The Springsteen Song Hall of Fame
Well, you might remember — and “might” is the key word since I did this a long time ago — I put up a survey asking people to vote for their favorite Bruce Springsteen songs so that we could start the Bruce Song Hall of Fame. This was a two step process. In the first step, I asked people to nominate songs which led to all sorts of mayhem where songs like “I Hate Bruce Springsteen” and “Jack Morris” were nominated. But about a thousand people participated and I put together a list of the 30 most mentioned Springsteen songs.
The second part involved people voting for their 10 favorite songs on the list, in order
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. More than 2,000 people voted. I have calculated the results using the accounting firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers or, anyway, my own meager math skills — 10 points for every first place vote, nine points for every second-place vote, eight points for every third place vote and so on.
And so… without further delay … here in the first class of songs to be inducted into the Bruce Springsteen Hall of Fame. Induction day date and ceremonies will be announced in the future.
Released: August 1978
Album: Darkness on the Edge of Town
Inspiration: The Animals “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”
If you listen to the opening of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” you will note that the song more than inspired “Badlands” — it practically gave birth to Badlands. Springsteen himself has called “Badlands” grand theft.
I’ve often thought that “Badlands” is Springsteen’s best concert song, which might make it his best song. Darkness is such an enthralling album because so many conflicting emotions were running through Springsteen when he recorded it. It came out three years after Born to Run — three turbulent years that entirely changed Springsteen’s life. Before recording the Born to Run album, Springsteen wanted. What did he want? Everything. Success. Love. Passion. Fun. Escape. Born to Run is all about yearning, about getting out, about that meeting across the river, about loving Wendy with all the madness in his soul.
Darkness, though, is about the disappointments that come after, the petty fights of adulthood, the anticlimax of achieving fame and, well, yeah, the darkness on the edge of town.
The power of “Badlands,” I think, is in the lyrics. Man, Springsteen could really write songs then. Every word of “Badlands” is frustration, impotence, anger, every word shouts out this strong but rapidly fading prayer for love and hope to overcome the dreariness and pain. If you listen to the words you find that the narrator is not really hopeful. He’s almost at the end of hope.
“Badlands” has one of Springsteen’s most famous verses:
For the ones who had a notion
A notion deep inside
That it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive
But what many miss is that’s not where the verse ends. The narrator is saying to those who HAD a notion that it ain’t no sin to be alive, well, he has a message for them:
I wanna find one face that ain’t looking through me
I wanna find one place
I wanna spit in the face of these badlands.
That doesn’t sound like the narrator is approving the message of hope. It sounds like he’s still looking for that notion, and he’s losing faith that he will ever find that notion that it’s no sin to be a alive, become more and more convinced that the notion might be false.
I think, like all great songs, Badlands has grown over the years. If you listen to album version of it, I think it’s pretty clear that Springsteen was saying that life’s a losing fight, that in the end you can keep pushing the but badlands will never treat anyone good. But if you listen to Springsteen perform the song now — and the way the crowd sings along — you get the sense that he has found the faces not looking through him, the places that can raise all of us above the badlands.
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