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2023/4 Albums Thing 347 - Bruce Springsteen “High Hopes”

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“High Hopes” is a strange one. Released in January 2014 it is effectively a compilation album, but it’s more than that. It’s a collection of cover versions, studio outtakes and re-recordings of songs from their previous incarnations. It’s also, strangely given its makeup, one of Springsteen’s more consistent albums since “Devils & Dust”.

Personally there isn’t a track I don’t like on “High Hopes” and there  are a couple that have become Springsteen classics. The album starts and ends with a cover version. The title song was originally recorded by LA artist Tim Scott McConnell and also later by his band The Havalinas and was suggested to Springsteen by guitarist Tom Morello (yes, the guy from Rage Against The Machine was playing with The Boss). Last song, Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream”, was something Springsteen had performed on his “Devils & Dust” solo tour and the other cover on the album is Aussie Punks The Saints “Just Like Fire Would”, again suggested by Tom Morello.

The bulk of “High Hopes is made up of previously unreleased studio outtakes. “Harry’s Place” was written during the sessions for “The Rising” and and recorded  during the “Magic” sessions. It sounds like it was unlucky to miss the cut on both. "Down In The Hole" was recorded for The Rising and includes backing vocals by all 3 of Bruce and Patti’s chldren, but it was thought to be too similar to Empty Sky and missed out. “Heaven's Wall" and "Hunter Of Invisible Game" date from 2002 to 2008 (“The Rising” to “Magic”); “Frankie Fell In Love”, Springteen has said, was recorded for “Magic” but studio footage appears to tag it as having been during the “Working On A Dream” sessions. Given the weakness of those two records how it didn’t make it on to either is baffling; “This Is Your Sword” is from 2012, pre “Wrecking Ball”; “The Wall” dates from 1998 and the wall in question is the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. One of the names on that wall would be Walter Cichon, childhood friend of Bruce Springsteen and frontman of The Motifs in mid 60’s New Jersey, of whom Springsteen said “they were gods” when talking about Walter and fellow Motif, his brother Raymond, in “Springsteen On Broadway”. Walter joined the US 4th Infantry Division during the Vietnam war and was killed in action in Kontum, South Vietnam in 1968.

There are a couple  of re-recordings of songs that have appeared in other guises on previous Springsteen records. The controversial “American Skin (41 Shots)” was first released in 2001 on the album “Live In New York City”. It concerns the death of unarmed Amadou Diallo who was shot and killed by 4 NYPD officers in February 1999. The officers were charged with second degree murder but all were acquitted causing huge criticism and accusations of police brutality and racial profiling. When news reached New York that the song was to be played at Springsteen and the E Street Band’s 10 night stand at Madison Square Garden on their 1999/2000 re-union tour former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani spoke out against Springsteen and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association called for a boycott of the shows and organised a rally of hundreds of police officers at the Garden. Springsteen not only played the song every night but also met with Amadou Diallo’s family.

The song itself has 3 verses, 1 concerning Amadou and the second sees a mother telling her child what to do if he’s stopped by the police, “promise Mama you’ll keep your hands in sight”. It’s a sad truth that for black men in America that is still good advice.

The version of “The Ghost Of Tom Joad” here on “High Hopes” is, to my mind, very close to being the greatest thing Springsteen has ever recorded. Yes that’s hyperbole and I’m not even sure I’m down with it myself even though I just said it, but c’mon! Listen to it, it’s astonishing. Rage Against The Machine had covered the song (badly) and RATM’s Tom Morello was invited to guest on the song at a “Magic” tour show at Madison Square Garden in 2008. Morello sang a verse and took two guitar solo’s that sounded nothing like anything you would expect from the E Street Band. When Morello temporarily replaced Steve Van Zandt on an Australian tour in 2013, this version was recorded the night before they flew from LA to Aus. I’ve opined elsewhere that this song is one of Springsteen greatest creations and much to the chagrin of a number of my Springsteen fan friends I bloody love this version of it.

“High Hopes” collects together some flotsam and jetsom but at the same time turns out to be one of Bruce Springsteen’s better albums.

The Ghost Of Tom Joad - https://youtu.be/qUhtdAOn4k0?si=ura87fn1WTjOCmdT

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