“Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact, / But maybe everything that dies some day comes back”
It looks like Bruce Springsteen’s High Hopes, a collection of session outtakes and unreleased material from the millennium years, is set to reach the No.1 spot, making it Springsteen’s tenth No.1 album. I am very partial to a bit of Brooce and his unreleased tracks are often beauties, but unfortunately after a few listens High Hopes falls just a bit short for me and I think I may have narrowed down the reason why. Springsteen’s previously released four disc collection of B-Sides and rarities Tracks (which was out of print for years, but has recently been reissued) covered a good thirty years from his early days as a New Jersey bar bandleader in the seventies right on through to the years in the wilderness without the E Street Band during the nineties. As such, the collection reflects a variety of periods and styles of Springsteen’s career as a maturing musician and songwriter. Compared to Tracks, High Hopes has a relatively meagre selection to draw from, with only thirteen years and four albums (seven if you count the solo and Seeger Session Band releases). This is Springsteen as a fully matured songwriter and while each of the four E Street Band albums is compelling in its own way, there is a clear oscillation in tone between bristled outrage (Magic, Wrecking Ball) and enduring hope (The Rising, Working On A Dream) in reaction to what was going on at the time (Bush administration; Post-banking crisis and recession blues; Post 9/11; And Obama’s rise to power, respectively). This means that while there are some fine moments on High Hopes, it just doesn’t have the gamut and variety of Tracks. With that in mind, I thought this seemed a prudent time to pull up some of Springsteen’s finest diamonds in the rough for a Cutting Room Floor special.
An early cut from 1973, first recorded during the sessions for The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle and performed many time since then, but only officially surfacing in 1998 on the 18 Tracks compilation. In the meantime, Springsteen gifted the song to his Jersey Shore friend and contemporary, Southside Johnny, for his 1976 debut album I Don’t Want To Go Home. It kickstarted the career of Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes and Springsteen and other E Streeters have performed in the band with him down the years. The song itself is a slow bluesy ballad of longing with the E Street Band creating simmering tension while Springsteen’s croon is on smouldering form.
Born In The U.S.A. (Demo)
Probably the most well known and most commonly misunderstood of Springsteen’s songs. Like John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, where the causticly anarchistic message is thinly veiled behind a plaintive piano melody and uplifting chorus, ‘Born In The U.S.A.’s heavy irony has often been misconstrued by casual listeners who only hear the militaristic fist-pumping beat and the refrain “I was born in the U.S.A.”. In other words, they hear a call to arms rather than the cry of desperation and sorrow of a disillusioned Vietnam War veteran with “nowhere to run, nowhere to go”. The song was famously appropriated in a jingoistic way by Ronald Reagan’s 1984 presidential reelection campaign. Had they first heard the original version of the song, birthed during the sessions for Springsteen’s starkest record, Nebraska, they might not have been so keen. As the song pounds along on Springsteen’s jittery acoustic rhythm the wiry twang of an electric guitar rises in the distance like helicopters over Vietnam. From the breathless desperation of Springsteen’s delivery and his high and lonesome cries there is no doubt that this is about a man being hunted down; running, but with nowhere to run to.
A rollicking barnstormer of a song, which rose to prominence during the E Street Band Reunion Tour in the late ‘90s. Describing the everyday dangers and pressures of living in New York during the Murder Inc. period of organised crime, it is the little vivid observations such as keeping “a little secret deep inside your dresser drawer” that make Springsteen such an accomplished songwriter. Recorded during the Born In The U.S.A. sessions, Springsteen even considered naming the album after the song before cutting it from the tracklist and going with Born In The U.S.A. instead. What a different album it would have been with that title.
‘Swallowed Up (In The Belly Of A Whale)’
And to finish where we started, here is a bonus cut from Springsteen’s last album, Wrecking Ball. Although there is a lot of rage and darkness on Wrecking Ball there is also a lot of hope, and ‘Swallowed Up’ must have been left off for fear of overtipping the balance towards the former. While bitter anthems on Wrecking Ball like ‘Death To My Hometown’ or ‘Jack Of All Trades’ had moments of galvanised rage or redemptive hope, ‘Swallowed Up’ is consumed by a resigned sorrow as Springsteen envisions the world swallowed whole by a dark beast and the bones of the dead sailors that lie within its guts, despite the true courses they held. It is allegorically bleak and without a sliver of hope seeping through into the belly of this beast.
This is just a small crop, but if you want to go further into Springsteen outtakes then I suggest checking out ‘Fire’, ‘The Promise’, ‘Iceman’, ‘Wages Of Sin’ and ‘Sad Eyes’. Also, if you liked this Bruce Springsteen special, why not check out last year’s Neil Young covers special?