Oct 202011

I was listening earlier to some early Springsteen and thought, not for the first time, that I wish Bruce had never gotten involved with Jon Landau.

[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/07-Thundercrack.mp3|titles=Bruce Springsteen, “Thundercrack” @ The Main Point, April 24, 1973]

I have been a fan of Bruce since the first album and loved the second album and have always thought that it was all downhill (as far as recordings go) from there. The next few albums were still great but nothing matches the looseness and the freewheeling musical aspects of The Wild, The Innocent, & The E Street Shuffle. After that it became increasingly codified & repetitive.

And that started when Landau got his clutches into Bruce. Coincidence? I think not.

Not that I think Landau was Col. Parker to a compliant Elvis. Bruce certainly was complicit in it. But it’s hard for me not to think that Bruce would have been a lot better if Landau didn’t sand off the edges, give Bruce a mentor for that politicization he underwent (and I’m not one of those who thinks artists shouldn’t be political—it’s fine with me and I agree by & large with Bruce’s politics—I just don’t like what it did to his music), & prime him for mega-stardom.

Agree? Disagree?

And what other pivotal events in rock & roll history do you wish never occurred?


  45 Responses to “He Saw The Future of Rock & Roll (& I Wish He Hadn’t)”

  1. Happiness Stan

    How about Elvis meeting Tom Parker?

    The needless deaths of Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Otis Redding, Marc Bolan, John Lennon. Anyone who was taken from us rather than doing it to themselves, although that’s sad as well, in most cases they would have managed it one way or another in the end.

  2. tonyola

    What’s particularly sad in Lennon’s case was that by 1980 he had been through everything that rock and roll, fame, fortune, and notoriety could throw at him (including his own mistakes and bad judgement), yet managed to survive relatively intact. John appeared to have gotten past his destructive tendencies to become a fairly content family man. He was re-emerging from his self-imposed withdrawal from the world simply because he wanted to – no-one was forcing him and he didn’t need to prove anything anymore.

  3. It’s funny Al, because just yesterday, I was telling a friend that Wild and Innocent is by far my favorite Springsteen album and he said that “astonished” him.

    I totally get why he changed directions though. He never would have achieved the massive success that he went on to have if he had stuck with the original formula. And as much as Jon Landau annoys me, I think that the blame, such as it is, lies with Springsteen. He wanted to go in that direction because he was so ambitious and Landau just helped him in his goal.

    The odd thing is that I usually like simpler music so one would think that I would have preferred the more straightforward song structure that he increasingly embraced following W&I. But his delivery and arrangements got progressively more anally retentive (aided by the musically precise but soulless Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg) and for me, the loose, sprawling, shoot-from-the-hip sound of W&I is infinitely more appealing.

    Also, my rule of thumb with Springsteen is that I always prefer his songs when he’s trying to get laid, like Rosalita, Kitty’s Back, Santa Anna, as opposed to after he’s already gotten laid and now has other things on his mind (The River, Backstreets) If you’re unfamiliar with Santa Ana, here it is, inexplicably paired up with photos from the Louvre: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jaDvlbNelrk

  4. tonyola

    I know some will disagree, but I think Nirvana and the rise of grunge in the early 1990s did more harm than good to the US music scene. Now not every grunge indie/song was bad and the movement did put the final nail into the coffin of big-hair pop-metal, which is not a bad thing. However, beginning in 1992, music in general seemed to get duller, less adventurous, more morose, and a lot less fun.

  5. I wish the Dixie Chicks hadn’t gone off the deep end. I loved their first two albums and saw them in Greenville, SC which was the first American show after the comments in England. They were absolutely great. Sadly, I can’t listen to them anymore.

  6. misterioso

    tony, in my heart I hope you’re right but I have to say that having just recently read Doggett’s You Never Give Me Your Money his portrayal of Lennon in his last phase clashes rather severely with the Lennono mythmaking (if it be mythmaking) of happiness and bliss. I recommend the book.

  7. misterioso

    tony, I would agree with this, since other than Nirvana there is precious little that came out of that scene that I can stomach (Pearl Jam, in all their earnest shittiness, being much more representative than Nirvana, in my book), except that I don’t know that the “rise of grunge” made things worse than they were.

  8. misterioso

    al, I don’t quite agree. The early (first 2 records) stuff that I like I like a lot, but I don’t like all of it. His best work, for me, is Darkness on the Edge of Town and The River. But I share your general distaste for Landau.

  9. Darkness was my first Springsteen album and remains my favorite. I came to appreciate his early records, but they don’t grab me like Darkness, and nothing he’s done since has either.

  10. Happiness Stan

    Agreed, that’s why I put him in the list, and a similar thing with Bolan – even the teenyboppers in 74 could see that he was stuck in a great big rut of his own making, and parodying himself further with every record he made, but by 77 he seemed to get it together, settle down with his new family, get on telly with a really cracking kids TV music show, and go out on tour with The Damned, being hailed as a punk hero, and actually looking as if he was enjoying it again.

    If Johnny Cash had died before he made those albums with Rick Rubin it seems less likely that he would now have the same monumental status that he enjoyed for those last glorious years, and who would be prepared to argue that any of those guys would not have been capable of pulling out something that surprising if they’d been given the chance?

  11. I was not aware of this book, but I do know that Albert Goldman painted a less-than-pretty picture about Lennon’s last days in his book. I discounted Goldman because he seemed to be a muckraking cheeseball.

  12. I don’t know – it seemed to me that the European stuff like KLF, Madchester scene, rave/house, and electronic dance was getting quite a bit of US airplay in 1990 and 1991. There was also more and more electronic metal and industrial music being made here in America. I found a lot of those styles enjoyable. Nirvana and the other grunge-sters pretty much derailed those trends.

  13. There’s nothing I can disagree with in what you say cdm. Bruce clearly was ambitious and surely saw Landau as a vehicle for channeling that ambition. But…

    …if Landau came along an album or two later than maybe there were have been an album or two more like W&I before the codification got so rigid. And…

    …I’m not convinced that to achieve his ambitions he had to become so much the working class hero type he became. He still could have maintained more of the get laid aspect you mention.

    And it was precisely songs like Thundercrack, Santa Ana, & Tokyo that prompted this thread since they were all on the Main Point 1973 disc I was listening to.

  14. misterioso

    Seemed? This is a bit different, though, less sensational but not much more uplifting.

  15. 2000 Man

    That’s the only Springsteen album I currently own. It’s the first one I ever bought, and it’s always been my favorite. My youngest kid listened to it awhile ago and said he thought it was surprisingly awesome, so he downloaded some other stuff to see if he’d want to buy some Bruce records and he didn’t like it. I told him I always liked that one, but the others never really grabbed me other than a song here and there.

    I wish Buddy Holly hadn’t died when he did. I think it would have changed everything, and I’d really like to see where he was going to go, and where rock n roll would be today.

  16. BigSteve

    I don’t know, you really wanted more songs about the boardwalk and characters named Crazy Davy? That everything-happening-at-once sound was appealing in its way, but I think it was something to grow out of. Landau helped him focus on what it was he really wanted to be. I don’t think of it as codification. He had to sharpen his focus, and I wouldn’t put it down to lust for stardom. Even Born to Run is still a little messy. With Darkness he pared down his sound and made a really relentless record. After that he was able to open it up a bit.

  17. BigSteve

    I wish Allen Klein had taken his skills in another direction and never gotten involved in show business.

  18. Jon Landau, Col. Parker, Allen Klein…hmm

  19. I don’t know that I needed Crazy Davy/boardwalk songs necessarily but the everything-happening-at-once sound was appealing to me. Why do you think it was something to grow out of?

  20. jeangray

    I dunno if’n you have listened to any of that stuff now, but it really hasn’t stood the test of time. Nirvana will be listened to for generations to come.

  21. I’m not a Bruce fan, and those first two Bruce records are like a cooler, slightly more swinging, talk-too-fucking-much version of what Billy Joel would become, if you ask me. Early Bruce Springsteen or Boz Scaggs, that’s a debate I’d like to hear.

    That said, I’m pleased to see that the one Springsteen record that I do like, Darkness on the Edge of Town, is getting a lot of kudos here. It’s the one record on which I feel he’s playing rock and roll more than just Bruce Won’t Shut Up or Bruce Bombast.

  22. BigSteve

    Youthful energy is always appealing. I was 20 years old when I heard W&I (Bruce is about three and a half years older than me). But I don’t think that it’s sustainable, or that it’s even desirable to stay wild and innocent.

  23. Happiness Stan

    With the honourable exception of the first Stone Roses album, most of it didn’t stand up in the first place. (I’m going to have to plead an allergy to Happy Mondays, I just don’t understand them). I’ll accept that Nevermind will be listened to for a long time, in the way that Rumours, Dark Side of the Moon or Thriller will, but only because it crossed over into international mainstream pop culture – just like no-one would listen to The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle for pleasure, can anyone really make the case for Bleach or In Utero standing the test of time?

  24. jeangray

    Anyone know why David Sancious left the band? I think that has something to do with this discussion.

  25. jeangray

    Jeebus! I jus’ read a bunch of reviews of this book on Amazon, and if’n it’s true, I don’ think that Townsmen are ready for this type of warts & all style tell-all. Sounds like it destroys any & all myths of them being good people. Cocksuckers & liars one and all. Is the Hall really ready for that? The whole myth of John’s comeback seems to be set in a particularly bad light.

    I’ll let you know after I read the book. Thanx for the heads-up misterioso.

  26. bostonhistorian

    I’m with you on Buddy Holly. He had so many musical interests, and there he was living in Greenwich Village at the cusp of the 1960s. It’s hard to know if he would have continued in the “Raining In My Heart” style, but at the core, Buddy knew how to rock as well as having pop instincts. I have to keep reminding myself that he was only 22 when he died.

  27. tonyola

    Nirvana will primarily be listened to because of their cultural importance. Otherwise, it’s just not all that good. I don’t know what stands the test of time, but I still like listening to a lot of the non-grunge 1990-1992 music.

  28. misterioso

    It isn’t quite that harsh, jg, but it is not going to be confused with hagiography. Behind it all seems to lie a real sense of sadness and frustration on Doggett’s part that they let greed and ego ruin something great; and that even after the breakup proper there were ample opportunities to get back together that were let drop.

  29. 2000 Man

    What’s wrong with In Utero? I think it’s Nrivana’s best album, but I generally think they’re all at least pretty good.

    Then again, I’m the guy that liked Stone Roses second album.

  30. Just finished a new book on grunge that makes the case that Seattle’s real grunge scene had played out by the time it went national.

  31. Isn’t that always the case?

  32. mockcarr

    Yeah, but that kind of conflict also could have brought out more creativity too, I don’t think a conclusion could be drawn.

  33. mockcarr

    Sour grapes. I think there are many good songs on those Nirvana albums that will stand up as well as anything from that era, you can quibble about the grungy presentation. And I’m not even that big a fan really.

  34. Had He not moved past that sound, would He have run the risk of being little more than a beloved bar band, like J. Geils Band?

  35. Yeah, Darkness has a few of my favorite songs and my favorite approach from Him. I know that carries on so little weight, because I’m not a big Boss fan, but you characterize it well, mwall.

  36. I MUCH prefer the best songs on In Utero to Nevermind. They’ve got more depth and someone reminded the bassist that his instrument sounds better without all that stringy sound.

  37. Thanks for watching out for us! This is most alarming. Maybe we can all work through the book as a group.

  38. I’m not saying he had to stick with that sound forever, I just would have liked a few more wide open albums and maybe some happy medium later.

    It’s not like he’s been totally static. There’s Nebraska and that Seeger thing. I don’t begrudge him those. And recent albums have had what I’d consider some more modern (non-young man lust) versions of those early “getting laid” songs that cdm referred to (Girls In Their Summer Clothes, Queen Of The Supermarket) but I still think the pendulum is way to one side.

  39. It’s always the case in the books, anyway.

  40. I understand the affection for The Wild, the Innocent… but its too much to say things would be better without meeting John Landau. Bruce without the focus and drive he found during Born to Run would be Southside Johnny.

    Besides, Bruce’s 1st manager (Mike Appel?) was ripping him off and that added to his anger and commitment to getting heard. I think a lot to do with the fact that he had to pay the whole E-Street band. I agree losing Sancious, Vini Lopez and especially Phantom Danny Federici (was he used in the Adjectives thread?) changed his sound alot.

  41. cherguevara

    I’d heard of Mudhoney and the Screaming Trees before any of those other bands. Guess they didn’t really make it, though.

  42. AL you are 100% correct. Landau’s convincing Springsteen he was the John Steinbeck of rock is unforgivable.
    The other biggest mistake he made was to replace Vini Lopez with Max Weinberg. I hereby nominate Weinberg for worst rock drummer of all time.
    Here’s a good clip of early Springsteen before his quick demise:

  43. I don’t generally approve when the RTH hatas come after Bruce…but I’m all for hatin’ on Mighty Max.

    Max is fine for what he’s good at he just plays that same way on everything. Talk about codification!

    Buddy you’ve hit on Exhibit A for the prosecution.

  44. I am a huge Max Weinberg detractor but even I can’t get behind him as worst drummer. When trying to get a rise out of one of my Springsteen-adoring friends, I frequently refer to Max as the Drum Machine. I think it’s an apt description because his playing is wooden, soulless and utterly lacking in dynamics. But he seems to have a good sense of time and as much as I don’t care for latter day Springsteen, his playing fits right in with that vision.

    As for worst drummer, I think the conventional wisdom says Michael Clarke from the Byrds but I would suggest Heartbeakers era Jerry Nolan, whose performance on Chinese Rocks stands a one of the more compelling anti drug messages that I’ve heard.

  45. I have set up an individual thread for us to work through any Weinberg issues. I look forward to learning more about Max’s deficiencies.

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