The second installment of my 50 choices for Rolling Stone’s 100 Best Springsteen songs list picks up at #40 and doesn’t pause to wonder how anyone could presume to rank aesthetic creations in terms of objective quality.
40: You Mean So Much to Me: Although never recorded, this 1971 r&b gem was a live favorite from its 1971 unveiling by the Bruce Springsteen band (think Van Morrison meets the Allman Brothers) to acoustic-live-radio performances to-rave-up performances with the first three iterations of the E Street Band.
39: Cadillac Ranch: Four-on-the-floor rocker from The River, and either a shallow tribute to various race car drivers/action movie stars or a top-speed meditation on the finish line we all must cross. Wonder which one? The lyric sheet’s big picture of the Ant Farm’s sculpture of the same name — in which half-buried Caddies look just like tombstones — might be a clue.
38: Girls in Their Summer Clothes: I’m surprised I didn’t rate this higher, given my adoration of this 2007 tribute to nights, loves and possibilities now disappeared…but always on the horizon. The aging dreamer is in great voice, but it’s the triple-layer cake-with-frosting track that knocks me out the most, from Max Weinberg’s awesome pick-up at the end of the bridge (just after “…my boy Bill…” to the subtle-but-crucial shift in the chord structure that sweeps the closing choruses into the heavens.
37: Kitty’s Back: The early E Street Band at its jammiest elevates this r&b bad girl portraiture into a musical joyride that is both the first and last of Bruce’s studio-recorded guitar epics. Which is both disappointing and fascinating when you recall that he made his bones as the hottest guitar in New Jersey, and that nearly every band song he wrote from 1968-1972 served as a delivery system for his crazy-wild fretboard adventures. Go to the Shore today and you’ll find legions of old-time fans who swear Springsteen’s best work was done before songwriting and singing became his central focus.
36: Chimes of Freedom: Bob Dylan cover recorded in Stockholm during the Tunnel of Love tour in 1988. The performance heralded news that Springsteen would join the Amnesty International concert tour that fall, and more subtly, the show he was about to play for tens of thousands of Soviet-blocked Germans in East Berlin. Based on the Byrds’ arrangement, but with the temperature turned way, way up.
35: Darkness on the Edge of Town: Well, of course I threw in the big ones, too. I’m not an animal.
34: Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?: A great song in any arrangement, but the original down-shifted version on 1973’s Greetings From Asbury Park doesn’t come close to the rolly-coasty live performances that followed. Still waiting an official release of a good live take (Philadelphia, 12/31/75, for example) but faith springs eternal and the Last Tango in Philly bootleg is always out there…
33: Something in the Night: All dark skies and empty highways, the dead ends and the two-bit bars.
32: Follow That Dream: Not a cover of the Elvis schlock-movie song as much as a portrait of the spirit the King could have inhabited had he not become the Sucker in Chief in Col. Tom’s circus sideshow. Recorded in the mid-80s, performed every so often but never released. Not yet, anyway.
31: Lucky Town: C’mon Shane, here we go…The title track of the 1992 album sounds fine on its own album but bursts wide open on ’93’s In Concert album, with Other Band guitarist Shane Fontayne trading barbed wire solos with his employer, who adds fistfuls of nails and broken glass into the mix.
TOMORROW: 30-21, where the hound dogs play and beer flows from every faucet…