The long wait is over. Bruce Springsteen is back, and he hasn't forgotten how to rock.
That message came through loud and clear on March 4th, when two new Springsteen songs, "Human Touch" and "Better Days," began dominating radio. By the end of that week, "Human Touch" was the most-added song on Top Forty, album-rock and adult-contemporary stations.
According to Radio and Records, ninety-one percent of all album-rock stations that report to the magazine were programming "Human Touch," making it the Number One song on that format. ("Better Days" entered R&R's album-rock chart at Number Five.) At Top Forty, or CHR, radio, 177 of 230 reporting stations added "Human Touch" its first week out "It's a hell of an accomplishment," said Joel Denver, Radio and Records' CHR editor, "particularly at a time when it's not hip to be rocking out on CHR."
In fact, radio's response to the single seemed to dispel some music-industry doubts about how well Springsteen would fare this time out, given that it's been nearly five years since he released his last studio album, Tunnel of Love, and that many of his songs are now tackling more obviously adult themes. The week before the double-A-sided single was released, Billboard magazine had reported that pop radio was "concerned about overexposure of past Springsteen hits and his current relevance to its audience." Billboard also reported that Sony Music, Springsteen's label, had decided to play it safe, limiting initial shipments of the two albums to 1.5 million each (Tunnel of Love sold about 3 million copies).
"They [Sony] don't want too many albums in the field," said Russ Solomon, owner of the Tower Records chain. "With Michael Jackson, they shipped 4 million, and they haven't sold them off yet. If an album is sitting around in large quantities in a record store, it looks stale."
Solomon added that Springsteen's long layoff was cause for some concern: "Whether the fans who are now five years older care that much, I don't know." But Solomon and other retailers were still optimistic that Springsteen's new albums, Human Touch and Lucky Town, would do very well when they reach the stores on March 31st. "Great artists have tremendous followings," Solomon said, "and Springsteen certainly is a great artist. These records could take off like nobody's business."
"We think they're going to be monstrous," said Lew Garrett, vice-president of purchasing for the Camelot chain. "Springsteen appeals to a demographic that has money in their pockets and isn't afraid to spend it."
Though early reports had indicated that Human Touch and Lucky Town – Springsteen's tenth and eleventh albums – were vastly different in style, both are essentially straight-ahead, guitar-driven rock LPs, and there are no dramatic departures from his previous work. But the breakup of the E Street Band following the Human Rights Now! Tour in 1988 gave Springsteen the freedom to record with different musicians for virtually the first time in his career, and there are a few songs on the two albums that probably would not have surfaced on an E Street album.
Springsteen, who's now forty-two, began making Human Touch in late 1989, using a core group that included former E Street Band member Roy Bittan on keyboards and sessionmen Jeff Porcaro (of Toto fame) on drums and Randy Jackson (who's worked with Journey, among others) on bass. The first song they recorded was "Roll of the Dice," a rousing rocker written by Springsteen and Bittan that would not have sounded out of place on an E Street Band album.
The LP includes several other uptempo tracks: "Soul Driver," which features Sam Moore, formerly of Sam and Dave, on vocals and David Sancious, an early E Street Band member, on Hammond organ; "Gloria's Eyes," one of several tracks on which Springsteen serves up some stinging guitar; "The Long Goodbye," another guitar-heavy rocker; the more soulful "Real World"; and "All or Nothin' at All," a two-chord scorcher.
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