September 29, 2020 Bruce Springsteen: All the Songs – The Story Behind Every Track (Book Review)
Book stores are full of books on David Bowie, Elvis Presley, Prince and more. But some people are not keen on the Thin White Duke, the King, or, um, Prince. They are after someone with a more grounded sound and nickname. Like ‘The Boss’.
Bruce Springsteen is possibly New Jersey’s biggest musical export, rousing crowds with loud and lively sounding tracks like “Born to Run” and “Dancing in the Dark” to quieter, folksier tracks like ‘Philadelphia’ and “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” So, it is fair to say he is a big deal- thousands of concerts, millions of album sales, and a bundle of books for good measure.
The latest is Bruce Springsteen: All the Songs- The Story Behind Every Track by Philippe Margotin (Ray Charles: The Genius. Atlas 1990, Muse: Le nouveau souffle Pop-Rock. Editions de la Lagune 2006) and Jean-Michel Guesdon, and it will be due out in stores on October 6, 2020 via Cassell Illustrated and the Hachette Book Club.
Like the title says, the book’s 672 pages will go through every song on Springsteen’s albums from 1973’s Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J to 2019’s Western Stars. It goes through them chronologically album by album, song by song, including outtakes, covers, and rare tracks. Rather like how Ian McDonald’s Revolution in the Head covered the Beatles’ work from their first recording to their last.
Or, more accurately, like Margotin and Guesdon’s own coverage of the Beatles in All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release. Then they did the same with Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd with the same scheme- revealing The Story Behind All the Songs released by each artist. Now it is Bruce Springsteen’s turn. So, how good is it? Is it good to begin with?
The book starts off with a relatively meaty quick biography on Springsteen up to his first album, on music producer Mike Appel and his impact on Springsteen’s career. Then it gets into the tracks, with each chapter covering an album. It examines the tracks by listing who wrote it (Springsteen himself, usually), how long it lasts, who played on it, where it was recorded, and the technical team behind it. Then it lists the songs’ ‘Genesis and Lyrics’ before wrapping up with its Production and moving onto the next track, with some biographical info between albums to mark the circumstances around each one.
They come off as informative enough, with plenty on info on the instruments and tools used, what inspired each song, and how it was written. It does not shy away from criticizing Springsteen’s occasional missteps (the “synthesized sound of pan flutes” on Human Touch’s “Soul Driver” are “rather dated and highly unusual for Springsteen”).
Though its overall tone is more easy-going with Springsteen, tut-tutting the rough edges instead of scouring them. While the high points get that extra glow from how Margotin and Guesdon delve into its creation (Born to Run is summed up as “living proof of months of effort and trial and error…a masterclass in willpower and talent. A formidable talent.”)
There are a few photos of Springsteen and the E-Street Band peppered here and there to spice up proceedings, along with boxouts for additional facts. Some list whether the song was covered by other artists (e.g. how Manfred Mann covered “Blinded by the Light”), and others are trivia ‘For Springsteen Addicts’. They are only a paragraph or a few sentences long, so it does not harm proceedings so much. Though they are not as interesting as the main text. Like how “The Angel” namechecks an actual store in Howell, NJ. It is handy to know if one is planning a Springsteen tour through New Jersey at least.
Still, it shows how thorough Bruce Springsteen- All the Songs goes in detailing all things relating to the Boss. It is a beefy book offering plenty on Springsteen’s work and career in a laidback, welcoming manner, rather than a clinical, academic one. It makes its 670+ length less intimidating by making it easier to dip in and out of for key info, though some might have preferred it to have a firmer approach and less sidenotes. Still, it makes for a handy, all-in-one guide and biography for Springsteen fans old and new. Thus, for these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives this book 4 out of 5 stars.