It is a sad fact today that very few, if any of us, sit down and listen to an entire album. We pick and choose the hits, and if we do happen to shuffle an album on our mobile devices, it is merely for background noise as we focus on other things, and we don’t give the music the attention it deserves. But the truth is, some albums are too good just to skip tracks and ignore the album cuts. When we only listen to a select few songs, we miss out on the deepest levels of emotion and artistry that can be put into a great album.
For this reason I’d like to take a look at a number of albums that simply must be listened to track for track, looking specifically at four or five songs on the records that I particularly enjoy. I suggest listening to many of these on cassettes or vinyl records for those who can, because there is less of a temptation to avoid the seemingly less interesting portions of the album. I will however, avoid those better known albums that one might already be familiar with, such as Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, the Beatles’ Abbey Road, AC/DC’s Back in Black, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, or Nirvana’s Nevermind. These are fine albums in their own right, but not exactly the sort of record I’d like to cover.
The first album I’d like to look at is Darkness on the Edge of Town. Darkness on the Edge of Town is the fourth studio album by Rock & Roll Hall of Fame artist Bruce Springsteen, released June 2, 1978. Something of a lost gem in Springsteen’s catalog, Darkness on the Edge of Town is often eclipsed by such phenomenal albums as Born to Run (1975), and Born in the U.S.A. (1984). Despite this, the degree of consideration and skill put into every track on the record is amazing.
Badlands serves as the perfect introduction to the themes of hard work and hope explored across the album. Like many of Springsteen’s songs, Badlands is a tale of small town struggle, pushing on as hard as you can to forge a better life for yourself, with the belief that love and faith point the way to salvation.
Adam Raised a Cain
What might seem a rebellious and hateful song at first listen, Adam Raised a Cain has a driving vocal intensity, fuel by a fast-paced rhythm and a blistering guitar solo. One of the highlights of this song is the unity of the entire band. Every instrument seems to move together like a single mechanism designed to drive the song’s point home.
The Promised Land
The Promised Land is the most hopeful song on a record that I believe to be an album centered around an expectant hope, a belief in the future that, while child-like, is anything but childish. A song that might make us smile with tears in our eyes, we feel it deep down when Springsteen sings, “gonna be a twister to blow everything down/ that ain’t got the faith to stand its ground/ blow away the dreams that tear you apart/ blow away the dreams that break your heart.”
Prove It All Night
My personal favorite song on the entire record is the ninth and second to last track, Prove It All Night. For me, Prove It All Night is a perfect summation of Springsteen’s philosophy. “Everybody’s got a hunger, a hunger they can’t resist/There’s so much that you want/You deserve much more than this” he sings with such an authentic passion in his voice, you can’t help but believe him and feel the story in such a profound way, if only we sit quietly and let the song take us in, rather than the other way around. Listen specifically at about 2:02, when the saxophone solo transitions effortlessly into what I believe to be the most beautiful and emotionally ‘felt’ guitar solo on the record.
It’s songs like Prove It All Night that make Springsteen so universally appealing to people across decades and genres. There’s a distinct human element to the music that resonates within all of us, an element that makes Darkness on the Edge of Town worth listening to over and over again.