The River (1980)

Disc One 1. The Ties That Bind 2. Sherry Darling 3. Jackson Cage 4. Two Hearts 5. Independence Day 6. Hungry Heart 7. Out in the Street 8. Crush on You 9. You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch) 10.I Wanna Marry You 11.The River Disc Two 1. Point Blank 2. Cadillac Ranch 3. I'm a Rocker 4. Fade Away 5. Stolen Car 6. Ramrod 7. The Price You Pay 8. Drive All Night 9. Wreck on the Highway


I remember when compact discs first came out in the mid to late 1980s. The downside to them, at that time, was that they were significantly more expensive then the vinyl record albums we were used to buying. A regular priced CD cost about $14 as opposed to a record album that cost around $8 or $9. When you came across a double cd, well, you could be asked to spend about $30. Ouch. Around this time, like many other people, I knew very little about Bruce Springsteen. One day when my friend and I were in a record store, he found this CD in the racks, picked it up and snidely remarked "Who would pay $30 for Hungry Heart?" See, since that was the only "hit" song here, we weren't familiar with anything else on this $30 plus set. Oh, how I wish I knew then what I knew now. Not only about the album, but the man himself. $30 would have been next to nothing once you give this album a listen.

For this double album, someone must have approached Springsteen before he began to record it and said "You know, it's o.k. to have some fun when you're writing and recording". That may be too harsh. Springsteen was a phenomenal rock and roll act that commanded a three hour show better than anybody, but you couldn't disguise the fact that his subject matter was always pretty bleak. That changed significantly here.

Oh, there's plenty of introspective dark material here, it's just with 82 minutes, he was allowed to stretch, and he filled it with some of his most catchy, engaging music ever. It's almost a bit surprising that the material here didn't cover two separate albums. One of fun stuff and one of serious stuff. Maybe he felt if he only gave his the fun stuff that it would too big of a shift for the faithful to endure. Even the darker songs, though, aren't quite as dark. The characters, such as the young lovers in the song The River or the father and son conflict in Independence Day never seems futile. The characters are dealing with hard realities and they're handling it the best way they know how to - with determination to fight it the only way they can - quite often by getting in a car and driving (something's never change with The Boss) as in Drive All Night or Stolen Car.

There's more intimacy and love here - or the pain of unfulfilled relationships, and not all of it is "bleak". After all, troubled romances are troubled romances, no matter how much you disguise them. Hungry Heart, Two Hearts and Crush on You are just a few of many songs that, curiously, explores themes that Bruce never hit on that much on his earlier work. You even have to smile a bit as you admire the naive young character that croons through I Wanna Marry You as we see someone desperate to take another human being out of their misery.

To be fair, the best songs here are the straight-forward, fun loving, rock and roll songs. Never has he been so joyous and carefree as he is on Ramrod, I'm a Rocker and the now classic Out on the Street. The great thing about some double albums is when they don't try to sound like double albums. There's no filler, no weird ambition, no big style changes - just over 80 minutes of great, infectious New Jersey rockin' Springsteen music. Easily worth the price of a double disc set.

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