Unlike a lot of people who grew up in the New York City area during the 70s, I never really got into the Boss.
Sure, I attended one of Bruce Springsteen's concerts at Madison Square Garden during his tour promoting The River (1980), but I never was ga-ga over him like so many of my east coast peers.
As I grew older, I came to appreciate him more – and maybe even more significantly, his sidemen.
When Little Steven and Clarence Clemons each came out with their first solo records, I grabbed them and put them on my turntable immediately.
One was totally stellar and an indispensable addition to my collection. The other – well, let's just say there was a lot of throwaway music issued during the 80s. And this collection was definitely one of them.
Let's start out with Little Steven, who was the subject of my first post on this blog back in December. Men Without Women (1982) was issued under the Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul moniker while Bruce was still struggling with Born in the USA (1984). It was also while the longtime E Street guitarist, who would quit the band after Springsteen finally released the album, was making his first tentative steps towards breaking out on his own.
Joining him for the EMI release was quite a stellar cast: Much of the past and present Asbury Jukes brass section, the Rascals' Dino Danelli and Felix Cavaliere and former Plasmatic Jean Beauvoir, who would go on to produce albums by the Ramones and Kiss.
I don't think the decade contained a more sonically full album than this one. It truly was blue-eyed soul at its finest. You couldn't get songs like the opener "Lyin' in the Bed of Fire" and "Save Me" out of your head. And my personal favorite, the sonic masterpiece "Forever," still kills me to this day. It was also the record's first single and video:
Play "Forever" by Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul (Much better sound quality, thank you very much)
Hero (1985) was actually the third solo album from saxophonist Clarence Clemons and was his biggest commercial success, spawning the hit duet with jackson Browne, "You're A Friend of Mine." I received the album just a year after watching the Big Man and his band, the Red Bank Rockers, perform an incendiary concert in the parking lot outside Georgetown University's McDonough Arena.
Perhaps I was still remembering the concert when I wrote a positive review of the album in the newspaper. But time has not been kind to it. The main producer was Narada Michael Walden (with Arthur Baker behind the board on some additional tracks) and perhaps that was the main problem. All the grittiness that made the Little Steven record so appealing (and made Clemons such a great live performer) was stripped away by the guy responsible for turning Whitney Houston and Mariah Caey into big stars. The whole album suffers from the 80s slickness disease.
And oh yeah, that single. Ugh. Hold your ears: I'm going to subject you to it because it really gives you an idea of how Clemons went wrong (and Little Steven went right).
Here the video (That's Walden on the drums by the way and then-Browne girlfriend Daryl Hannah is lip-syncing her actual backing vocals)
And the song:
"You're a Friend of Mine" by Clarence Clemons with Jackson Browne
A reminder: Tune into tomorrow's radio show at 10 a.m. EST. I'll be focusing on how Brazilian music has influenced American artists. Among the artists to be featured will be Beck, Stevie Wonder, Sting and John Legend. Should be a great one (I hope).