Saturday, December 7, 2019

Bruce Springsteen - Cover Songs, Volume 1: 1967-1973

I haven't posted any Bruce Springsteen music here until now. I think it's obvious that he's a musical genius and one of the all-time greats. That said, I've only fully gotten into some of his stuff, not all of it. When he's on top of his game, as with the "Nebraska" and "Born in the USA" albums, he's brilliant. But a lot of his other stuff is just okay to me, because he repeats melodic themes and lyrical themes too much.

That said, there's no doubt that he's left lots of great material off his official studio albums, so I plan on posting some stray tracks collections from him eventually. But first, I have a REALLY BIG project I want to post, and this is the first album from it. Regardless of how much you enjoy his original material, I don't think anyone can deny that he's a fantastic performer in concert. The way he consistently brings energy and passion to his exceptionally long concerts is legendary, and he's still doing it despite turning 70 years old in 2019.

But what I didn't appreciate until lately is how many different cover versions he's played in concert over the years. The man is like a human jukebox, seemingly capable of playing hundreds of songs by others, as well as even more by him! I've previously posted a long series of albums of Tom Petty playing cover songs in concerts. All in all, I posted 12 Petty albums in that series, containing almost 170 cover versions. I'm going to do the exact same thing for Springsteen, except this is an even larger undertaking. I've created 22 Springsteen albums, containing over 280 cover versions!

Furthermore, I would have included even more songs, except that I decided to set higher sound quality standards than I did with my Tom Petty covers project. With Petty, I think I found all but a handful of the covers he ever did in concert, if you include the bonus tracks I sometimes included that were of lesser sound quality. With Springsteen, I've left many dozens of songs by the wayside due to sound quality issues, because, heck, nearly 300 songs is a ton of songs already. Instead of sometimes including bonus tracks of the poorer sounding songs, when I'm all done, I may post an album or two of the almost-rans.

Also, when I made all those Petty albums, I decided to remove the crowd noise at the end of each song. In retrospect, I wish I hadn't done that, but it was too late to change by the time I realized that. But I've compiled these Springsteen cover albums since then, so this time around, I did include the crowd noise. However, it turns out that wasn't as simple as I'd thought, because a large portion of the songs ended up having little to no crowd noise at the end. Sometimes, this was due to the band quickly transitioning into the next tune, leaving little to no time for the audience to react. Other times, the recording was an excellent soundboard that captured what happened on the stage very well, but recorded next to no audience noise.

I didn't want to have some songs with lots of cheering at the end and others with none or virtually none. So whenever songs ended with silence, I added in crowd noise from other song endings. I would usually be able to do something like use the crowd noise from another song in that same concert, or at least a similar concert, so hopefully the crowd noise I've added in sounds natural. 

For this series, I've had a few self-imposed rules that are similar to the rules I had for the Petty series. For one, no Springsteen originals were included, even if he only co-wrote the song and never officially recorded it. For another, I've only included songs where he either sang lead by himself or as part of a duet. It turns out that Springsteen is a really cool guy for a superstar in that he's often continued to make unannounced performances in small clubs (usually in New Jersey), and has often sang only back-up and/or just played guitar while others sang. All those performances were outside the scope of this project, except for the times he sang lead. Another rule is that I only included one version of each cover song. I've broken this rule a handful of times, usually because he did a full band version of a song at one point and then a solo acoustic version at another point.

So those are my comments on this series as a whole. Now, let me address this album in particular. This first album in the series is a strange one, because it deals with the very earliest part of Springsteen's extremely long career. Frankly, for most of this album, I don't think he really sounds like the Springsteen you'd expect. Keep in mind that for the first songs here, he was still a teenager. In my opinion, it wasn't until about 1972 that his voice matured into the voice that everyone now knows.

Also, the bands he was playing with were continually evolving and improving. On this album, he first was with the Castiles, then Steel Mill, then Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom, then the Bruce Springsteen Band. It's only on the very last song here that he played with the famous E Street Band, though he picked up some of the band members along the way. To be honest,  his early bands weren't quite ready for the big time, which helps explain why he wasn't able to get a record contact until 1973. In particular, they often played songs with Springsteen in "guitar hero" soloing mode for way too long, for ten, fifteen, or even twenty minutes, as if they had the jamming skills of the Allman Brothers Band, except they weren't that good. So, for this album, and this album alone, I've made some drastic edits to four songs to cut them down to more reasonable lengths.

These early recordings were also tricky in that the sound quality was usually lacking, with only a few exceptions. For instance, there are two concerts that got recorded of Springsteen's first band, the Castiles, in 1967. But both of them don't sound good enough for me to include them here, with two exceptions. One is "You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover," which is a recent official release, and thus has a better sound than the bootleg of the same concert. The other is "Jeff's Boogie," which is an instrumental from the bootleg of that concert. The main sound problem with that recording was the vocals, so the fact that it's an instrumental meant it sounded good enough for me to include it.

All the rest of the songs here pretty much come from very good sounding soundboard bootlegs, surprisingly enough. But there were a bunch of other early covers that I didn't include because they came from much rougher audience bootlegs. "You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover" is the only officially released song. Also, nearly all the songs here lack much clapping at the end, and it seems in many cases that's because they were playing to small, quiet audiences. So I had to add clapping to the end of most songs, and sometimes it sounds a bit forced. Trust me, that gets a lot better after this album.

My plan is to try to post one of these Springsteen covers albums each day until I'm all done. Since it's Christmas season, hopefully it'll be a bit like an advent calendar, with something new from him every day for the next 20 days or so. I don't know if I'll be able to stick to that, but I'll try.

As I mentioned above, the music in this first album is not typical of the series as a whole, due to Springsteen's voice being different, and his bands being different, and so on. But I still think it's very interesting from a historical point of view, much like very early Beatles recordings, and I've only included what I consider good music with excellent sound quality. I've been very picky. So hopefully you'll enjoy listening to this one on a purely musical level, but the famous Springsteen voice and overall sound appears more fully in the next album in this series.

01 You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover (Bruce Springsteen & the Castiles)
02 Jeff's Boogie (Bruce Springsteen & the Castiles)
03 Chains [Edit] (Bruce Springsteen & Steel Mill)
04 Turn On Your Love Light [Edit] (Bruce Springsteen & Steel Mill)
05 Dancing in the Street [Edit] (Bruce Springsteen & Steel Mill)
06 Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow [Edit] (Bruce Springsteen & Dr. Zoom & the Sonic Boom)
07 It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry (Bruce Springsteen & Dr. Zoom & the Sonic Boom)
08 I'm into Something Good - Take Out Some Insurance (Bruce Springsteen & the Bruce Springsteen Band)
09 I've Got to Have You Baby (Bruce Springsteen & the Bruce Springsteen Band)
10 Something You Got (Bruce Springsteen)

Believe it or not, the man in the cover art photo IS Bruce Springsteen! Boy, does he look different, especially with that long hair. This photo was taken at a January 1971 concert when he was part of the band Steel Mill.

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