Brian Fallon's Five Essential Springsteen Albums
Brian Fallon (photo by Danny Clinch, PR)
[June 2018 update: Earlier this year, Brian Fallon and his bandmates of The Gaslight Anthem reunited temporarily to mark the 10th anniversary of their second album, The '59 Sound, with a worldwide tour, playing the record in its entirety. On June 15 the Gaslight Anthem releases a companion to that breakthrough album too, The '59 Sound Sessions, which includes new, previously unreleased recordings and alternate, stripped-down versions of songs from the original release (as fans know, there's a nod or two to Bruce Springsteen lurking in its lyrics). In addition, Fallon treated fans to another solo album, Sleepwalkers, in early 2018. The Gaslight Anthem plays New York's Governors Ball Music Festival on June 2 before embarking on a UK and European tour.]
As frontman of New Jersey's own Gaslight Anthem, Brian Fallon knows something about the rock and roll heritage of his home state—and Bruce Springsteen. In fact, Gaslight Anthem opened for Springsteen on his 2009 London tour and over the arc of the band's five albums (they're currently on hiatus) found a fan in Springsteen himself who recognized a potent new generation of Jersey punk rockers sharing an artistic bond steeped in shore town folklore.
Fallon's fine solo debut, Painkillers, set him off in a slightly different direction, a journey that he discussed on FUV Live when he visited in March. We asked him if he'd also write about his Five Essential Bruce Springsteen Albums and he quickly agreed:
Brian Fallon's Five Essential Bruce Springsteen Albums:
To pick five albums from any artist is hard, so when choosing my top five Bruce Springsteen albums it’s a little harder when there’s so much to choose from. Quality stands. So here are my Five Essential Bruce Springsteen Albums, as they have influenced me and my work. Here we go…
1. Hammersmith Odeon, London 1975
This isn’t exactly a studio release. It’s a live release from the very first two shows that Bruce did in England, recorded on November 18, 1975 at the Hammersmith Odeon in London. In attendance was Joe Strummer, Pete Townshend, and Peter Gabriel, to name a few. At this single concert, Joe decided he’d play a Fender Telecaster from then on, Peter Gabriel decided he’d leave Genesis and go solo, and Pete Townshend made a request for “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City" (to which you can clearly hear Bruce say, “This is for Pete” in his thick-as-mud Jersey Shore accent). All of this at one show. All because Bruce and the band were on absolute fire on this night.
It’s the single best concert I’ve ever heard in my life. So when someone says to me, “Bruce? The guy with the flag and his butt on the cover of that record from the '80?” I reply, “Yes. That Bruce, and this punk rocker too.” Start here.
2. The Ghost of Tom Joad
Everyone asks me if Nebraska influenced my work. The truth is, no. "Atlantic City" influenced my work, but as a whole, Nebraska isn’t a record that ever connected with me. I don’t know why, and I’m not saying it’s a bad record. I just don’t jive with it. I got sucked into The Ghost of Tom Joad on a road trip I took when I first graduated from high school. It was my first time leaving on my own and taking off for a few days. On that trip I listened to this record, front to back, about 100 times. The song “Highway 29” is still probably my favorite Bruce song ever. I don’t know what it is about this record that makes me love it so much, but to me, it’s some of Springsteen’s finest work and surely overlooked.
3. Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.
This is Bruce’s first album and probably one of his best. There’s a richness and naïvety on this record that ends up in these lyrical paintings that speak something dear to my heart. It’s about my home, and it’s in a language I understand.
I always felt like this was “our” record. The people like “us” who were outcasts growing up. It’s one part Dylan, one part Van Morrison, and then there’s this Marlon Brando part that encapsulates the beautiful losers. There aren’t any winners on this record, only people in “Lost in the Flood.” Even the brighter moments have a sadness to them. “Does this Bus Stop at 82nd Street?” says it well: “Drink this and you’ll grow wings on your feet.”
Since reality is so hard, at some point the fantasy takes over. Fantasy, and die hard belief in a different life just over the horizon. It’s that fantasy of rock and roll that some people are too affected to believe in anymore. But this record helps me keep the faith in the childlike wonder of music, and rock and roll in particular. This was my rulebook starting out writing songs. It still is. For the lost, for the lovers, for the crazies, and everyone in between—"For You." It was like he was saying to me and everyone I knew who lost but believed in spite of those losses, you could still win. “I came for you.”
4. Born to Run
This record convinced me that no matter what anyone said about making music as a career that I had to try. I didn’t know if I’d “make it” or if I will yet, but I knew that when I heard this record I had to try. I’ve always heard Born to Run in my mother’s car, but it wasn’t until my late teenage years and early twenties that I understood what was being said here. To me, this was my ticket out. Born to Run gave me the permission to leave everything sensible and practical behind and go for my own dreams. It still makes me pause when I hear those piano intros on "Thunder Road" and "Backstreets."
In the same way Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. spoke to me as a teenager, this record spoke to the guy in his twenties who really wasn’t very good at much, except maybe music, and that was a big maybe. It also comforted me in times of great heartache and self doubt. This is an encouraging record. It’s a masterpiece. I would take this record over almost any other “classic” album by any artist.
5. Born in the USA
You simply couldn’t ask for a better pop record by a rock and roller. There’s not a lot of songs on here I don’t like. I don’t even know what I could say about this one, other than it simply is a must-own record. But once you get past the never-ending hits on this one, there’s a depth to the lyrics that really rivals anyone writing out there. That creeps in after a few listens.
How brilliant the words are on this record. I love when sad songs sound happy, and this is maybe the king of them all: “Born down in a dead man’s town/The first kick I took was when I hit the ground/End up like a dog that’s been beat too much, ‘till you spend half your life just a covering’ up, now."