Bruce Springsteen emerged as such an all-American archetype of the blue-collar troubadour that he earned himself the title of ‘The Boss’ in a rapid promotion to the pinnacle of the gingham wayfarer’s long-winding peak. However, he was such an espouser of solidarity that surely ‘The Comrade’ or ‘The Compatriot’ would’ve been a more befitting moniker. Over the years he has tried to stay true to this mantra, as he says himself: “The great challenge of adulthood is holding on to your idealism after you lose your innocence.”
When Bob Dylan first heard ‘the next Bob Dylan’ he said, “He better be careful, or he might go through every word in the English language.” As it happens, Springsteen’s debut was even presented to the world with the PR tagline of ‘the next Dylan’. The issue was that Dylan had hardly gone anywhere and if there was to be a ‘this town ain’t big enough for the both of us stand-off’ then only one winner was assured.
This failed attempt to sell his debut record’s all-American heart through comparison to others rather than championing the LP’s originality led to a poor chart position. Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. peaked at a moderate 60 in the US and failed to travel well overseas, but the likes of David Bowie heard it, and thanks to that, The Boss didn’t stay quiet for long. Soon he rifled his way towards Born to Run, and the rest, as they say, is ancient history.
Interestingly, when Bruce Springsteen was gearing up for the recording of Born to Run, he began the curious habit of listening to Roy Orbison’s Greatest Hits every single night. He laid out the rationale behind his obsessive routine when he eventually inducted his hero into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; explaining: “Some rock ‘n’ roll reinforces friendship and community.”
Adding: “But for me, Roy’s ballads were always best when you were alone and in the dark. Roy scrapped the idea that you needed verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus to have a hit. His arrangements were complex and operatic, they had rhythm and movement and they addressed the underside of pop romance. They were scary. His voice was unearthly.”
Springsteen would even go on to play a cherished handful of shows with Orbison and has immortalised his name in a number of his own songs. As Springsteen once said: “What made Roy’s music great is that it was so mainstream, but it had a very strange underbelly to it.” That is a trait that the genre-straddling ‘Boss’ has tried to emulate in his own darkly imbued work, and it certainly befittingly comes to the fore in his own most. Mainstream hit, Born to Run.
As their mutual hero, Bob Dylan, once wrote: “Orbison, though, transcended all the genres – folk, country, rock and roll or just about anything. His stuff mixed all the styles and some that hadn’t even been invented yet. He could sound mean and nasty on one line and then sing in a falsetto voice like Frankie Valli in the next. With Roy, you didn’t know if you were listening to mariachi or opera. He kept you on your toes.” Much the same could surely be said for Springsteen, and if you’re listening to the same record every night for months, I guess that’s no surprise.