By Rob Kaiser
Bruce Springsteen shocked the music world when he released his sixth studio Album, ‘Nebraska’. Until then, his music was rock ‘n roll. You could raise your fist in the air and feel energetically enthused as you sang along. Not this album, though. This was “The Boss” showing his vulnerable side on his first acoustic folk album. About the title track, Springsteen says, “I spend enormous periods of time feeling very isolated. I guess this is a song about what happens when that side of you gets really set loose. And you don’t feel the connections, and you don’t feel what sense laws make or morality makes. And you’re gone.”
Interestingly, the sound of the album happened almost accidentally. It was normal for Springsteen to record music he wrote on his own in order to present it to The E Street Band. In January 1982, however, something was different. Bruce had a brand new TASCAM 144 four-track cassette recorder that he wanted to play with. In a single, bedroom-session, which would run through the whole day and most of the night, he and his guitar tech laid down 15 songs. Guitarist Steve Van Zant recalls when the music was presented to the band: “I remember him playing them for me one day and said, ‘Here’s my new songs. We’ll start rehearsing them as a band soon’ . . . There was no intention of it being a record and no intention of it being released . . . I thought, ‘What a wonderful moment has been captured here just accidentally.’ And I said to him, ‘Listen, I know this is a bit strange, but I honestly think this is an album unto itself and I think you should release it.’”
Unable to get a better sound out of the songs, he asked engineer Toby Scott if the cassette could be released out of the demo tape. Toby worked all the magic he could, and the album was eventually released in September, 1982 (eight months later) mostly due to the limited noise suppression technology available at the time. Eight of the 15 songs recorded that night made the cut. Among the songs that waited in the cue for the next album were “Born in the U.S.A.” and “Downbound Train”. ‘Nebraska’ wasn’t initially received with much acclaim or expectations for success. It would prove, though, that Van Zant’s insight and Toby Scott’s engineering touch would shatter what the music world was ready for.
‘Nebraska’ would go on to chart in Billboard’s Top 10 across nine different countries, reaching Gold Certification in two countries and Platinum in another two. Rolling Stone magazine would rank ‘Nebraska’ 43rd of the 100 greatest albums of the 1980s, and 224 on the magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. In 2006, Q magazine placed the album at number 13 in its list of “40 Best Albums of the ’80s”. Needless to say, the accidental album was a success.
There are two main values that we learn from ‘Nebraska’: 1. Open your heart, and pour it in your music. Springsteen’s ability to show his exposed feelings definitely set a mood for the whole album. His recurring sense of isolation had an overwhelming impact on the sound of his album. 2. You don’t always have to be looking to make a masterpiece to have one. The E Street’s entire input on this album was the suggestion to not use The E Street Band. Van Zant realized that there was already a wonderful sound on tape, and Bruce’s go-to engineer polished the sound out. So, get to the bedroom, and get to recording. Your next big hit is waiting in your heart.
- Rolling Stone review: Nebraska
- Song Facts: Nebraska
- How One Amazing Night Led to Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’
- Nebraska: album
- 33 Years Ago: Bruce Springsteen Strips Down and Gets Dark on ‘Nebraska’