Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Songwriting: "You ain't a beauty, but baby, uh, you're alright..."

I think Thunder Road is one of the best rock songs ever written.

Why? Well, there are a lot of really great lines, but the best part is the seemingly effortless way that the words and the music fit so well together. Of course, it wasn’t always that way. Listen to this early live version of the song recorded in February 1975, during the tour leading up to the release of Born to Run. While it still sounds pretty good, it’s wordy compared to the pristine version on the official release.

Bruce Springsteen: Wings For Wheels (a.k.a. Thunder Road)

As you can hear, Bruce made a number of substantial changes to all of the verses, but I think it’s the relatively minor changes he made to the opening verse that best show the importance of careful editing in songwriting:

The screen door slams
Angelina’s Mary’s dress sways
Like a vision she dances across the porch
As the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey that’s me babe and I want you only
Don’t turn me home again
I just can’t face myself alone in the mirror again tonight
Don’t run back inside
Baby Darling you know just what I’m here for
So you’re scared and you’re thinking
That maybe you we ain’t that young anymore
Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night
You ain't a beauty, but baby, uh, hey you’re alright
Oh and that’s alright with me

Here’s a more recent live version with the familiar lyrics:

Bruce Springsteen: Thunder Road (Live)

[purchase Born To Run]

While I'm in the mood, here’s another Bruce song I’ve always loved--probably because of its relatively modest scope:

Bruce Springsteen: Used Cars

[purchase Nebraska]

“Now Mister the day my number comes in I ain’t ever gonna ride no used car again…”


Matt said...


You are setting bars high this wee, my friend!

Thanks for the reminder for me to listen to "Used Cars" again... When Nebraska first came out it was the song that I liked the most.

blessedmatch said...

Thanks for the post, Paul. It's interesting to see how even minor edits (these look like they are the final stage edits) can make a difference in the cadence of a song Angelina to Mary), as well as the feel (darling instead of baby). Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

the imagery alone in this song is vivid beyond color, like "Night Moves", there's some serious wordplay being converted into goosebump-inducing music...

btw, gotta think if you're "Mary", and you DON'T leave immediately with this guy -- you're the biggest fucking moron born with ovaries.

Anonymous said...

This song for me too encapsulates all that is magical in a Bruce Springsteen classic. Who hasn't dreamed of leaving their troubles behind to hit the open road before dawn, before the world's even had a chance to catch up and take notice. I think the line "I'm no hero that's understood" binds him even closer to his audience and it was this empathy Springsteen had for his audience and the trials and tribulations of the everyday that set him apart from so many other rock stars. Dylan may be a better songwriter and lyricist but for me
he never related to the fantasies and dreams people have as much as Springsteen. He captured the essence of what life is for most people. A struggle of ups and downs whilst frantically hoping for
a way out and grasping for the next big dream that always seems just out of reach. Except in 'Thunder Road' of course where we finally catch our break and ride into the sunset. And that's the beauty of this classic song. Just listen to the ecstatic reaction of the crowd in the MP3 Paul has put up to understand. Great post.

boyhowdy said...

"Who hasn't dreamed of leaving their troubles behind to hit the open road before dawn..."?

All my dreams involve leaving my TROUSERS behind to hit the open road before dawn. Good thing I don't sleepwalk.

Love the way the songs let us hear the evolution, Paul. Great concept; great post.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.