Sunday, June 2, 2013

Bruce Springsteen - Darkness on the Edge of Town

Welcome to another edition of Seventies Sunday.

Today (June 2nd) marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of Darkness on the Edge of Town, the fourth studio album from New Jersey rocker Bruce Springsteen. Despite a three year period since 1975’s Born To Run (click here for that review), this multi-Platinum seller from 1978 went to number 75 in Ireland, number 16 in the UK, number 12 in Norway, number 11 in New Zealand, number 9 in Australia and Sweden, number 7 in Canada, number 5 on the US Billboard Hot 200, and number 4 in the Netherlands. It actually remained on the US charts for ninety-seven weeks in total.

Joining Springsteen on the record are the members of his E Street Band: Roy Bittan (piano and vocals), Clarence Clemons (saxophone and vocals), Danny Federici (organ and glockenspiel), Garry Tallent (bass), Steven Van Zandt (guitar and vocals), and Max Weinberg (drums).

Side one begins with “Badlands”. As the second single, it went to number 44 in Canada and number 42 on the US Billboard Hot 100. The guy in the song has a chip on his shoulder and is looking for a better life just like, in his opinion, everyone else is. I like how the harmonies almost take a gospel-like tone as the song goes on.

“Adam Raised a Cain” has a slinky strut to it rhythmically on the verses and a bitter, angry chorus. It is a song full of angst and rebellion.

“Something in the Night” was the B-side to the second single. This ballad opens with a Bittan piano solo that is then joined by Springsteen’s heartbroken wails. Weinberg’s drums come through clearly like a beating heart.

I like the piano and drum elements at the start of “Candy’s Room” and how they build to a crescendo as the opening verse plays out.

The ballad “Racing in the Street” is about exactly what the title implies - using one’s vehicle to take part in gambling endeavors. It strips away all the glory and action to paint picture of a bittersweet endeavor. Across the song’s nearly seven minute length, it manages to pay tribute to 60’s songs by Martha and the Vandellas and by the Beach Boys. One of the repeated organ riffs near the end reminds me too of Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock”.

Side two opens with “The Promised Land”, which was released as a third single, but only to the European market. The protagonist of this one leaves his home in Virginia for a hopefully better life in California. However, it proves to be much more difficult than he had imagined. Springsteen shows off his harmonica chops on this one.

The B-side to the first single was “Factory”, a song about a father who gets out of bed every morning to work on an assembly line.

“Streets of Fire” was the B-side to the third single. Federici’s organ gives the opening of this one a reverent element, while Springsteen delivers the song’s lyrics like a preacher would a sermon from the pulpit. The guitar solo is searing.

“Prove It All Night”, the first single, went to number 90 in Australia, number 57 in Canada and number 33 on the US Billboard Hot 100. The song my favorite on this album, celebrates the optimism of two young people in love.

The title track closes the album. “Darkness on the Edge of Town” is a fitting closing chapter to this album’s overall theme of everyday struggles in life and the hope that keeps people going.

My big exposure to Bruce Springsteen in general and this album in particular came from my older brother; while I was barely entering my teens in 1978, he was near the final stretch of his high school years. I heard plenty of Darkness on the Edge of Town from the other side of the wall that separated our two bedrooms growing up. I actually became a fan of the band later in the 80’s but have since gotten into the entire early back catalog including this classic.

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