I’m listening to a lot of Bruce lately.
Could be because – following an unexpected dance along in HMV – my son has adopted Glory Days as his current favourite and I end up putting it on in the car in the mornings and so listen on after dropping him off. Could be. Could also be that (High Hopes aside) there’s such a volume of great songs that not many an artist can compete.
Today it’s all about American Skin (41 Shots).
It’s a funny one, or three, really.
Live In NYC was probably the first ‘new’ Springsteen album I bought after getting into him. While not the most comprehensive live album it’s a great snapshot of the reunited E-Street Band at the peak of their performance for that tour and captures one of his then most contraversial songs, American Skin (41 Shots) in the most appropriate of settings – Amadou Diallo was gunned down by police officers in New York.
It’s an important song both socially and in terms of Bruce’s catalogue. Prior to it’s debut the only ‘new’ music played on the tour that wasn’t from Tracks was familiar Brooooce territory – Code of Silence, Land of Hope and Dreams and an early Further On Up The Road – but for American Skin (41 Shots) found the socially aware voice that he’d been lacking. It’s angry, it’s well crafted, it’s bitter and brooding, it’s tight, it’s got a fantastic guitar lead and solo from Bruce and explodes in all the right places and stands amongst his best tunes to this day.
It went down one of two ways – fans loved it. The police were pissed off. They called for a boycott of his shows after he premiered it in Atlanta. Fuck ’em; he bought it to Madison Square Garden with him and it was recorded on the accompanying album.
Then in order to get it played he recorded a studio version of the song in 2001 for radio (when it was still a relevant outlet). It’s a strong version. For one thing it’s the E-Street Band as was that first bought the song to life. It lacks the spark and passion of the live version but that’s to be expected. It’s still solid, though, and convincing in it’s message and sentiment and still has Bruce’s lead guitar:
Then, bafflingly and frustratingly to many, he stated that and so re-cut it for High Hopes. When I say re-cut I really mean that in letting Ron Aniello over-egg the pudding with needless he pulled the passion out of it, allowed Tom Morello to staple a piss-poor 80’s power ballad solo in place of his own and had Clarence Clemons’ sax swapped out for one performed by C’s nephew Jake. He stated that the song had never been ‘presented’ officially on a studio album. And I believe that everybody said “so?!” Neither has Seeds but he didn’t let Morello wreck that. It’s got the same structure, the same lyrics and build up but it just feels like a pale imitation, especially when it comes to the climax.
The 2000 studio version is streets ahead of the High Hopes version but the ultimate take is still the live recording from NYC….