Thursday, February 28, 2013

There's Something Real Bad Goin' Wrong Somewhere

So speaking of Gary 'U.S.' Bonds...

That last post and this one feature songs from his second 1980s comeback album On the Line. Bonds, who in the early 60s had hits with "New Orleans", "Dear Lady Twist" and of course the seminal "Quarter to Three" had by the late 70s fallen on hard times. The story goes that Steve Van Zandt, either on his own or in the company of the Boss, happened upon Bonds performing in some dismal hotel lounge or some such venue, and offered to write and produce a new album of material for him. That album became Dedication. Bonds's songs loomed large in the E Street oeuvre, especially "Quarter to Three", which had for years been the group's closing number, so it was no casual offer, and the E Streeters treated Bonds with great love and respect, both musically and otherwise. As a band, they were at their very best.

Both Bruce-produced albums sold fairly well, especially Dedication, which charted at #s 11 and 5 on the pop and rock charts, respectively. The record featured some great, robust rock 'n' roll, mostly Bruce's frat-rock, party-style songs like "This Little Girl", but also included Little Steven's "Daddy's Come Home" and, weirdly, the Beatles' "It's Only Love", Jackson Browne's "The Pretender" and Dylan's "From A Buick 6". On the Line was more of the same, but a bit more consistent and a little more serious. The album's standout is its de facto title track, "Love's On the Line", composed by Bruce, and it is not only the best song on both albums, it is one of the finest songs Springsteen ever wrote. He wrote it while still in his early thirties, a few years before his quickie marriage to a supermodel, but the song is narrated by a middle-aged, worn-out husband, weary and fearful, who is trying desperately to find what went wrong with his marriage and save it, if he can.

With each passing day
I gotta watch more and more what I say to you
I can feel your eyes looking through me
As I sit at the table at dinnertime
I can feel our love's on the line

I watch our kids
Growin' up, going to school
Is there anything else for us now
Are we both just fools
Wasting our precious time

Bruce may have written those lines, but he could not have sung them convincingly. (He could now, sure. But not back then.) Bonds' voice is perfect for the role -- you can hear the wheeze of age, and maybe whiskey and cigarettes, but mostly the aching pain of a man who is now realizing that things don't always go the way you think they will. "Last night I heard you cry," he bellows, heartbroken, as the song rises towards the final chorus, "and I know our love's on the line." Behind him you can hear Bruce singing "love's on the line, our love's on the line", offering a comforting chorus of support, and his and Bonds' voices blend superbly. What tops that however is Clarence Clemons' warm, soaring, belting sax solo, the song's only hopeful spot, turning the mundane trouble of a disintegrating marriage into something epic and almost operatic. The song clocks in at 3:38, but I am very often in tears but the end of the first minute. There aren't many beautiful songs about middle-aged, married couples in trouble, but this is one of 'em, and it is the king.

1 comment:

  1. I do like this very much, but the one that still reduces me to hiding my face and crying every time is "One Step Up And Two Steps Back". That told the story of my first marriage, the story of my next significant relationship and now it's...well, it's not done with me, that song.

    What made me cry here was the Clemons solo. God, what a beautiful musician...and now he's gone.