Desert Island Album Draft, Round 3: Darkness on the Edge of Town

I’m participating in an album draft with nine other bloggers, organized by Hanspostcard. There will be ten rounds, with draft order determined randomly by round. With the third pick in round three, I’ve selected one of my favorite Springsteen albums.

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band Release Passaic 1978 Concert Live  Album

What is it about Bruce Springsteen’s music that has earned him one of the largest and most loyal fan bases on the planet? I don’t know the first thing about cars, auto mechanics, or racing. I never worked in a factory or a car wash or on a highway. I never had and lost a job at a lumber yard or slept in an abandoned beach house or in a car because I had nowhere else to go. I never stood in a filthy phone booth for hours on a freezing night talking to my girlfriend until I thought it was safe to go home and face my father. I never ran from a state trooper. I know nothing of life growing up in a coastal town adjacent to once great but now failing boardwalk communities. However, I do possess deeply rooted feelings about friendships and family, past and present. I’m for respecting basic human rights and dignity, and for people having a fair shot in life. I’m for the underdog. I do enjoy the open road, and oh yeah, I love good music. Bruce Springsteen, with and without the E Street Band, checks all those boxes, and I’m happy to be able to add one of his finest albums to my desert island collection.

BBC Four - Bruce Springsteen: Darkness Live 1978

Darkness on the Edge of Town, released in June of 1978 after taking nearly a year to record, was the follow up to Born to Run. Due to Bruce’s ongoing legal dispute with his former manager there was a three year gap between the two. However, this was an extremely productive time for him, as he wrote approximately 70 (!) songs. Some – Because the Night, Fire, Rendezvous, and others – were recorded by other artists. Others ended up on later releases of his such as The River, Tracks, and The Promise. Forty-plus years on, the songs from Darkness remain part of the core of his marathon live sets. Whether on the studio cuts or live versions, the songs from this album are filled with honesty, sincerity, and emotion.

Bruce Springsteen - Darkness on the Edge of Town Lyrics and Tracklist |  Genius

I was not exposed to much of Bruce’s music as a kid. The first Springsteen song I remember hearing was Hungry Heart. In 1984, with the heavy presence of Born in the U.S.A. in the Top 40 and on MTV, suddenly he was everywhere and I was becoming a fan. I had that album, but still had yet to explore his back catalog. Two years later when I was 15, he released the Live 1975-85 box set. A local radio station announced they would play all three albums from the box in their entirety over three consecutive nights, and I was ready with a pack of cheap TDK D-90’s and an even cheaper stereo on which to record it. That was my “ah-ha” experience with Springsteen’s music. I was mesmerized by all that music I’d not heard before, as well as his audiences’ reactions to it. Badlands, Adam Raised a Cain, Candy’s Room, Racing in the Street, Darkness on the Edge of Town…where had this music been all my life?

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band 1978 by danwind on DeviantArt

These songs, and all the other pre-Born in the U.S.A. tracks I heard through headphones with my radio reception fading in and out in the basement those three late November nights in 1986, caused my head to spin. This was at a time when, mixed in with my Beatles, Elton, U2, and R.E.M. albums, I also listened to the standard mid-80’s Top 40 fare that average teen sheep like myself played. But after my Springsteen mini-immersion, Madonna, Wang Chung, and Cameo suddenly sounded even sillier than I already knew their music to be (yes, there was some good stuff on the airwaves back then, but you get the picture). Soon after, I made a bee-line to the nearest record store 30 miles away and purchased Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town on LP. A couple years later The River and Nebraska were among the first CD’s I owned. Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle weren’t far behind. My conversion to Springsteen lifer status was complete.

-Stephen

 

Desert Island Album Draft, Round 2: Rubber Soul

I’m participating in an album draft with nine other bloggers, organized by Hanspostcard. There will be ten rounds, with draft order determined randomly by round. I was the ninth to select in this round, and I scored one of my favorite Beatles albums.

Bob Whitaker: Three Beatles – Snap Galleries Limited

There was no doubt that my second pick would be a Beatles album. It was only a matter of what was still available to choose from. Twenty years ago, Rubber Soul would’ve been at the top of my Beatles list. Today it’s second by a hair, but I’ll still gladly add it to All Things Must Pass in my fledgling desert isle collection. Rubber Soul is another of their albums which saw two releases on separate labels with different track lists and song totals. I grew up with the U.S. (Capitol) version, which does have its positives despite being two tracks shorter. However, in my adult life I’ve only listened to the Parlophone version which was standard across most of the planet outside the U.S., and for the purposes of the draft that’s the one I’m going with.

Rubber Soul Sessions 1965 — The Beatles in 3D

By 1965 the Beatles were progressing at lightning speed as writers and as individuals, more so than what their heavily promoted mop top image – or what was left of it at that point – might’ve suggested. It’s astounding to me when looking at it in terms of a timeline just how rapidly they evolved. During their month long U.S. tour that summer they met Dylan in New York, dropped acid with The Byrds in L.A. (with Paul famously abstaining for the time being), listened to a lot of Motown and Stax music on the radio, and smoked pot for breakfast (John would even describe Rubber Soul as “the pot album”). They returned to the U.K. inspired to write a new batch of songs reflective of these experiences, which they began recording a short time later in October. Rubber Soul was released – along with its accompanying smash double A-sided single, Day Tripper/We Can Work it Out – on December 3. It was their second album of all original material, still somewhat unheard of in rock and pop music at the time. Whew!

day tripper.jpg

The title pokes fun at themselves for not having “authentic” soul like the American R&B artists they admired, but when the needle hits the grooves, it’s anything but phony. The themes are more serious and much less bubblegum than on previous albums, and for many younger fans whose lives hadn’t changed so drastically and in such a short period of time, this was a shock. There are beautifully written songs of lament (You Won’t See Me, Wait, I’m Looking Through You, Girl), and sentimental retrospection (In My Life). We also start to hear their “later” personalities and influences come to the fore, especially with Harrison. There’s stern advice from “grumpy George” (Think for Yourself) as well as the sweet, jangly sound of his 12-string Rickenbacker on the Byrds-influenced If I Needed Someone (he’s no longer saying “I need you,” but only “If…”). Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown), written by John about an extramarital affair and played in the style of Dylan, was not only the first Beatles song on which George played sitar, it was the first rock record to do so, period. This song alone spawned “raga rock” and brought Hindustani classical music – particularly that of Ravi Shankar and his associates – to Western ears like never before. John had laid bare his feelings of despair earlier in the year on his song Help!, but few heard it as he meant it. With Nowhere Man listeners now understood there was complexity behind Lennon’s goofy, sometimes acerbic façade.

69 Years Ago Today … – The Kitty Packard Pictorial

I realize it’s silly to second guess what the Beatles did on their albums, but there are a couple of nicks in Rubber Soul’s vinyl in my view. It’s been written, and boasted about somewhat by McCartney, that they were a very democratic band, and to a great extent they were. Yet at times it was a bit to their detriment. While I wouldn’t have wanted anyone but Ringo as the drummer for the Beatles, looking at it today it seems rather misguided for them to designate a slot on their albums for a Ringo song. What Goes On, if only briefly, disrupts the vibe and flow of the album. Other than perhaps his White Album tracks, Ringo’s songs should’ve been B-sides only. And beginning with their next album it made even less sense as George was writing a lot more yet was still allotted only one or two tracks per record. Additionally, Run for Your Life has a regrettable set of lyrics despite being an otherwise fun track instrumentally speaking. Even John disavowed it later.

BEATLES - Ringo Starr in 1965 Stock Photo - Alamy

1965 was a transitional time all the way around for the Beatles and on Rubber Soul in particular, but not in a way to suggest anything was lacking. Almost everything they did, whether with their music or their group image and as individuals, had a major impact on popular culture. And if one is inclined to hear this album and Revolver as companion pieces as George Harrison did, it could be argued that it was their peak.

 

Desert Island Album Draft, Round 1: All Things Must Pass

I’m participating in an album draft with nine other bloggers, organized by Hanspostcard. There will be ten rounds, with draft order determined randomly by round. I was the last to select in the first round, but my #1 choice was still available: George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. I’ll probably end up doing an extended series on this album when its 50th anniversary comes up later this year.

George-Harrison-All-Things-Must-Pass.jpg

Where to start with George’s 1970 triple album opus, and how to explain concisely why this album means so much to me in a manner that doesn’t make me sound full of myself? I’m counting on the fact that we’re all music nuts here and can, at least to some extent, relate. Despite the fact that I have no clue what it’s like to be musically gifted, internationally famous (never mind an ex-Beatle), wealthy, etc., if there’s one artist who I think I can relate to as a person, it’s George. I wear my heart on my sleeve like he did, and if I were ever to experience any degree of fame I’d probably react to it similarly to him. That is to say, “’Hari Krishna,’ now please get off my lawn while I enjoy this piece of cake.” Maybe it’s because I’m a fellow Pisces, I don’t know. And if there’s one album of his which displays his full range of emotions relating to personal relationships and spiritual longing, and is presented in beautifully crafted songs with fantastic musicianship from start to finish, it’s All Things Must Pass.

Due to the limits he faced with regard to his songs making it onto Beatles albums, Harrison had been stockpiling them since roughly 1966. After starting 1968 by staying in India longer than the other Beatles, in the fall of that year George spent time with Dylan and The Band at Woodstock, which was perhaps the final nail in the Beatles’ coffin as far as George was concerned. Their influence is all over this solo debut album, which was an artistic and emotional purging for Harrison.

There are songs of human love for friends, including the Dylan co-written I’d Have You Anytime, and George’s attempt at coaxing Bob out of his self-imposed exile on Behind That Locked Door. Apple Scruffs is his humorous love song to his loyal fans who waited daily outside the recording studio, and What is Life is one of a number of George’s uniquely ambiguous love songs over the course of his solo years which leaves it up to the listener to decide if it’s about human or Godly love.

There are songs of lament over friendships on the wane. Wah-Wah was written when George walked out of the Get Back sessions. It’s a double entendre which refers to the guitar effect as well as the headache John and Paul had caused him. Run of the Mill, too, was written out of his sadness over the Beatles’ slow dissolution. Isn’t it a Pity, to me, is the most powerful track on this emotional roller coaster of an album. I can’t watch Eric Clapton and Billy Preston sing it on The Concert for George without tears. Just thinking about it…

And, there are the songs which focus on George’s spiritual journey. The smash hit, of course, was My Sweet Lord, which includes a Vedic chant for which Harrison took heat from Christian fundamentalists for supposedly trying to subliminally indoctrinate America’s youth into heathen Eastern religion. As with his organizing the Concert for Bangladesh a year later, it took nerve (and Phil Spector’s insistence) for him to put this song out as a single, but it paid off. The Art of Dying had its genesis around 1966 when Lennon’s Tomorrow Never Knows was the Tibetan Book of the Dead-influenced song to make the cut on Revolver. To the uninitiated, it can be a dark or frightening song. It’s not. As with The Art of Dying, Awaiting on You All is Harrison encouraging us to wake up to what’s real and eschew that which isn’t. And lastly, after all the madness, fame, and fortune of his Beatles experience left him emotionally and spiritually frayed, there’s George’s bare bones plea in Hear Me Lord. For such a private man, it doesn’t get any more open and sincere than this.

I know I need to wrap this up despite the fact that I could go on (other tracks, the plagiarism lawsuit, Apple Jam, the session players, the cover, etc.). I would, however, like to comment briefly on Phil Spector’s production. As with Let it Be, this is the version we grew up with, and I love it just like it is. Perhaps when the deluxe 50th anniversary edition comes out this fall, it will include alternate versions and demos with toned down production. Some of it is already available on bootlegs and YouTube.

Thanks for reading.

-Stephen