I’ve been listening to a lot of Bruce Springsteen lately, and thinking about his body of work and my relationship with it. As you’d expect with an artist whose career spans more than 40 years there are highs and lows, but unusually for somebody who works in rock and roll and pop, there’s also a surprising degree of consistency, and there are albums he’s recorded in the past couple of decades (I’m thinking of Magic and The Rising in particular) which I listen to as often and enjoy just as much as the albums from the 1970s and 1980s.
But the album I love best and return to most often is Born to Run. I’ve been listening to it for 35 years and I still get chills every time. I love the scale of it, the Spectorish Wall of Sound grandeur of its production and the sense it’s in conversation with so many of his influences in 1960s pop and soul (“Roy Orbison sang ‘For the Lonely’ …”), the extraordinary sax and the way it underlines how essential Clemons was, the beautiful piano on ‘Backstreets’ and ‘Jungleland’, the deliberate yet unself-conscious sweep of the songs and the economy of the storytelling (‘Meeting Across The River’ or ‘Backstreets’, for instance). In his memoir Springsteen says “I wanted to craft a record that sounded like the last record on Earth, like the last record you might hear… the last one you’d ever NEED to hear. One glorious noise … then the apocalypse. From Elvis came the record’s physical thrust; Dylan, of course, threaded through the imagery of not just writing about SOMETHING but writing about EVERYTHING.”, but although that urgency and desire for liberation through movement is what gives the record its extraordinary power, part of what I’ve always loved about it is the fact that even in its dark moments there’s a joyfulness to it that’s largely stripped away on Darkness on the Edge of Town and Nebraska. Interestingly I also often end up listening to it back to back with Patti Smith’s Horses, which I don’t think is coincidental, not just because both albums were released in 1975 (or because Springsteen wrote ‘Because the Night’ for Smith, apparently singing it down the phone in the middle of the night as he went), but because when you listen to them side by side you hear how much both are about the striving for a sort of transcendence and purity of feeling, both qualities that have become unfashionable in recent years. It’s an astonishing record, and one that only seems to get more remarkable with the passage of time.