Chapter & Verse
Timed and themed as a companion volume/soundtrack to the brand new memoir this compilation isn’t quite a Greatest Hits but features quite a few hits, it reels in the Springsteen fans due to a handful of previously unreleased/hard-to-get pre E-Street baby-steps from The Boss. Most of it is one-listen stuff – unless you’re wanting an actual soundtrack for the background while you read – it’s all things you’ve heard a heap before – Born To Run and Badlands and The River and Born In The U.S.A. – but maybe they’ll take on a new meaning for you as you read the words around their creation and the formative experiences in Bruce’s life leading up to his breakout moments.
Many of his absolute best songs aren’t here – no Thunder Road, no Streets of Philadelphia – because it breezes through key songs/eras and therefore has to tick of the title tracks from The Ghost of Tom Joad and The Rising and Wrecking Ball (can’t suggest he was spent after Brilliant Disguise or Human Touch.
Anyway, the real stuff of interest is back at the start – two songs from high school band The Castilles. Baby I sounds less like a pre-E-Street Boss and more like Donnie and Joe Emerson. Here he’s just a teenager – “Bruce Sixteen” – and the recording is raw and the feel of the hovering fascinations with rock’n’roll and Dion and Phil Spector are all there and though he doesn’t sound at all throaty and has little of the bluster and bombast and performing confidence you still recognise Bruce in there. More so on second Castilles track, You Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover – essentially a rewrite of those Yardbirds/Animals-rewrites of blues stompers. Included too, no doubt, for its literary allusion/reference.
Bruce’s next band – Steel Mill – is more the working pub band sound and again it’s a primitive recording even if the song is aiming for more. A fascinating baby-step on the path to greatness. The real gem for me is The Ballad of Jesse James, billed as The Bruce Springsteen Band. Here some of the sound of the early E-Street is taking shape, certainly for Bruce in his writing and singing, in his performance and the arrangement of the tune. It’s a theme (the ballad of the outlaw) that recurs through his career too. A solo Springsteen number, Henry Boy, gives us the Greetings/Wild, Innocent sound if stripped back to just an acoustic guitar, his rambling street poetry taking shape.
These songs are all fascinating. The rest – well, you’ve heard them before and have them in your collection most likely.
All sorts of arguments could arise/be made – that a download-only version of the early demo stuff should have come free with the purchase of the book, that this 78-minute single disc that aims to offer both rarities and the obvious hits have been fleshed out to full double disc and replace/update the Essential/Greatest Hits-type compilations (like Elvis Costello did with his book and companion double-CD)…but well, Bruce fans will be dribbling all over this anyway, shorting out their e-books or soaking the pages of the paper copies as they devour Bruce’s inner-most innards. And this is their soundtrack for a lifetime of fanaticism’s Bacchanalian pre-Xmas literary fuck-fest.
I’ll return to the early works here. The other stuff not so much. And the book – so far (just started) – is good…