I’ve been a Bruce Springsteen fan since I was about 18 or 19. Back when I began this series I wrote about my experience weathering an ex-friend’s homophobia on a record shopping trip to buy Born to Run. I covered “Atlantic City” with a one-time only band formed for the sake of a trivia night quiz. His cameo in High Fidelity is one of my favorite scenes. And he’s always been on my bucket list of live bands to see. When everyone was live tweeting Springsteen shows on his last tour, I was pretty much jealous AF.
The River, for some reason, is an album that took me a while to get into. Probably because it’s really long. By today’s standards, when just about every album is a double album (vinyl-wise anyway) it’s not that long. But once upon a time it seemed intimidating. Early on in my writing career I interviewed Walter Schreifels of Quicksand and we talked about Springsteen, and he spoke about how much he loved The River. “That shit was long!” he said.
Now, to be fair, it’s not The Boss’ best album. That’s either Born to Run or Nebraska. I say Nebraska, but it’s also an anomaly in the bunch. It’s also perfect, so come at me. But The River is essentially half Born to Run and half Nebraska. It has a lot of upbeat rock ‘n’ roll songs, all of which are perfectly enjoyable though some of them aren’t totally essential (the pitch-shifted “Hungry Heart” always struck me as kind of silly—everybody says it sounds like Billy Joel, which is pretty accurate). But the ballads are untouchable. “The River,” “Drive All Night,” “Wreck on the Highway” and “Independence Day” (which Jakob Dylan shamelessly borrowed from for The Wallflowers’ “One Headlight”) are all essential Springsteen tracks. A best-of without them is useless. Which is probably why a best-of collection for Springsteen is too unwieldy a prospect to ever work—he’s got too many bests!
I bought this at the San Diego Record Show, which hasn’t been happening lately and kind of bums me out. I’ve picked up quite a few great records there, and it was always fun to browse through everyone’s wares. It’s not that there’s any shortage of places to buy vinyl. It was just fun to go in blind and surprise myself at what I’d walk out with.
Anyway, buy The River next time you see it used. It’s great. (I fully recognize that this story is nowhere near as good as my entry for Born to Run, but look I’ve got hundreds of records to go through, so sometimes it’s just about good rock music.)
Sound Quality: Great