Certain Songs #135: Bruce Springsteen – “Backstreets”

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Album: Born to Run.

Year: 1975.

I know that Bruce posed with Clarence Clemons for the famous cover of what is probably the greatest transition record ever made, but it shoulda been Roy Bittan. I mean, of course it wouldn’t have worked visually in a nice gatefold cover, but let’s face it: Roy Bittan owns Born to Run

There isn’t a single song on this record without a perfect, memorable piano part. Roy’s piano is practically the first thing you hear in “Thunder Road” and the last thing you hear on “Jungleland.”  

And of course, Bittan is all over “Backstreets,” which may not be the greatest Bruce Springsteen song, but is definitely the most Bruce Springsteen song. 

One soft infested summer
Me and Terry became friends
Trying in vain to breathe
The fire we born in
Catching rides to the outskirts
Tying faith between our teeth
Sleeping in that old abandoned beach house
Getting wasted in the heat 
And hiding on the backstreets 
Hiding on the backstreets

It may not profound, but you can see it in your mind’s eye. More than that, you want to live it: that summer where everything changes. That summer which has since become so mythologized in your mind that you replay it for the rest of your life. You know, your glory days. 

And, besides, over the hard-rocking Blonde on Blonde sound of of the E Street Band, it becomes profound, because they make hiding on the backstreets sound like simultaneously the beginning and end of the world.

So in the end, when Bruce sings:

Hiding on the backstreets
Hiding on the backstreets
Hiding on the backstreets
Hiding on the backstreets
Hiding on the backstreets
Hiding on the backstreets
Hiding on the backstreets
Hiding on the backstreets

approximately 568,921,364 times, it becomes a catharsis, a cry for help, and a prayer to a god that had long since abandoned him and Terry. In the end, it feels like a cleansing, and everybody involved is pretty much exhausted. Which means it’s time to flip the album over and get reinvigorated all over again.

“Backstreets” performed live in Passiac, New Jersey, 1978

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Every “Certain Song” Ever

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