Album: Live 1975-1985
The River was a schizophrenic album, combining some of Springsteen’s deepest story songs with some of his stoopidest party anthems. Guess which ones I loved the most?
As played by the E Street Band, the party anthems are all forward momentum, and everywhere you listen you can hear a cool guitar lead or a backing vocal or a new organ sound or an awesome piano run, capturing the visceral thrill of great rock music, So if some of them weren’t tied to the greatest of lyrics, it didn’t really matter.
The reason I love “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)” – especially the live version – most of all is Steven Van Zant’s backing vocals. Sure, they’re barely on tune, but that’s not even the point. His natural “aaaaahhhhhhh” adds a degree of extra grit and authenticity, so when he chimes in on “telephoooaaaonnnnnnnee” and “ahhhhhhlonnnnnnne”, in the last verse it makes the entire song for me.
I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band for the very first time on this tour, in 1981, with Larry and Tim. Road trip! And, in fact I think it may have been one of those deals where we drove home after the show, because we were young and had unlimited time and energy. I have a vivid memory of listening to a cassette of Cosmos Factory on one of those trips – let’s just say it was this one – and just as “Ramble Tamble” hit its glorious midsection, the sun came up.
Or I could totally be mis-remembering that.
What I do remember that we were sitting at the very back of the Los Angeles Sports Arena, about as far back as you could possibly get from the band, and it was still utterly overpowering. To felt, it felt like Bruce cared about entertaining the back of the house as much as he cared about the front rows.
The thing I remember the most was the instrumental build-up that climaxes “Racing in the Street,” which was long, slow and utterly majestic. It completely changed how I thought about that song.
The rest of it is just a blur all these years later, but I do remember walking out and being fully and utterly convinced that I was going to follow what Bruce Springsteen did for the rest of our lives.
“You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)” performed live in 1980
My Certain Songs Spotify Playlist: