Ok, so I’ve just looked at my (much revised, scrawled over and rewritten) list and realised we’re at the half way point in my rambling about Bruce’s albums in Least to Most Favourite order. We’re ten down with ten to go and that feels like a good point to take a breather* and talk about some Springsteen songs (a couple of favourites amongst them) that wouldn’t otherwise get a mention and take a look at those releases that don’t qualify for the list.
Bruce was twenty three years into his recording career before he decided it was time for a compilation. 1995’s Greatest Hits oddly didn’t get the best reviews – many felt that by omitting anything prior to Born To Run, Bruce was cutting out an important part of his history (“no Rosalita?!” was a common cry in reviews I’ve found in archives**) and others suggested that these songs simply didn’t belong together and performed better in their original album sequencing… though isn’t that the case with all such compilations? Seems like a trite comment to make.
Personally, this was my introduction to Bruce Springsteen so I’m a little biased. I was a little put-off by the sounds of ‘Born In The USA’ and it’s kin (this was 1995, after all, and such sounds weren’t ageing well) but there was no denying the draw of songs like ‘The River’ and ‘Atlantic City’ which were the big hook for me.
I’ll also make a fight for the new songs included here that many a critic argued were weak. I think ‘Blood Brothers’ remains an essential Bruce Springsteen song and both ‘Streets of Philidelphia’ and ‘Secret Garden’ are strong tracks and that’s without the dusted-off and revisited ‘Murder Incorporated’ (which saw Steven Van Zandt return to the fold for the video and would become a real blazer on the Reunion Tour) and ‘This Hard Land’ – both Born In The USA cuts that didn’t make selection, the latter of which was Max Weinberg’s favourite tune. For a one-stop sampler of Bruce Springsteen V1***, Greatest Hits is still a damn good start for any Bruce newbie.
Strangely enough, just two studio albums later and with the successful launch of Bruce Springsteen V2 cemented, it was time for another compilation.
This time more space was allotted to it and the selection was allowed to span out across two discs so that The Essential Bruce Springsteen kicked off with ‘Blinded By The Light’ and wrapped it up with cuts from Live In NYC and The Rising making sure to include ‘Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)’, all the hits, some fan favourites like ‘Jungleland’ and ‘Nebraska’. Of course, the fans would already have all of these so a limited run with a third disc of rarities was offered and some of those are none-too shabby either. I particularly enjoy Springsteen’s live take on ‘Trapped’:
Odder still, in 2015 the track listing was revised. Out went ‘Jungleland’ and ‘Tunnel of Love’ and in came ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze Out’ and ‘One Step Up’ and a handful of other tracks were shuffled / cut in order to make space for a couple of bolted-on post-The Rising tunes. Bonkers, if you ask me; cutting ‘The Darkness On The Edge of Town’ to make space for something from High Hopes?! Why bother?
On the ‘Why Bother’ list is the 2009 Greatest Hits which was billed to Bruce and The E Street Band (is that only their second billing? Though they didn’t get the US cover) which strips it all back to one disc and adds a couple of newer tracks – presumably released to catch the newer casuals after Superbowl and festival appearances.
Chapter & Verse was released this year to coincide / accompany Bruce’s Born To Run book. It’s somewhat linear and obvious in its song selection and only really stands out in as much as being more ‘personally’ selected than the above comp and featuring a handful of pre-Columbia Recording Artist Bruce. The best of which being ‘Ballad of Jesse James’. I’ve yet to add this to the shelves as they’re not what you’d call ‘required listening’ for anything other than an intro to the origins story.
In terms of live albums, while there’s certainly a couple listed on Bruce’s discography, Live 1975-85 is inarguably the best way to get a take on what makes Springsteen live so legendary. Sure, Live In NYC is a good capture of the reunited E Street Band (and the best place to hear its new songs) but it’s strange sequencing and fading out have hampered it and interrupt the flow.
Live 1975-85 contains 40 songs recorded with the band in its prime, a wealth of classics, Springsteen pre-song story telling and, in ‘Seeds’ another great original:
It’s only downfall – and one that was much picked up on by fans I’m given to understand – was that it didn’t include ‘Prove It All Night’ in the live reshaping (or at all, in fact) that had acquired a massive fandom. So here it is:
Worth mentioning that Bruce is more than savvy to the current musical buying trends and has made many a current and classic concert available for download at http://live.brucespringsteen.net/
1988’s Chimes of Freedom was released to tie-in with the Human Rights Now! tour. The live rendition of ‘Tougher Than The Rest’ is suitably girded by the E Street Band’s backing, ‘Be True’ is a decent enough tune but the flip side with Bruce’s take on Dylan’s ‘Chimes of Freedom’ and the acoustic ‘Born To Run’ and still captivating stadium-size crowds is the strongest, in my opinion:
Blood Brothers originally came with the film of the same name (in a very limited pressing) that documented the mini-reunion of the E Street Band. While the tracks included are certainly interesting there’s nothing really here other than curiosities – like the ‘alt’ version of the title song.
Which brings us to the last release of new Bruce Springsteen material – American Beauty. Now, if High Hopes was made up of songs that didn’t make the cut for The Rising or Wrecking Ball then an ep of songs that didn’t make the cut of THAT might be stretching it a bit…. Indeed it is. Nothing on here is particularly essential in its listening and there’s chunks of all that were salvaged and better used elsewhere, it’s release remains something of a mystery to me, almost an example of a big artist and major label slapping something together to cash in on Record Store Day and it pains me to say that as a fan. That being said, ‘Hey Blue Eyes’ is a very good song and I do play it a fair old bit on stream. One of Springsteen’s angry Bush-era political songs that isn’t mired by over-production – almost demonstrating in on four-track EP how clearly Brendan O’Brien is the better set of hands for Springsteen’s songs over Ron Aniello.
*Whether I’ll manage to finish this series by the New Year remains to be seen.
**Bruce made reference to this in the linear notes for The Essential and, if you watch the accompanying ‘Blood Brothers’ DVD, there was plenty of discussion against the inclusion of earlier tracks
***Bruce Version 1 extends from his debut up to the conclusion of The Reunion Tour. The Rising marked the emergence of Bruce Springsteen Version 2.0
2 thoughts on “Least To Most: Bruce – “halfway to heaven and just a mile outta hell””
A very nice setlist. I have never heard of American Beauty nor had I heard of Record Store Day. The latter sounds like a cynical ploy but I definitely agree with the philosophy of supporting the indie record stores.
I’ve always liked ‘Trapped’ and once did a three-version post on it. I like earlier Live albums but nowadays as you suggest, you can buy any of his shows so it makes them, in a sense, less special. If I was so inclined I could download the entire River tour for a couple hundred bucks. But it’s been three months since I bought the show I went to and I think I’ve listened to six songs. Time! Where does it go?
I hadn’t heard “Hey Blue Eyes” but liked it. How does Bruce keep coming up with different ways of expressing a chorus or melody?
As to finishing your series by the New Year, I can’t speak for anyone else but I wouldn’t be put out if you didn’t. Trying to listen to (and comment on) ten albums in the next 11 days is certainly beyond me. If you do, I’ll just listen and comment as time permits but almost certainly into the New Year.
I really enjoyed this one. I agree Hey Blue Eyes is a bit of a hidden gem. I actually don’t mind the title track off American Beauty. It has a swirling hurdy gurdy arrangement that kind of pulls you in and Springsteen’s vocal is atypical, to say the least.
The download live shows (particularly the old stuff) have been a complete godsend.