Just to have written ‘Born To Run’ would be enough for most singer-songwriters or musicians. Or ‘Atlantic City’. Or ‘Dancing In The Dark’. Or ‘Thunder Road’. Or ‘Badlands’. Or ‘The River’. Or…
The point is, since debut album ‘Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ’ was released in 1973, Bruce Springsteen has produced a wealth of classic songs – and, let’s not beat around the bush, albums.
What ‘Tracks’ reveals – across four discs and 66 songs – is that his discography, which now stands at an impressive and impressively consistent 17 full-length albums – is just the tip of the iceberg.
‘Tracks’ is a collection of the ones that got away, ones that didn’t make it onto records or get released as singles, outtakes and B-sides which aren’t part of the widely known Springsteen back catalogue, plus the New Jersey legend’s audition tapes for Columbia Records. And guess what? There are a few more classics to be found here…
Initially released in 1998, this behemoth of a rarities collection has been out of print for years. But, as the icon enters his 65th year, it’s once more being made available, in slightly different packaging.
That ‘The Fever’ and ‘The Promise’ – two of his best and best-known non-album songs, both of which were included only as bonus tracks on the single-disc version of this release back in ’98, rightly causing outrage among the Springsteen faithful – haven’t been added this time around is a massive oversight. The latter did appear on the two-disc rarities compilation that came out alongside the extravagant 2010 reissue of ‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town’, but it would have been icing on the cake to have it included here, as it originally should have been.
That’s but one small gripe, however, because 15 years after its original release, these four discs are still testament to Springsteen’s immense – and varied – songwriting talents. A vaguely chronological journey that begins with those audition tapes (from May 1972) and ends in 1995 with a beautiful outtake from the following year’s ‘The Ghost Of Tom Joad’ album, there are plenty of songs whose inclusion here, rather than on an actual album, seems mindboggling.
There’s the adrenaline rush of ‘Roulette’, the meandering and shambolic folk narrative of ‘Thundercrack’, the naïve, youthful romanticism of ‘So Young And In Love’ and ‘Be True’, the elegiac tribute to Elvis that is ‘Johnny Bye-Bye’ and the equally melancholy ‘Shut Out The Light’, both of which were B-sides for ‘Born In The USA’ singles, but which are up with some of his best-ever songs.
That’s the thing, though – they wouldn’t have fit, musically, on that record, so Springsteen left them off. Listen to the original demo of ‘Born In The USA’, though, and their forlorn nature makes perfect sense.
Elsewhere, ‘Sad Eyes’ is a devastating ‘Human Touch’ outtake that’s pretty much better than any song on that album. The early 1990s may not have been his best period, but even the other outtakes that appear here from that time, namely the paranoid beat of ‘Loose Change’, the rock ’n’ roll pomp of ‘Seven Angels’ and the soothing tones of ‘Gave It A Name’, demonstrate his absolute understanding of the empathy and emotion, not to mention the musical proficiency, that it takes to write a great song.
These aren’t all great, but plenty of them are. And there are some stone-cold classics too. Not bad for a bunch of rejects, really. Not bad at all.
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Words: Mischa Pearlman
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Want to win a copy of 'Tracks'? Of course you do. And you can! Enter our simple competition below, and we'll contact five winners (as we have five copies of this four-CD set to give away) on October 7th. Just answer the question below in the box provided. Good luck!
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