Ok, I’ll say it again: In a normal situation, I wouldn’t dig up a song several decades old with the intent of presenting it in a blog about interesting new music. However, this isn’t a normal situation, nor is it a regular artist. Bruce Springsteen is one of those rare songwriters with a repertoire so vast that by only staying on top of his main releases, we miss out on incredible gems, simply because they were never included on records, probably because Bruce didn’t think they’d fit, or something along those lines.
The truth is this song’s original version was released on his classic album « Darkness on the Edge of Town » in 1978, and is great in itself. This is an alternate version released last year on his collection of outtakes from that period “The Promise”. The fact that this version was put aside for a version that may fit more with the entity of the “Darkness” record was probably an artistic decision, because this was a time where people still made records, albums, with the intention of a coherent meaningful entity. All these factors contribute in making the recently released version even more unique.
“Racin’ in the Street (78)” sums up a generation’s genuine pain and aching to express itself, before the days of MTV and an industry plagued with pre-fabricated but alarmingly popular popstars without a single interesting idea to share. It sums up a generation’s desire for freedom, the car and the open road being the epitomic American symbols of one’s longing and desire to be free, untied from all the uncertainties that were happening only a few years earlier during the Vietnam war. Whenever I hear someone use the word “genuine” to describe a track, I think of Bruce’s vocals in this song, and especially in how he drives the last verse key-change.
When it comes to songwriters, I’ve always seemed to be most attracted by the polar opposites; on one side the poets and lyrical geniuses, and on the other side the ones who sing like men or women possessed, as if they were speaking in tongues. Which matters more is a debate I’ve been getting into for years (Please read my review of Arcade Fire’s outtake “Speaking in Tongues”).
Bruce often falls in the latter category, and the last verse of “Racin in the Street (78)” is the best example I have of this. The words don’t even matter at this point, hell you don’t even have to speak English to understand that this man is singing about something that is very important and dear to him. Through sheer phonetics and raw delivery, Bruce gets through. This is what, amongst other things, makes a great rock songwriter. If it’s more or less important than lyrics that read well on paper is however something we could debate for a while.