Bryan: When I first contacted Bryant about the possibility of doing a listen-through of the Springsteen catalog, I'd only heard up through 2002 (The Rising) or so. (And of that, I only really knew the material up through 1987's Tunnel of Love.) My interest in Springsteen had run cold over the years, but sometime last year I listened to the Live '75 - '85 set. And I remembered just how huge a Bruce fan I was in those mid-80s years. The more I listened, the more memories came back (scattered throughout this series of posts), and the more I found to enjoy.
|Tonight we get to the end - on a project that I wasn't even aware existed when this project first began, namely:|
Bryan: This was a companion album to Bruce's autobiography Born to Run. You can do that sort of thing when you're a musician - and you should! Criminally few do, though. So I'll just put that out there: if one day you're a famous enough musician to be releasing a memoir, put out something like Chapter and Verse alongside it.
Bryant: Here's my capsule review of Born To Run:
This is a great autobiography, and I'd say that for the most part I was much more captivated by the sections that weren't about the music. That's not to say that Bruce fails to be engaging when he's discussing his work and his career. He's got some great insights and anecdotes. But you can tell that to some extent, he feels like he said everything he had to say about most of the songs in the process of writing, recording, and performing them.
Where the book really sings is in its stories of life outside the recording studio, especially his early, pre-fame years. I don't mean the story of his first two albums (although yes, that, too); I mean the EARLY early years, like his childhood. He's got some great stories about growing up in a family of Italian immigrants, mixing with other groups and being spoiled by his grandmother and being electrified by seeing rock stars (first Elvis, later The Beatles) on television. Teaching himself to dance because he knew girls liked to dance, and even if you sucked at it it would earn you time with the opposite sex; smart kid, that Bruce Springsteen.
Perhaps the best chapter is one involving his pre-recording-contract band driving to California to play some gigs there and try to make a name for themselves. It's an amusing journey in some ways, and a harrowing one in other ways, and you'd watch the hell out of a movie that was made out of the story. Don't be shocked if somebody does that eventually. There are also a number of great stories involving Springsteen's father, whose presence looms very large for most of the book. So does the presence of Patti Scialfa, once she shows up; it's clear that this lady probably saved Bruce's life and career in more ways than one, on more than one occasion.
It's a great read, and if you're inclined to do so, you could do worse than check it out on Audible, where there's an unabridged version read by the author.
Bryan: Here's some remarks on the "new" tunes on Chapter and Verse.
"Baby I" (by the Castiles)
Bryan: 3/5 I love early glimpses of stuff like this. Reminds me in spirit of that first disc of the Beatles Anthology. Not particularly enjoyable listening but interesting - definitely would find room for these on some Ultimate Bruce Mix for ambience/ contrast / history.
Bryant: Oh, wow, this was an original?!? Shit, I just assumed it was a cover of some song I'd never heard. (I listened to these five songs cold and then looked them up to see what Wikipedia said about them.) As you say, this is nothing you'd get much enjoyment out of divorced from the context of what/who it is. But it sounds like credible stuff to my ears, and that says a lot. 2/5
"You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover" (by the Castiles)
Bryant: This isn't much of a performance, especially vocally, but ... damn, you can kind of hear the energy that made these guys a popular bar band. I can't swear to it, but I think I've heard the original version (written by Willie Dixon, performed by Bo Diddley). Or perhaps one of the many covers. This one isn't great, but it's far from the worst thing I've ever heard. 1.75/5
Bryan: 2.5/5 Totally agree on the bar band ambience to this one.
"He's Guilty (The Judge Song)" (by Steel Mill)
Bryan: 3.25/5 This one's kinda cool. I dig it.
Bryant: I'd love to be able to listen to this with no knowledge of who it was. I probably wouldn't like it. But I do know who it is, and whether that's influencing my feelings or not, I kind of love this. You might can even scratch the "kind of." Having read the chapter of the autobiography in which they take that trip out to California, I now kind of want to see a movie made in which this song is the triumphant finale. 2.5/5
"The Ballad of Jesse James" (by the Bruce Springsteen Band)
Bryan: 3/5 Sheesh - this is a tough slog, but what strikes me is how much it sounds like a Black Crowes outtake.
Bryant: This is very credible Southern-inspired rock. And while it does sound like Springsteen's writing to my ears, it also sounds NOTHING like what his first album would end up sounding like ... or any of the many that came after it. (You can say the same of "He's Guilty," too.) That's fascinating to me. It almost seems like we got our hands on that Ur-Kindle and peeked for a few minutes into the career of some other level's Springsteen. And hey, it ain't bad! 2.5/5
Bryan: 2/5 Kind of dig this one, too. Too many early Bruce songs have this kind of verse melody/ delivery, though. But that's the challenge of this unreleased stuff, since he cannibalized/ casserole'd it for all the stuff that made it onto albums over the years.
Bryant: I mean, this is just an early version of "Rosalita," isn't it? (I say "just," but no diminishment is intended.) And I hear some echoes -- pre-echoes, perhaps -- of "Blinded by the Light" as well. I guess that's (as you intimate) just kind of what Bruce sounded like circa spring 1972. I'm okay with that. 2/5
~Bryan: Total 13.75 Avg. 2.75 I'm happy to have this collection of home movies.
Bryant: Total 10.75, average 2.15 I'd happily have listened to a full two-disc set of stuff from this era. And you just KNOW such a thing could have been done.
Bryan: Absolutely. And probably still will be, thankfully. I suspect we've by no means heard the last from the Springsteen Archives. And speaking of, before we do the Final Rankings, Bryant was kind enough to write up these thoughts on:
Bryan: Take it away, sir!
Bryant: Okay, so with this set, discs 1 and 2 are just The River. Disc 3 is The Ties That Bind, an album (you already know this, but just so you know what the disc itself represents) that Springsteen almost released but didn't. Some of it made its way onto The River, some of it did not. Discs 4 and 5 are Blu-rays, and Disc 6 is a mess of outtakes, some of which are familiar, some of which are not. I’m going to only score the audio discs, and I’m going to split those up, since one of them is an assembly of a would-be album, and probably ought to be judged that way.
Disc 3 – The Ties That Bind
(1) “The Ties That Bind” – A lot of these songs are songs from previous releases, of course, so I thought I’d have a little fun by not consulting my previous scores and just judging them from the mindset I’m in this morning. Might be instructive for me, if nothing else. Anyways, I am 99.9% positive that this is a different take of this song than what ended up on The River, so a different score makes sense if so. I’ll go with 2.75/5.
(2) “Cindy” – I like this a lot, although it kind of goes nowhere. 2.5/5
(3) “Hungry Heart” – I think this is the same take as the River version, but I swear to God it sounds ever so slightly slower to me. Am I imaging things? Maybe not. This version runs 3:28, whereas the one on The River runs 3:19. WTF?!? I’m giving this a mere 5/5 out of sheer confusion.
(4) “Stolen Car” – This is pretty good, but I don’t think it’s got the pathos that the real version has. So I’m giving it a 3/5, and if that’s more than I gave the River version, then I need to rescore The River.
(5) “To Be True” – Not the best version of this song I’ve heard, but it’s alright. 2.5/5 Sounds like a demo, which is true of this entire “album” so far. That might be why it never got to the release stage of things back in the day.
(6) “The River” – This is basically the same song as the one on the album that bears its name, but, and correct me if I’m wrong, I think this is a different take. Still great, though. 5/5
(7) “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)” – Well, now I feel better about some of this, because this is absolutely a different version of this particular song. More of a honky-tonk feel to it. I don’t like it as much as the Gene Simmons soundalike version, but I do like it as its own thing. 2.25/5 Bruce’s vocals are good, and I like the echoey quality, which I assume is a byproduct of wherever it was recorded.
(8) “The Price You Pay” – 2.75/5
(9) “I Wanna Marry You” – 2.5/5
(10) “Loose Ends” – I remain of the opinion that this is a heck of a song. 3.5/5 Sounds a little rough here, but still a winner in my book.
Overall – 31.75 total, 3.18 average. Pretty respectable, but it’s buoyed significantly by the two classics that ended up on The River.
Disc 6 – The River outtakes
(1) “Meet Me in the City” – This is kind of like “Out in the Street” except I like it better. 2.5/5 I wonder if my scores reflect that?
(2) “The Man Who Got Away” – Okay, so, this isn’t like the second coming of “Light My Fire” or anything like that, but what kind of madman keeps this sitting in a vault for 25 years? Name rhymes with Truce Greenscreen, that’s who. 2.5/5
(3) “Little White Lies” – This rocks. 3.25/5 Unreleased for such a period of time that it could have damn near rented a car. (Bryan: I love this one. A more cleaned-up version could even be knocking on 4.5 to 5/5 out of territory for me. What the frak, Bruce?)
(4) “The Time That Never Was” – I thought for a while that this might be a new favorite, and while it didn’t end up being that, I do like it. 2.75/5
(5) “Night Fire” – Take those marbles out of your mouth, Bruce! His vocals here are awful. I kind of dig the song, though. 2.25/5
(6) “Whitetown” – This is alright, but both the production and the performance are lacking. 2/5 It’s not bad, though; I can imagine it growing on me.
(7) “Chain Lightning” – Great guitar riff at the beginning, and when the bass kicks in it’s even better. The song never manages to really go anywhere from here, though, so it ends up not fulfilling the promise it seems to have. 2.25/5
(8) “Party Lights” – Steve seems to be exerting himself on this one, which is fine by me. It’s not a great song, though. I find it to be guilty of your “We Built This City” rule. 2/5 (Bryan: See here for full details.)
(9) “Paradise by the ‘C’ ” – A studio version of a live staple. Not a bad little tune. Nonessential, but a lot of fun. 2.5/5
(10) “Stray Bullet” – This is a rather beautiful performance. Clarence, in particular, does a great job. But I like everything in this one. 3.5/5 I’m being a little conservative with that score, too; I thought about going higher.
(11) “Mr. Outside” – This is just Bruce dicking around in front of a recording device of some sort. But as far as that sort of thing goes, this is fun. 2.25/5
(12) “Roulette” – A furiously great riff right up top on this one. Is this the same version as appears on Tracks? I think so. I wonder if I’ll give an identical score? If not, I think that’s okay; after all, context and proximity do undoubtedly influence things like that. It fucking rocks, so I’m going with 4/5. If I were Vladimir Putin, I’d make it mandatory for Russian bands to cover this song at least once per year, because that would be funny.
(13) “Restless Nights” – 3.25/5
(14) “Where the Bands Are” – I’m pretty sure we’re entirely at the end of the songs we’ve not heard before, but that’s okay, let’s press on and score these anyways. 2.5/5 for this one.
(15) “Dollhouse” – What the hell are they saying in the backing vocals? I am assuming it is “gopher Lynn” and unless you can prove me wrong, that’s how it is staying. 2.5/5
(16) “Living on the Edge of the World” – 2/5
(17) “Take ‘Em As they Come” – 2.25/5
(18) “Ricky Wants a Man of Her Own” – This sort of thing does happen, no doubt about it. 2.5/5
(19) “I Wanna Be With You” – 3.25/5 Another Gene Simmons impersonation.
(20) “Mary Lou” – 2.25/5
(21) “Held Up Without a Gun” – 2.5/5
(22) “From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)” – 3.75/5
Overall – 58.5 total, 2.66 average. That’s not a terrific score, but I think this “album” of outtakes is awfully enjoyable. I wish it was a little more widely available; burying it inside a $100 box set is kind of a dick move. I guess Bruce got to eat, though.
Lucky Town 2.15
Greetings from Asbury Park 2.19
The Ghost of Tom Joad 2.44
American Beauty 2.56
Working on a Dream 2.71
American Beauty 2.56
Working on a Dream 2.71
Chapter and Verse 2.75
In Concert / MTV Plugged 2.82
Chimes of Freedom 2.86
Wrecking Ball 2.86
Blood Brothers 2.88
Human Touch 2.9
The Promise 3.08
Book of Dreams 3.1
Hammersmith Odeon, London 3.1
The Rising 3.3
Devils and Dust 3.36
High Hopes 3.39
The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle 3.43
Live in New York City 3.5
Loose Ends 3.63
Greatest Hits (New Tracks Only) 3.65
We Shall Overcome: The Pete Seeger Sessions 3.67
The River 3.71
Tunnel of Love 3.8
Darkness on the Edge of Town 3.82
Live ’75 - ‘85 4
Live in Dublin 4.11
Born to Run 4.41
Born in the USA 5.4
Human Touch 1.7
American Beauty 2.00
American Beauty 2.00
Hammersmith Odeon, London '75 2.04
Lucky Town 2.15
Chapter and Verse 2.15
Working on a Dream 2.23
Working on a Dream 2.23
The Ghost of Tom Joad 2.46
Devils and Dust 2.48
Book of Dreams 2.58
The River outtakes 2.66
Chimes of Freedom 2.69
In Concert / Mtv Plugged 2.75
Greetings from Asbury Park 2.75
Wrecking Ball 2.77
High Hopes 2.83
Blood Brothers 2.9
The Promise 2.99
The Rising 3.1
Live in Dublin 3.22
Tunnel of Love 3.35
We Shall Overcome: The Pete Seeger Sessions 3.37
Greatest Hits (New Tracks Only) 3.38
The River 3.39
Live in New York City 3.48
The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle 3.68
Live ’75 - ‘85 3.7
Loose Ends 3.92
Born to Run 4.35
Darkness on the Edge of Town 4.4
Born in the USA 4.88
~Bryan: This concludes our album by album overview of the Springsteen discography. There'll be a Table of Contents type post with all new remarks on each album still to come, but that's just good housekeeping. As of this writing, Bruce is on Broadway doing his thing and makes the occasional interesting live appearance at the "gathering of the youths."
|Fun version of "Glory Days" with the guys in Phish here.|
Here's hoping there'll be cause for a few more of these write-ups. Thank you, Bryant, for accompanying me on this musical journey, and thank you, out there, for reading. To rock and roll!