Listening: Rethinking a master work

Listening to Bruce Springsteen’s masterpiece album Born to Run the other day, I was suddenly struck by the thought that it might be even better if the songs were in the exact opposite order.

In his autobiography he talks about the hopeful optimism of the opening song, “Thunder Road,” and in “Jungleland,” the closer, those street characters end up colliding with a bleak reality.

What if the album were to start with the bleak streets and progresses to “We’re getting out of here to win”?

Imagine it’s 1975 and the single “Born to Run” has been out for a few months, and now here’s the new album. We set it on the turntable and the first song we hear is not along the same rock-and-roll lines but actually starts with strings. “Jungleland” is like a mini rock opera, starting with a melancholy violin and slowly building to a magnificent saxophone solo by the incomparable Clarence Clemons. This is a boffo tour de force of epic proportions. What a way to start an album!!

The second song, “Meeting Across the River,” continues the story of the street life, but slightly more hopeful: The narrator believes he and his friend Eddie might use the titular meeting to build a better life. It may be a pipe dream, but he has hope. The song is moody with a jazz trumpet — still not straight-out rock.

But then — But then — “She’s The One.” Now here’s a rocker like we may have been led to expect, with that classic Bo Diddly rhythm. The band is warmed up and steaming now.

If I was the producer, I’d move straight from the final crash of “She’s The one” into the booming drum roll that heralds “Born to Run” None of that 3-5 seconds between songs this time. And in the title track is the central theme of the album — desperate love and the feverish yearning for something more than this everyday life. Maybe all the redemption I can offer is beneath this dirty hood, but strap your hands across my engines and I’ll drive us out of this death trap.

Side two begins with more rock opera on the “Backstreets” and sprints through the “Night.” The penultimate song on the album is the rollicking biography of the E Street Band, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” It all did change when the Big Man joined the band.

Finally, the album concludes with Springsteen at his most poetic: “The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves.” “There were ghosts in the eyes of all the boys you sent away.” “Come take my hand, we’re heading out tonight to case the promised land … Oh! Thunder Road!”

It’s unthinkable to think in terms of improving on Springsteen’s greatest triumph, the album that launched him to the next level, introduced him to a wider audience, and put him on a course to superstardom. But I can imagine myself being drawn to even greater heights listening to the tracks in that order. It’s worth mulling …

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