This was another week where I'd never heard either record.  I had heard a few songs from both albums, but had never heard either album in total--and have never been too fond of either artist. Thankfully, both of this week's records have reasonable lengths (46 minutes and 30, respectively).  After listening to both records through twice each, I feared I was in trouble.  I was not a fan.  I've said it before, but I am first and foremost drawn to voices.  And, yes, I know Aretha is one of the preeminent voices in this Universe--but am I alone in finding it a little too harsh and demonstrative?  Also, Bruce is delivering most of these songs at full scream.  I was going to need some help to find something positive to say...

Bruce Springsteen - Born In The USA

86: Bruce Springsteen -- Born In The USA (1984)

My first impression of this album, in addition to the shoutful delivery, was how dated those synths and heavily reverb-soaked snare drums sound now.  Also, how there is a total lack of groove.

I may have mentioned that there is another Greatest Albums Of All Time list that I've learned is more regarded than Rolling Stone's, from Acclaimed Music referred to as "The Great List".  On that list, this album comes in at 162.  That's a pretty big critical gap--though it is still on the list.

I realized, late in the week, that there is a 33 1/3 book about this record (here).  Loving the series as I do (in spite of the Dusty misstep), I decided to add it to my kindle app and get to reading.  While it could have used more editing, it gave me what I needed to really listen to the album.

In reading the 33 1/3 book, I learned more about Bruce as a songwriter and the songwriting and recording process that led to this album.  This volume of the series is clearly meant for Springsteen fanatics, as it painstakingly details every song written during this very prolific period in the early 80's.  It revealed to me how strong a storyteller he is and how his songs are rarely revelatory in a directly personal sense.  More often they're economically crafted songs from the point of view of various, and often nefarious, narrators.

I never realized the depth behind the song "Born In The USA".  I didn't get that it was a protest song about the Vietnam War.  Never.  I guess the lyrics are really tucked behind that huge snare and repetitive synth line.  It is a truly complex lyric, which is successful at being truly patriotic while also calling into question decisions that were made at the time, and the impact felt.

On further listening, the album did grow on me--especially the songs Downbound Train, I'm On Fire, Bobby Jean, Dancing In The Dark, and the beautiful My Hometown.  See, I can be open-minded.

Aretha Franklin - Lady Soul

85: Aretha Franklin -- Lady Soul (1968)

I have never really liked the song Chain of Fools.  It's another song that I've probably heard a [bad] cover version more than I'd ever heard this version.  Girl can sing though--especially the line "My doctor said take it easy"--which she clearly ignored, at least in her delivery.

Upon thinking about it, maybe it's her intensity that I'm not comfortable with.  Remember: I like chill.  Give me chill.  Please.

Aretha is never chill.

I have to admit that Chain of Fools has grown on me though.

Who doesn't love her classic take on Carole King, Gerry Goffin, and Jerry Wexler's [You Make Me Feel Like] A Natural Woman?

On the second listening, I was struck by the ingenious background vocals here, credited to The Sweet Inspirations (which includes Whitney Houston's mama and Dionne Warwick's too), as well as Aretha's sisters Erma and Carolyn Franklin.  I watched 20 Feet From Stardom recently and was blown away by the talents of the singers featured, most of whom I'd never heard of before.  Maybe that experience has me more tuned in to what's going on with the background vocals...but I'm not so sure.  The choices made on each track are so subtle and artistic.  For two great examples, check out Groovin' and especially Aint' No Way (the wonderful closing track written by Aretha's sister Carolyn Franklin).

This album was produced by Jerry Wexler, who also produced Dusty In Memphis.  The band is incredible, especially Tommy Cogbill on bass.  Aretha is an impressive piano player, especially on Good To Me As I Am To You (one of the two songs she co-writes here).

It is conspicuous that Aretha is the only woman of color on the entire list--a list that is already scant with women any way.  Just putting that out there.

Verdict

I'm good with Born In The USA, I won't need to hear it again--but I am glad I took the time to explore it.  I also do want to check out a couple of his other records.  I will have to check out "Born To Run" coming in at #18 of the list.  I also want to listen to Darkness On The Edge of Town, and Nebraska--eventually.

Aretha is growing on me--which I guess is a good thing, as I'll be spending more time with her next week.  Aint' No Way is amazing.  For that reason alone, this album gave me a gift.

Up Next

84: Aretha Franklin -- I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You (1967)

83: Jimi Hendrix -- Axis: Bold As Love (1967)

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