But it was while surfing the Internet the other night and checking out one of my usual haunts, a Phil Spector/Wall of Sound appreciation site called Cue Castanets! that, much to my surprise, I came upon this video by none other than “The Boss”, Bruce Springsteen backing a track from his 2007 release Magic. And I have to say, not only has it rocketed into a very exclusive list of my favorite tunes of all time, it seems to have occupied a place in my brain ever since – even while sleeping. I seem to fall asleep and wake up to the song in my head.
Truth be told, I’ve never been much of a Springsteen fan – he’s always seemed a bit too much of a limousine liberal for me to fully embrace his music. Sure, there have been releases over the years (Born In The USA and Nebraska, to name a couple) that I’ve enjoyed, and just about every release of his has had at least a couple of tunes that were OK, but not enough to turn me into a bona fide fan, if you catch my drift.
But I am familiar enough with his music to know that amongst his greatest influences as a musician is Phil and his so-called “Wall of Sound” (“Born To Run” the most obvious example; there are others). And just hearing those first opening bars with the multiple guitars strumming in sync (a Phil trademark – “Be My Baby”, “My Sweet Lord”, “Isn’t It A Pity”, to name just a few, but to these ears it sounds like a faster version of John Lennon’s and Phil’s unreleased “Be My Baby”) was enough to perk up my ears and think that something special was obviously happening.
Although recorded nearly a decade ago, “The Girls In Their Summer Clothes” sounds like a period piece, something that easily could have been recorded in the mid-to-late sixties by the Righteous Brothers or the Walker Brothers. Besides the multiple guitars creating a lush background, you have castanets and Bruce’s weary vocal carrying the initial verse before Max Weinberg’s drums lead the E Street Band into a full band second verse (another Phil trademark). The piano flourishes in the choruses sound like something Jack “Specs” Nitzsche would have arranged for Leon Russell to play. There’s nothing here that smacks of 21st century electronic wizardry: it’s a band just going all out and playing their asses off from start to finish.
And the lyrics are just what you’d expect from Springsteen. Images painted of small-town Americana: the front porch, the sidewalks filled with people and lovers walking hand in hand, the bank building and the department store in the center of town, the diner on “the edge of town” (just off the interstate?) a respite and means of escape from the loneliness and restlessness he’s feeling. After all, the girls in their summer clothes are not just passing by, they’re passing him by. And you have the waitress serving him coffee asking “a penny for this thoughts”, as if that is all he’s worth.
Well the street lights shine
Down on Blessing Avenue
Lovers they walk by
Holdin’ hands two by two
A breeze crosses the porch
Bicycle spokes spin ’round
Jacket’s on, I’m out the door
Tonight I’m gonna burn this town down
And the girls in their summer clothes
In the cool of the evening light
The girls in their summer clothes
Pass me by
Kid’s rubber ball smacks
Off the gutter ‘neath the lamp light
Big bank clock chimes
Off go the sleepy front porch lights
Downtown the store’s alive
As the evening’s underway
Things been a little tight
But I know they’re gonna turn my way
Over on the edge of town
Neon sign spinnin’ round
Like a cross over the lost and found
Flicker above Bob’s Grill
Shaniqua brings a coffee and asks “fill?”
And says “penny for your thoughts now my boy Bill”
She went away
She cut me like a knife
Hello beautiful thing
Maybe you could save my life
In just a glance
Down here on Magic Street
Love’s a fool’s dance
I ain’t got much sense but I still got my feet
La la la la, la la la la la la la
No matter what happens, even amidst the weariness and the melancholy there remains a sense of hope that things are just ready to turn around – after all, he’s got both the ability and the agility (his feet) to take advantage of the opportunity if only it would come.
The lyrics are timeless: he could be singing about last weekend or memories cherished (or not so) from long ago. Either way, the sentiments of loneliness, restlessness, desperation, and coming to terms with the fact that youth does not last forever are universal. I love the way the chord change at 2:49 seems to express a sense of hope that one person or one thing can change everything, can bring it all back. It’s all these things that makes the song so meaningful and personal to me.
Want to hear something funny? I listen to the song and its lyrics and I can picture my fellow Goodboy friend “Cubby” Myerow sitting in an aluminum lawn chair on his front porch in Salem, Massachusetts, just a stone’s throw from that Elizabeth Montgomery statue, the ocean just blocks away, a cold beer in his hand watching the world passing by on a summer night as the heat of the day starts to wane. With perhaps the aroma of an Italian restaurant just down the street filling the air along with the sounds of basketball being played on a nearby playground. Not sure why that is, but that’s the image I get. Hope you don’t mind, Cubby!
But I digress.
The whole purpose of this post is to say that “The Girls In Their Summer Clothes” is a memorable and breathtaking performance from start to finish, destined to take its place in the roll amongst my favorite songs of all time. Well done, Bruce!
BTW, if you want to see the official video for this song click here. It’s really good. Catches both the mood and the underlying melancholy really well. And the fact that both of the videos were shot at the Jersey shore, well, I’m a sucker for anything that involves the ocean.
But I have a feeling y’all knew that, already.
** For those wondering, off the top of my head, the Ronettes “Do I Love You” (my first exposure to Phil’s “Wall of Sound”), The Beatles 45 RPM of “Hey Jude” b/w “Revolution” (in my view the greatest single in rock music history), Fleetwood Mac’s “Think About Me” and “Bleed To Love Her”, the first time I heard the music of Pink Floyd, The Beach Boys In Concert and the Pet Sounds albums, The Sandals’ “(Theme From) The Endless Summer”, and Charlotte Church’s “Cold California”, to name just a few.