Marie of My Wild Surmise put Thunder Road in my head a couple of weeks ago, and I knew right then it needed to be weekend music before the month was out. For my money, the best arrangement is the one they used for the Live 1981-85 boxed set, and this is an especially good performance of that version, recorded in Paris. Stick around until 5:55 and you will see something truly awesome.
There was no real internet until I was into my 20s, and music was very important to me when I was a kid. It was more immediate than books – I could get it from the radio all day long for free. I discovered Bruce and the E-Street Band in 1984 through the Born to in the USA album.
The first thing that impressed me about them was that the sound was so big. They didn’t just have a bass, two guitars, and a drummer. They had a glockenspiel, an organ AND a piano, an accordian when they needed it. They had the best saxophonist in the universe, they were playing hard rock, and their lyrics were as good as any poetry I’d ever read.
I was also taken aback by the fact that ” Born in the USA” is really a scathing song. It’s criticism, not patriotism, but none of the grownups seemed to understand that at the time. It’s like they just did not understand the words. It’s one of the first pieces of art that made me really stop what I was doing and look at how the world works.
The way I learned about artists in those days was, when I heard someone I liked on the radio, I’d go to the library or the grocery store and browse magazines. There were weekly mags that published song lyrics and discographies on newsprint that you could buy for less than one 1980s dollar. I’d memorize the discographies and the names of the band members.
This is also how I educated myself about The Beatles, Led Zepplin, The Eagles, Bob Dylan, and a lot of other important musicians. The ones I really liked, I’d memorize all their album titles and save my money for the monthly trip to the mall. I’d go to Sound Shop for cassettes (anyone else remember that store with their yellow stickers that gave you the one-year guarantee?)
I bought Born in the USA and liked it so much, I bought Born to Run on the next trip without having heard a single song from it. The trip after that, I bought Nebraska.
Born to Run is their third album. The first two, Greetings from Asbury Park N.J., and The Wild, the Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle, are immature, both in terms of songwriting and sound. Born to Run is a coming-of-age album. It, and the next four (Darkness on the Edge of Town, The River, Nebraska, Born in the USA), are some of my all-time favorite popular music. The next few aren’t that great, but I love The Seeger Sessions.