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Monday, 30 September 2013

Rewind: Nebraska - Bruce Springsteen (1982)

Nebraska (Full Album).

I have updated some links on here that were dead. - Doug 30th September 2017

So how do you follow up the hugely successfull album 'The River'? Of course you put out an album of Acoustic tracks recorded at home onto a cassette! That's gotta work, hasn't it? Well, surprisingly it did work. Bruce had wanted to get the band to do some of these songs but they seemed to lose their edge in the studio with the E Street Band.

Springsteen would say of the album, "Nebraska was something people weren't expecting, and it turned everything I'd done to that point on it's head...I went for an emotional flatness that I felt was a part of the way those stories would get told...This junky equipment unintentionally made this lo-fi, spooky record. I mean, I knew the mood I was going after, but a lot of it was just an accident." (Quoted from 'E Street Shuffle The Glory Days of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band' by Clinton Heylin).

A great accident as well. You can almost feel the loneliness, smell the fear, be gripped by the despair of some of these songs, even 31 years on from when it was first released.

It was an album that puzzled me on first listen, I mean, you're so used to hearing a full band backing Bruce, it's like you are just waiting for a Sax solo to turn up from the Big Man, or some beautiful piano coda from the Professor and the Phantom. Of course none of those things appeared. What we got was an intimate album with Bruce sitting in a chair (that you could hear the squeaks from once in awhile), guitar in hand singing some of the darkest songs he's ever written.

It's an album I totally love after having initial reservations about it. 'My Father's House' is one of my favourite Springsteen songs and it's an album that I still get a thrill listening to as these stories come to life in song.

The 'How Nebraska Was Born' Bootleg is quite an interesting piece because you can immediately see part of the process of Bruce's writing. For instance the opening two tracks - Fist Full of Dollars #1 and #2 opens with what would become, nine months later,  the starting place for 'Atlantic City'. If you can find a copy it's certainly a worthwhile addition to the collection as is the 'Lost Masters Volume 1 - Alone in Colts Neck'.

One thing is very clear when listening to these bootlegs is that they were not recorded in a single day (a myth that seems to be perpetuated even by Peter Ames Carlin in his book 'Bruce'). The songs that were recorded as demos for what Bruce was hoping to become the next band album were done over a period of time and if word on the tape that Springsteen gave to Landau is to be believed then most songs on it were not first takes at all.

The next thing was to try and get the band to record the songs but, as Bruce said in 1984, "We went into the studio a couple of times to record those songs with the band, but it just didn't sound good...The songs had a lot of detail so that, when the band started to wail away into it, the characters got lost. Like 'Johnny 99' - I thought 'Oh, that'd be great if we could do a rock version.' But when you did that the song disappeared...It needed that kinda austere, echoey sound, just one guitar - one guy telling his story." (Quoted from 'E Street Shuffle The Glory Days of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band' by Clinton Heylin).

Out of all the songs demoed ten were chosen for the album once it was decided that the tape was going to be the record.

Springsteen told Rolling Stone Magazine in 1984:
"I was just doing songs for the next rock album, and I decided that what always took me so long in the studio was the writing. I would get in there, and I just wouldn't have the material written, or it wasn't written well enough, and so I'd record for a month, get a couple of things, go home write some more, record for another month — it wasn't very efficient. So this time, I got a little Teac four-track cassette machine, and I said, I'm gonna record these songs, and if they sound good with just me doin' 'em, then I'll teach 'em to the band. I could sing and play the guitar, and then I had two tracks to do somethin' else, like overdub a guitar or add a harmony. It was just gonna be a demo. Then I had a little Echoplex that I mixed through, and that was it. And that was the tape that became the record. It's amazing that it got there, 'cause I was carryin' that cassette around with me in my pocket without a case for a couple of week, just draggin' it around. Finally, we realized, "Uh-oh, that's the album." Technically, it was difficult to get it on a disc. The stuff was recorded so strangely, the needle would read a lot of distortion and wouldn't track in the wax. We almost had to release it as a cassette."

The album reached #3 on the Billboard Charts and also #3 in the UK Album Charts on its release.

What Do The Fans Think of 'Nebraska'?
I asked a few folks the question and here are a few responses:

"The first time I listened to Nebraska I lay in bed and put my casette recorder under my pillow. But for the music it was dead quiet. It was almost like a religious experience. Every note went all the way through my body to my toes. I've never heard it so intense after that night. The album for me shows how versatile Bruce is and for me it's his purest album and I don't know if I can think of Bruce without Nebraska. I do still listen to it and am happy to say I heard all the songs live, even the obscure and rare My Fathers House." Nancy Snelders (Antwerp).

  "Hated it. now I love it." - Joanne Blum Jackson (USA).

"My first listen was not when it was released, as I didn't know about him / his music until Born In The USA. So I listened to it in a time when I had just 'discovered' him and wanted to listen to as many albums as possible. And I was happily shocked to find out that he was so diverse. Not just BITUSA, or The River (the first album I bought after my sister had introduced me to BITUSA); no - he could do dark, solo and accoustic too. Shivers down my spine.Funny thing is: now with al my music uploaded to iTunes I hardly listen to complete albums anymore. But Nebraska is an album that I 'need' to hear start to finish. I don't always do it like that, sometimes my iTunes or iPhone is on shuffle and that's fine. But Nebraska is in a league of its own. But I must admit: I can not always listen to it, it depends on my mood. Sometimes it's too dark for me (when I'm either very happy and like to stay that way, or when I'm in a very dark mood myself: sometimes it's nice to listen to Nebraska, but sometimes it's a bit too much...)." - Maria Tillema (Amsterdam).

"Hated it. Wanted another River record. Atlantic city. Love it. Found CHILD BRIDE. I love it. Make any sense out of that if you can!" - Mark D. Huntington (Huddersfield).
"When I first played it I wasn't sure about it. In my head I could hear my versions of band arrangements.
Now I can listen to it and appreciate it as a stand alone album.
I don't know about vital, but it was an important and brave album for Bruce to put out, showing us another facet of the man and his music.
I still play it when I need the strength of his music, but not the noise." - Ally Graham (Dunfermline).

"Until recently, I don’t think I ever listened to this album in full. For me it’s definitely one that requires a certain mood, perhaps when I’m feeling a little introspective. I think it’s very blue collar which is maybe why it strikes a chord with me while I listen to it at work and I love the fact that it was recorded on a little 4-track and kept very simple. It’s definitely a Springsteen album, his lyrical genius is ever present, just not as busy as some of the E-Street ones, which is a good thing. Having said that, when it comes to playing the likes of Atlantic City live, the band certainly make a great song sound even better! When Max kicks off with that beat it really gets the hairs on the back of your neck going. Definitely a classic, definitely Bruce, definitely be listened to again." - Skinny Crimmings (Ireland).

"There is so much I could say about every track on this album but I will keep it short and to the point! I vividly remember my first time. Was on holiday staying in a house in the middle of a pine forest. I listened to it with the lights out and headphones up loud. It was the perfect setting for it all especially My Father’s House which I could see happening as he sang. I love the way the haunting sound of the mouth organ and the minimal use of the other instruments perfectly underpin the sombre and low-key mood of the album. The over-riding picture I get is of Bruce singing in a quiet spit and sawdust saloon bar right at the end of a night, bar maid washing up the last of the glasses, lights down low, with an old cowboy nodding off in the corner there.
Yeah I do think it measures up to being a classic Bruce album. It’s Bruce storytelling at his best. We have stories of the worst of humanity (Nebraska), despair and loss, (Johnny 99) the longing for something better (Mansion on the Hill) and finally the perplexity and admiration on Reason to Believe, that despite some of the situations people find themselves in, they still pick themselves up and keep going. I like that it ends on an understated note of hope!
I still listen to it. I like the gentleness of the pace and for the most part am more likely to listen to it when I’m in a more reflective mood." - Pauline Woods (Sheffield).

Acoustic and Electric Versions Over the Past Decade.

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