and you get a huge sense of the band enjoying themselves in the studio, but the last track, “Independence Day” drops the mood down as we hear a story about a father and son and their own difficulties of living in the same space and with their own point of view.
Side two starts with “Hungry Heart”. This was his 1st US top ten hit single and it is amazing to think that the song was going to be given away to the Ramones and not kept for the album. The title track “The River” finishes with a heart-wrenching tale of a blue-collar worker who struggles with work and family life and this sets the the tone for the next set of band songs which eventually went on to become “Born in the USA”.
For me, side three is a very strong set of songs. “Point Blank” has a narrative that pulls to me every time. A song of love, hope, and eventually sadness. “Cadillac Ranch” has a strong but simple drum beat that goes on throughout the track and you can see how this has influenced later songs such as “Radio Nowhere” and “We take care of our own”.
“Stolen Car” ends the third side. The first of four ballads from five remaining songs. The only exception is the rocky style of “Ramrod” which opens side four. I’ve never been a fan of “Ramrod” and this time of listening again did nothing to change that, but it does build the listener up nicely for the remaining three ballads including the eight-minute masterpiece that is “Drive all Night”.
“Wreck on the Highway” ends the album and you realize once again that each song has taken our characters through their own journey of love, hope sadness and joy while we explore our own hopes and dreams one by one.
My son and I have had many discussions as to whether this should have stayed as a single album which was originally planned. I’m not sure of the right answer. This collection of songs works for me but you also need to look at how many songs Bruce wrote at the time. The excellent “Loose Ends”, “Roulette” and the Dave Edmonds hit “From Small Things” were deemed not right and to nearly give away “Hungry Heart” just shows that Bruce wasn’t struggling for songs at this time, but it was more about the message he wanted to send. You also get a huge sense that he wasn’t really sure what he trying trying to achieve himself.
Each time I listen to the music of Bruce Springsteen, I hope others hear what I hear. To hear the love, hope and dreams of the characters and the soulfulness and spirit of the music always lifts my mood and luckily on this record, I hear something different every time.
Article by David Kent