something in the night

 

 

Year: 1978

Genre: Rock, Heartland Rock

Preceded by: Born to Run (1975)

Followed by: The River (1980)

Related to: not available yet

 

 

I always had my doubts about people who cherish some kind of blind faith in an unassailable higher power. Whether it’s some teenager with a petrified glance into the deep nothing at a young Christians meeting, the stern ideologist that defends the healing power of the free market until his death, or people proudly risking their lives for the flag. Because of completely enigmatic reasons, I always suspected Springsteen fans of some mild form of this faith. However, driving a couple of miles, listening some music and having some beers always appeared to me as a more respectable way to overcome your tragic situation than killing other people.

The sixties just met their boundaries when Springsteen gets his first recording contract in 1972, signing with Columbia. The message that Messenger Bruce came to bring, is already told on his debut album (Greetings from Ashbury Park N.J. 1973): Springsteen is Jersey, and life can be tough out there. Just like its hastily released successor, it barely had any success, opposite to his numerous long live gigs throughout the region, ever injected with loads of energy. Messenger Bruce succeeds to absorb his growing amount of disciples into his story during these gatherings, but struggles in the studio due to his ambition to create the next Astral Weeks or first Desire. This is the point where he gets his first handshake from above, as he soon realizes that he just has to put that awesome live sound on a record. Thanks to an enormous production, he majestically succeeds with Born to Run (1975), but it was probably the endless tour that followed (because of a trial with manager Mike Appel, prohibiting him to record new material) that made him aware of the divine touch: such a muscled sound asks for a straight, in your face message.

It was the same exhausting tour (considering this his second handshake) that prevented him to become a victim of uninspired reproduction, withdrawing right after this trial (and the tour) to a farm in Jersey. Right there he observed the small world he grew up in, including the tough life of his parents. So, although Darkness on the Edge of Town may have a less bombastic sound than its predecessor (it’s basically all about the guitar-piano combo), it definitely wasn’t a revolutionary switch of style in Springsteen’s career. It was just the next step in the refinement of his golden touch on Born to Run: while society was creating more ‘losers’ than ‘winners’, Springsteen succeeded to appeal to both, just like religion serves to overcome your problems, as well as to legitimate your lack of problems.

Just like throughout his complete discography, he pushes his fans between despondency and hope on the album. It results in a well-balanced record, strongly tied together by the granite bookends on both sides. The strong songs in between are especially the three autobiographical ones: ‘Adam Raised a Cain’, where Springsteen addresses his father by biblical imagery (which was about all communication there was between both at that moment), ‘Factory’, his simple but impressive narrative about the worker’s life, and above all the magnificent ‘Something in the Night’. On this track, Springsteen seemed to have left behind his careless youth and has grew wiser the hard way, more specifically by his troubles in court: “You’re born with nothing, and better off that way. Soon as you’ve got something they send someone to try and take it away.”

However, the fist is really clenched on the opening and closing tracks. Springsteen summons his followers on ‘Badlands’ to stop complaining, to stop waiting, but to just make something out of it, after all, it’s no shame to be alive. Sounds simple, but a lot better when you disseminate it as if it were your own gospel: “Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king, and a king ain’t satisfied till he rules everything“. The fact that escapism is a serious option in this situation, is made clear on ‘Racing in the Street’: even if you’re living a miserable life with a shitty job and a desperate relationship, there’s always a way to escape, in this case through street racing. The song in that way continues Springsteens’s ode to a man’s urge for freedom that was set in on Born to Run: “Now some guys they just give up living and start dying little by little, piece by piece. Some guys come home from work and wash up and go racing in the street”.

Side 2 starts with a boom on ‘The Promised Land’, in which problems are faced and one is ready to eliminate them for once and for all. It was probably again Springsteens’ own hopeless situation that preceded the album that served as an inspiration: not being able to record a new album and to do what he wanted to do. The album is finally closed by its title track, being the sequel to ‘Racing in the Street’. The barriers that were on the path to the ultimate destiny are still being shaken off at that point, he just cut himself loose from everything that used to stop him and is ready to go all the way now. Bring on the darkness.

Top Tracks:
1. Badlands
2. The Promised Land
3. Something In the Night

1. Steve Earle – Goodbye’s All We’ve Got Left (Guitar Town, 1986)


Although sounding like the Bakersfield sound with a small touch of Elvis Costello, it’s a real Texan singing here. Steve Earle spent his youth following his idol Townes Van Zandt throughout the Lone Star State and seemed to remain dubious about whether to stay there or move to Nashville, Tennessee for the rest of his life. This hesitation was translated into his music as being a mix of pure country and a rather raw Springsteenesk sound (Earle was in fact the working man people thought Springsteen was: having a daytime job and playing music at night). 1986 finally brought Earle his break-through with this debut album, recorded in Nashville and delivering two country hits (title track and this song). Later Earle received a Grammy for his anti-Iraq war album The Revolution Starts Now, with the title track being used for a TV commercial of… General Motors.

2. Sonic Youth – Tuff Gnarl (Sister, 1987)


Same era, same country, totally different planet. Founded in 1981 after Thurston Moore joined his later wife Kim Gordon’s band, quickly accompanied by guitarist Lee Ranaldo. Like often, the position of the drummer would remain unstable for a few years, on the noisy and experimental debut album Confusion Is Sex (1983, moderate success in Europe) as well as the dark and gloomy Bad Moon Rising (1985). Not coincidentally, they are finally recognized in their home country with their third album EVOL (1986), after Steve Shelley had become the unchallenged drummer and Sonic Youth definitely opts for alternative rock with a melodic touch. This fourth album, which I consider not a highlight, was recorded during EVOL’s supporting tour. However, everything (even the introduction of a loose concept) pointed to the fact that the band was working his way towards another peak, which was released the next year.

3. Sufjan Stevens – Out of Egypt, into the Great Laugh of Mankind, and I Shake the Dirt from My Sandals as I Run (Illinois, 2005)


Beta Band, Broken Social Scene? It’s the instrumental closing track of Sufjan Stevens’ most notorious album, in contrast with the works of his mentioned indie-colleagues containing a serious dose of pop and baroque. Illinois is full of affluent pop arrangements, shaping the musical background for lots of places, people and historic events that took place in that state, and all composed with instruments played by the prodigy himself. Already on his debut album (A Sun Came, 2000), he brings together 14 instruments. After giving electronic influences a try on his second album, he starts his so-called ‘Fifty States Project’, an ambitious idea that (just like Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley-plan) quickly goes through the shredder. Instead, after Michigan (2003) and Illinois, Stevens accepts an even greater challenge by trying to appreciate Christmas. Can’t call him a coward.

4. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Our House (Déjà-Vu, 1970)


Third single from the album after ‘Woodstock’ (Mitchell) and ‘Teach Your Children’ (Nash), another super soft song from Nash written when he lived with Joni Mitchell in LA’s Laurel Canyon. Contrary to the other album tracks, which were rerecorded numerous times until the four excellences considered them good enough to release them (this way easily lifting the total studio recording time over 500 hours), this song was written in about an hour according to Nash.

5. Simon & Garfunkel – Bookends Theme (Bookends, 1968)


Another couple of flawless harmonies, in the version that closes side A on this record. The album is often called the most ‘intellectual’ one from the duo, and the sober, nerdy album cover is completely in line with that idea. Paul Simon was struck by a writer’s block after the release of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (1966), but came back with this half concept-album, depicting the course of life from childhood till old age on side A. It became a musical triumph especially for Simon, who, thanks to outdated contract terms (the label paid for the sessions, assuming that a folk duo will never cost that much) chose to push all limits. Completely in CSNY-style, Simon brought the recordings to perfection, not shying away from spending 50 studio hours on a barely two minutes lasting song. Still, because of the two different sides, the album sounds a little incoherent: why not use both sides for the concept? Did the label want ‘Mrs. Robinson’ to be on it to earn back the high production costs?

6. Led Zeppelin – The Battle of Evermore (Led Zeppelin IV, 1971)


Third song from the excellent fourth album, with a Celtic touch due to the mystical intro (folky Plant with mandolin). It will always remain the only Led Zeppelin song featuring a guest vocalist, Sandy Denny from Fairport Convention, in duet with Robert Plant. Led Zeppelin didn’t end up coincidentally with her, as she was considered an authority in the field of traditional British folk back then. The fact that Led Zep moved from London to a Victorian cottage in East Hampshire for the recordings of this record, will without any doubt have to do something with this revived interest in traditional folk.

7. Bruce Springsteen – Something in the Night (Darkness on the Edge of Town, 1978)


Characterizing bells and piano-intro, followed by a howling scream of the master himself: this is the real Springsteen. Just like Led Zeppelin on Headley Grange and Bob Dylan in the basement of Big Pink, Springsteen withdrew to a farm in New Jersey after the success of Born to Run and the lingering conflict with his former manager Mike Appel. That’s why it lasted three years before Springsteen came up with the successor of his big break-through album, which was considerably less bombastic (as reflected by the sober album cover). Most of the material from the sessions by the way didn’t end up on the album, but was lent out to other artists or released on The River (1980). Luckily this third track was not rejected, as it remains one of his unrivalled classics.

8. The Beatles – Rocky Racoon (White Album, 1968)


Of course The Beatles also withdrew to distant places now and then, like in 1968: it was down in Rishikesh, India where most of the material for the White Album was written. Just like Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends, this album meant the beginning of the end for them. The unlimited studio time in London took away all the pressure to play together and the constant discontentedness with each other’s songs led to the point of Ringo leaving the band. In that point of view, it may not be surprising that the four of them are only heard on 16 of the total of 30 tracks. This song is obviously one from McCartney (‘Gideon’s Bible’…), about a triangular relationship that seems to stem directly from the Deadwood script.

9. Nick Drake – Place to Be (Pink Moon, 1972)


A guy that was later imitated by numerous less authentic and less talented songwriters. Also a guy that liked to withdrew himself, as Drake locked himself in his sober house in London after the poor reviews of his previous album, Bryter Layter (1970). This album became as sober as the environment it was written in, without backing band and with only Drake himself on vocals and acoustic guitar. Despite the legends that rose afterwards, Drake would have been very proud of the album, which was nevertheless followed by his suicide two years later, at the age of 26.

10. The Twilight Sad – Cold Days from the Birdhouse (Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters, 2007)


Contagious Scottish vocals from indie rockers The Twilight Sad, consisting of the trio Graham (responsible for the accent), MacFarlane (walls of sound, also producer of the album) and Devine. This is the opening track of their debut album, that was (contrary to some work mentioned above) recorded in only three days. Cheers.

Jukebox

HotelCalifornia1976 GreenRiver1969 teaforthetillerman1970 unknownpleasures1979