#247: The River by Bruce Springsteen (AKA Sh*t Just Got Real)


The River by Bruce Springsteen (1980)

Favorite Track(s): "The Ties That Bind" and "Sherry Darling" and "Jackson Cage" and "Two Hearts" and "Independence Day" and "Hungry Heart" and "Out in the Street" and "Crush on You" and "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)" and "I Wanna Marry You" and "The River" and "Point Blank" and "Cadillac Ranch" and "I'm A Rocker" and "Fade Away" and "Stolen Car" and "Ramrod" and "The Price You Pay" and "Drive All Night" and "Wreck on the Highway"

Thoughts: Strap in, kids. We've got miles to go before we sleep.

BRUCE! Back on the list. It's been ages since we saw him, which is good because that means his albums are closer to #1, but I have to say I expected this gem to be much closer than 247. Much, much, much, much, much, much, much closer.

Much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much closer.

Much closer.

Refresher: I'm a Bruce Springsteen fan thanks to my dad. I try to make all my friends listen to Bruce Springsteen. I've seen him twice in concert. He's the best live performer I've ever seen. Which is why I'll be posting studio AND live versions of some of these songs. The travesty of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band: Live in New York City not being on this list is too much for me.

OK, to the masterpiece. Now this isn't my favorite Bruce album (that is still to come) but this album is chock-a-block full (2 discs worth) of incredible music. On November 8, 2009, Bruce and the E Street Band performed this album from start to finish at Madison Square Garden. Are they the greatest band of all time? No. But they're in my top 10.

We are going to go song by song. I'm not sorry.

Side 1:

1) "The Ties That Bind"

I would rather feel the hurt inside, yes I would darlin',
Than know the emptiness your heart must hide,
Yes I would darlin', yes I would darlin',
Yes I would baby

BOOM. We start off with a song that explores the safety and security of being alone vs. giving yourself up to the 'ties that bind.' Cheap romance, it's all just a crutch/You don't want nothin' that anybody can touch/You're so afraid of being somebody's fool. I could listen to this song over and over.

2) "Sherry Darling"

So you can tell her there's a hot sun beatin' on the black top
She keeps talkin' she'll be walkin' that last block
She can take a subway back to the ghetto tonight
Well I got some beer and the highway's free
And I got you, and baby you've got me.
Hey, hey, hey what you say Sherry Darlin'

A song about lousy mothers-in-law! Energetic fun.

3) "Jackson Cage"

Driving home she grabs something to eat
Turns a corner and drives down her street
Into a row of houses she just melts away
Like the scenery in another man's play
Into a house where the blinds are closed
To keep from seeing things she don't wanna know
She pulls the blinds and looks out on the street
The cool of the night takes the edge off the heat

Poetry, poetry, poetry with a beating heart.

4) "Two Hearts"

OK, before I even looked up this song on youtube I got CHILLS I love it so much. Listening to it is pure joy. I first discovered it when I first discovered my love of Bruce: watching the DVD of his 2000 shows at Madison Square Garden with the E-Street band, which is the version I'm posting for you. This was the 3rd song on the set list (or at least the edited one for the CD/DVD) and it's just fucking incredible. My pulse races, my heart expands, my spirit takes off. And the notes Bruce hits when he and Stevie go into "It Takes Two"....UNGHGHGHDHGDJHSGKSJHGD.

Sometimes it might seem like it was planned
For you to roam empty-hearted through this land
Though the world turns you hard and cold
There's one thing mister, that I know
That's if you think your heart is stone
And that you're rough enough to whip this world alone
Alone buddy there ain't no peace of mind
That's why I'll keep searching till I find my special one

5) "Independence Day"

Well say goodbye it's Independence Day
It's Independence Day all boys must run away
So say goodbye it's Independence Day
All men must make their way come Independence Day

When I hear this song I feel like it belongs in a Cameron Crowe movie (a good one, that is).

Side 2:

1) "Hungry Heart"

Oh, Hungry Heart. This was Bruce's first big hit. Joey Ramone asked him to write them a song, and this is what he came up with, but he decided to keep it for himself. Good call. The title references the Tennyson poem "Ulysses"--"For always roaming with a hungry heart." It's upsetting though, that this is song is so upbeat and fun-sounding, considering it's about leaving behind your family. In fact, the slower, sadder cover by Minnie Driver (of all people) is more appropriate to the subject content, but less 'Bruce.' :)

According to wikipedia, "On the day of his murder in December 1980, John Lennon said he thought "Hungry Heart" was "a great record" and even compared it to his single (Just Like) Starting Over."

2) "Out in the Street"

EEEEEEEEEEE! I love this song to BITS. And it's so amazing live. AMAZING. I realize I sound like a silly teenage girl trying to talk about this, but I don't care. This is another instance where the 2000 live version just rocks my socks off. The studio version is fantastic too, but this live version raises the roof off the Garden--the love between the E Streets members is visible and alive, and the back and forth with the crowd is magical. Or watch a 1980 performance for even MORE energy.

3) "Crush On You"

Sometimes I spot a little stranger standing 'cross the room
My brain takes a vacation just to give my heart more room
For one kiss, darling I swear everything I would give
Cause you're a walking, talking reason to live

Fun rough rock that makes me want to dance and clap along.

4) "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)"

Well I called up Dirty Annie on the telephone
I took her out to the drive-in just to get her alone
I found a lover's rendezvous, the music low, set to park
I heard a tappin' on the window and a voice in the dark
You can look but you better not touch boy
You can look but you better not touch boy
Mess around and you'll end up in dutch boy
You can look but you better not, no you better not, no you better not touch

The studio version of this song is another fun rocker of a song, but I think I prefer the toned done bootleg I posted.

5) "I Wanna Marry You"

Now honey, I don't wanna clip your wings
But a time comes when two people should think of these things
Having a home and a family
Facing up to their responsibilities
They say in the end true love prevails
But in the end true love can't be no fairytale
To say I'll make your dreams come true would be wrong
But maybe, darlin', I could help them along

Lovely song about wanting to marry a single mom. But not one of my all-time Bruce favorites, but it's a fascinating choice for the lead-in to...

6) "The River"

I got a job working construction for the Johnstown Company
But lately there ain't been much work on account of the economy
Now all them things that seemed so important
Well mister they vanished right into the air
Now I just act like I don't remember
Mary acts like she don't care

But I remember us riding in my brother's car
Her body tan and wet down at the reservoir
At night on them banks I'd lie awake
And pull her close just to feel each breath she'd take
Now those memories come back to haunt me
they haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don't come true
Or is it something worse
that sends me down to the river
though I know the river is dry
That sends me down to the river tonight
Down to the river
my baby and I
Oh down to the river we ride

Oh man, this song. When I was in high school our youth pastor offered free guitar lessons. I learned a lot of worship songs, and then some John Denver and Don McLean, but I remember asking my sister if I could play "The River" for her, and let's just say she didn't connect to it quite as much as I hoped my 15 year-old's rendition of a song about adult broken hearts and unplanned marriage in the Midwest would. No matter. To this day it is one of the most haunting, heart-wrenching, visually-stirring songs I know. Hell, even Rob Gordon plays it post-break-up in High Fidelity.

Bruce used to claim (and maybe still does) that he wrote it about his brother-in-law and sister. Loss, broken dreams, redemption--it's all there. Later on tours the song would be extended at the end for the audience to sing the tune with Bruce in 'oooooh's' (his vocal range is from another world). That's the case in the 2000 live version, but add to it the UBER chilling keyboard intro, the delicate accordion, and the harmonica solos that blows all others away. As one youtube commenter puts its, "This is why I would rather be blind than deaf."

Leaves me breathless.

Side 3:

1) "Point Blank"

Once I dreamed we were together again
baby you and me
Back home in those old clubs the way we used to be
We were standin' at the bar
it was hard to hear
The band was playin' loud and you were shoutin' somethin' in my ear
You pulled my jacket off and as the drummer counted four
You grabbed my hand and pulled me out on the floor
You just stood there and held me, then you started dancin' slow
And as I pulled you tighter I swore I'd never let you go

One of the slower songs on the album. I'm not as familiar with it, but it doesn't disappoint. Those LYRICS.

2) "Cadillac Ranch"

Cadillac, Cadillac
Long and dark, shiny and black
Open up them engines let 'em roar
Tearing up the highway like a big old dinosaur

Hey, little girlie in the blue jeans so tight
Drivin' alone through the Wisconsin night
You're my last love baby you're my last chance
Don't let 'em take me to the Cadillac Ranch

Fun rockabilly. Confession: for a long time I thought this song was off Born in the U.S.A..

3) "I'm A Rocker"

I got a 007 watch and it's a one and only
It's got a I-Spy beeper that tells me when you're lonely
I got a Batmobile so I can reach ya' in a fast shake
When your world's in crisis of an impendin' heartbreak

Now don't you call James Bond or Secret Agent Man
Cause they can't do it, like I can
I'm a rocker, baby, I'm a rocker - every day
I'm a rocker, baby, I'm a rocker

This song is so damn infectious. I think it's my favorite of the silly fun songs on the album (and I apologize for the incredibly silly video). I put it on a lot of mixes for my car. Though it becomes a problem when I need to have my hands on the wheel and instead I'm clapping.

4) "Fade Away"

Now baby I don't wanna be just another useless memory holding you tight
Or just some other ghost out on the street to whom you stop and politely speak
when you pass on by vanishing into the night
left to vanish into the night
No baby

Gorgeous live version I've posted for us, from 1980. Yes, it's nine minutes long. And yes, you should listen to it from beginning to end. The intro! Such a soulful lament. Just...beautiful. The piano! The organ! Let me die.

5) "Stolen Car"

I met a little girl and I settled down
In a little house out on the edge of town
We got married, and swore we'd never part
Then little by little we drifted from each other's heart

At first I thought it was just restlessness
That would fade as time went by and our love grew deep
In the end it was something more I guess
That tore us apart and made us weep

And I'm driving a stolen car
Down on Eldridge Avenue
Each night I wait to get caught
But I never do

She asked if I remembered the letters I wrote
When our love was young and bold
She said last night she read those letters
And they made her feel one hundred years old

And I'm driving a stolen car
On a pitch black night
And I'm telling myself I'm gonna be alright
But I ride by night and I travel in fear
That in this darkness I will disappear

Yes, I posted the entire song's lyrics. I don't regret it. The backing vocals on this song are so haunting.

Side 4:

1) "Ramrod"

Hey, little dolly won't you say you will
Meet me tonight up on top of the hill
Well just a few miles cross the county line
There's a cute little chapel nestled down in the pines
Say you'll be mine little girl I'll put my foot to the floor
Give me the word now sugar, we'll go ramroddin' forever more

Brilliant sax solo from Clarence. Another fun clapping song!

2) "The Price You Pay"

You make up your mind, you choose the chance you take
You ride to where the highway ends and the desert breaks
Out on to an open road you ride until the day
You learn to sleep at night with the price you pay

Now with their hands held high, they reached out for the open skies
And in one last breath they built the roads they'd ride to their death
Driving on through the night, unable to break away
From the restless pull of the price you pay

Makes me want to go on a road trip. The lyrics! And the piano. Roy Bittan, you magnificent bastard.

3) "Drive All Night"

When I lost you honey sometimes I think I lost my guts too
And I wish God would send me a word
send me something I'm afraid to lose
Lying in the heat of the night like prisoners all our lives
I get shivers down my spine and all I wanna do is hold you tight

I swear I'll drive all night just to buy you some shoes
And to taste your tender charms
And I just wanna sleep tonight again in your arms

Tonight there's fallen angels and they're waiting for us down in the street
Tonight there's calling strangers,
hear them crying in defeat.
Let them go, let them go, let them go,
do their dances of the dead (let'em go right ahead)
You just dry your eyes girl, and c'mon c'mon
c'mon let's go to bed, baby, baby, baby

There's machines and there's fire waiting on the edge of town
They're out there for hire but baby they can't hurt us now
Cause you've got, you've got, you've got,
you've got my love, you've got my love
Through the wind, through the rain, the snow, the wind, the rain
You've got, you've got my, my love
Heart and soul

I literally have no words. Just let me live and die in this song.

4) "Wreck on the Highway"

This is a ballad, in the sense that it tells a story. It's a great last song for the album, because so many of the tracks are all about dissatisfaction with your life, how you feel trapped, whether it be in a town or a relationship or a job. But this song about seeing someone who's life is taken from them, and how it can make you grateful for what you have, no matter how mediocre or average or disappointing.

Well, that's it. That's The River by Bruce Springsteen. It's a feast for your ears and heart and soul and spirit. A feast that only gets more satisfying the more you partake of it, like most of his music.

Is This Better Then Help!?: Why, yes. In fact, it's so effing incredible, I am officially raising the standard bar from Help! to The River for all future posts and albums. No gif can fully express the feelings this album gives me, but this comes close:


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