Introduction to Top 25

            The first step in naming the Top 25 Songs of the Rock Era, which happens to coincide with my personal music-listening era, is determining the criteria for a “Top” song.

            Obviously, the criterion is not best-selling, or most-played, or even most-requested. If you rank songs by how many weeks they were #1 on the Billboard Top 40, not one of that top 100 would be on my list. Many, of course, weren’t even rock’n’roll: Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In; Mack the Knife; The Battle of New Orleans. Many were minor: Ebony and Ivory (McCartney and Wonder), Night Fever (BeeGees), Physical (Olivia Newton-John). Some were even obnoxious: My Sharona, The Ballad of the Green Berets.

            On the other hand, they can’t be too obscure. We all have personal favorites. But unless a song has some general notoriety it’s not fair to judge it against others that get played over and over, giving them the chance to wear out their welcome. And general acceptance is a useful confirmation of personal preference in this arena.

            Permit a digression, the first of many. Back at the end of my college days, which was also the end of the AM Top-40 era, I created a scoring formula for rating the all-time greatest hits (a compulsion for order that would eventually find me in law school). I gave points on a 1-5 basis for things like “originality” and whether it was an artist’s first hit. Using this formula, the other details of which I have mercifully forgotten, I judged the top song of the rock era to be a dead heat between the Temptations’ My Girl and the Buckinghams’ Kind of A Drag.

            This time, no formulas. But this time, almost 40 years later, there is also a lot more ground to cover. If comparing apples and oranges is hard, what about comparing songs from the doo-wop era with heavy metal? OK, doo-wop was better; but saying that already lands me in the area of personal preference, or at least dates me.

            The one test I can think of that applies to songs of all eras is, do I still want to listen to it? If I’m in my car and I reach my destination, will I keep the motor running until the song is over? One step up: would I consider it sacrilegious to turn the radio off while the song is playing? For sure, there are more than 25 songs that meet this test, but this is a good place to start. My heart might beat a little faster when I hear the first chords of Satisfaction, but do I have to stay with it until the end? Not really.

            Finally, a word about my age, and how that will influence the selections. Rock songs are associative. They connect us to certain times in our lives: a summer romance (if we’re lucky), a painful breakup, a trip, a friend, a particular year. For that reason alone, no two people will ever have the same Top 25 list.

            I was there when the rock era began. Not in the clubs of Cleveland, but at home, not only listening to Martin Block’s Make Believe Ballroom on WABC Radio, but writing down the top 25 each Saturday morning. I made a marginal note in 1954, when the CrewCuts’ Sh-Boom became the first rock’n’roll record to crack the Magic Circle. At the age of 8, I was already championing rock’n’roll as “my” music.

            I made lists through the ‘50s, happily staying home on New Year’s Eve to capture the run-down of the year’s top 100. Then in 1960 I was given a Wollensak tape recorder and began compiling my own archives. I never bought a record, in fact, until 1967, when album rock began to make singles obsolete, and I purchased the first albums of Buffalo Springfield, Percy Sledge and the BeeGees.

            The 1970s were the most fertile decade in rock history, but they consolidated the fragmentation that began with the advent of FM radio in the late ‘60s. There was no more Top 40 that anyone cared about; instead, niche formats split the market, and we all listened to different music.

            From 1980 on I have probably drifted further from the mainstream, if one can be identified. I have continued to listen to “new” music on the radio, but it’s often the new music of one station. I can’t comment on hip-hop, any more than I can comment on disco music from the ‘70s, heavy metal from the ‘80s, or Top 40 from any year after 1970.

            My selections, therefore, will undoubtedly skew to the ‘70s, when I was not yet a father and had disposable income and time; or to the ‘60s, my formative years from 14 to 22.

            With that introduction, let the fun begin.

1. My Girl, The Temptations

            Perhaps the most effective, evocative three-note opening sequence in rock creates an aura of anticipation so utterly fulfilled when the guitar starts ascending and the voice comes in, “I’ve got sunshine…..on a cloudy day.” What a sunny, upbeat, mood-improving song! It’s hard, nay, impossible, not to smile any and every time I hear this classic from the Temptations. “hey-hey-hey!” It has even weathered a commercial use or three.

Beyond the song’s cheery brilliance is its place at the top of one of rock’s best sustained moments: the Motown era. This coincided, almost exactly, with my four college years, the peak of my dancing career. To this day, nothing gets the Marshalls out on the dance floor more surely than the Motown beat. And when I think of all the things I should have but didn’t learn in college, one of the foremost is the dance steps the Tempts used when singing this song.


Sidebar: Motown

            Shall I let My Girl stand for everything from the Motown corral? As good as Baby I Need Your Loving and I Can’t Help Myself (the “sugar pie honey bunch” song) are, the Four Tops put out a lot of plodding material. Smokey Robinson was the cleverest lyricist of the time, and The Tracks of My Tears holds up well. Aretha Franklin, Mary Wells, the Marvelettes, Marvin Gaye, all have one or two numbers that wouldn’t embarrass any list. But the only other Motown release that could fit on my Top 25 is Stop! In the Name of Love. The Supremes are the top female group of all time, and they had more hits in the ‘60s than anyone except Elvis and the Beatles. Like the Tempts, they performed a cool dance number, but what sets Stop! apart from the rest of the catalogue is the emotional wallop it packs. “I try so hard, hard to be patient, hoping you’d stop this infatuation.” Whew!

2. Brown-Eyed Girl, Van Morrison

            “Hey, wherever we go,” you’re pretty much assured of hearing this classic. It’s totally infectious, whether you’re singing along on the car radio or bopping on the dance floor: “We used to sing – sha-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-di-la-di-da.” I’m generally not big on lyrics, but that’s one I can remember. The key words for me in this song, however, come late, and I never fail to wait expectantly. You have to remember that this came out in 1967, when references to sex were not so explicit. When Van the Man sang about “making love in the green grass, behind the stadium,” it unleashed my primal fantasies as I tried to picture the exact spot behind the football field where I could do it.

            I saw Morrison twice in concert in the ‘70s, once at the Fillmore East, the second time at Avery Fisher Hall. I remember walking back up Broadway from Lincoln Center, overhearing some fellow concertgoers opine that Van was the best singer in rock, and realizing that they were probably right. It doesn’t hurt my evaluation, or ranking of this song, that he followed it with one of the ten, maybe five, best albums of the Rock Era, Moondance.


Sidebar: Albums

            It’s worth addressing near the outset the question, why apotheosize 25 “songs,” when for much of the period it was the “album” (l/k/a “CD”) that was collected and was the unit upon which artists were judged. From 1955 until the Beatles’ breakthrough concept album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, in 1967, the album was basically a collection of singles, generally sold on the strength of the hit song or two. The ‘70s and, to a lesser extent the ‘80s, were the era of the album, exemplified by Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, in which one song melded into the next, a whole much, much greater than the sum of its single parts. Every art movement leads to a reaction, and by the early ‘80s the pop single, whether deriving from the New York Ramones or the British New Wave, was the hot trend. And since then, we’ve had a little of each, with the emergence of online downloading virtually erasing the relevance of music’s source.

            As for me, I have been introduced to almost all my music through the radio, which means that, even for albums I love, I have come to them through a favorite song. Even when the relationship I have with an artist leads me to buy an album, songs unheard, there was always one particular song that started the relationship. That will be the work I include in this list.

3. Stairway to Heaven, Led Zeppelin

This is the song that defined how I define this list. It was in the mid-70s, driving back with the guys from touch football, and we reached my apartment on West End and 77th maybe two minutes into Stairway to Heaven. I can’t just leave in the middle of this song, I said; the other guys in the car concurred, and we sat there for the full eight minutes, till Robert Plant squeezed out the final, “…And she’s buying…a stairway…to..heaven.” It starts out like Greensleeves, a simple country ballad, then builds inexorably, adding guitars, reverb, drums into an all-out heavy metal frenzy, then back to quiet. The progression is like sex, isn’t it – and is that the point? For Americans, too, everything British sounds quaint and esoteric; so it sounds like art when we hear incomprehensible, if not indecipherable, lines like, “If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow,” and “It’s just a spring clean for the may queen.” I’m not a particular Zeppelin fan, and I have little interest in the metal bands that followed, but this song transcends genres, spans generations, grabs hold of you and won’t let go…and leaves you slightly exhausted but always a bit happier when it’s over.

4. Earth Angel, The Penguins

            Ooo-oo-oo-oo, waa-aa-aa, ooo-oo-oo-oo is just one of the hundreds of memorable doo-wop sounds that instantly identify a favorite oldie to any music lover growing up in the ‘50s. There are probably 20 such songs I could live with on this list (see sidebar, below), but none surpasses Earth Angel for its combination of general popularity, sheer beauty and essential doo-wopness. According to the random books in my library, this was the first independent rhythm-and-blues record to enter the national pop charts (in 1955, and it was a hit again three or four years later) and is “considered to be the top R&B record of all time in terms of continuous popularity.” Says another, “It changed the course of history.” The top three oldies in every WINS countdown in New York varied in order from year to year, but they were always In the Still of the Night, Tonite, Tonite and Earth Angel. As for sheer beauty, Cleve Duncan’s high tenor lead is one of the purest sounds in rock history. I get goose bumps listening to his “oh-oh-oh”-ing as he comes in for the final verse. And the innocence that marked the ‘50s and was a hallmark of doo-wop merged from Duncan’s voice, the naïve lyrics – “my darling dear, I’ll love you all the time” – and the simple production – the song was recorded by four 19-year-olds in a garage in Los Angeles, with only a piano and drum behind them. Which is not to say there aren’t subtleties that reward a close listen: when the bridge comes around for the second time, we’re treated to a new voice and a syncopated delivery that makes the return of Duncan’s clear tone all the more thrilling.


Sidebar: Doo-Wop

            How to compare the Penguins with Led Zeppelin? Of course you can’t, it’s the proverbial apples and oranges. But both were favorites of the moment, and both have staying power. Doo-wop is my Italian quattrocento, a period of exquisite beauty that may not be as sophisticated as Dutch 17th century or Edo Japan but can still produce as big a thrill. In doo-wop there were slow songs and fast songs – usually back-to-back on the same 45 (e.g., Earth Angel b/wHey, Senorita) – and I can at least keep my comparisons somewhat clean by only judging Earth Angel against the slow-dance cohort. Cleve Duncan had an angelic voice, but so did Rudy West of the Five Keys (Out of Sight, Out of Mind) and Willie Winfield of the Harptones (The Glory of Love) and, to throw in a token white, Jimmy Beaumont of the Skyliners (Since I Don’t Have You). Other songs took fuller advantage of the group dimension of doo-wop: in Sincerely, the song that brought me to doo-wop, the opening bass line is unforgettable; in the Jesters’ version of The Wind, the whole ensemble trembles. Some songs pack more of an emotional wallop: Tears on My Pillow by Little Anthony & Imperials for one, Lee Andrews & Hearts’ Teardrops for another. Florence by the Paragons had an ethereal, other-worldly sound, while Shrine of St. Cecilia couldn’t have been more comforting. To an outsider, doo-wop may sound the same and even seem boring; but if, like a Renaissance scholar, you’ve studied it even a little, it’s a richly diverse world of magic.

5. Like A Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan

            As rock royalty goes, there’s Elvis and the Beatles, and then comes Bob Dylan, not far behind. He’s their match in terms of being a spokesman for a generation, and when it comes to songwriting, he’s the best. But for purposes of this list, what matters is he has one song that is absolutely defining, a song that my law firm librarian tried to convince me was the all-time #1, and it’s hard to argue against. It also does well in the stick-to-the-end test. Back in 1965, when this was first a hit, AM radio tended to play a shortened version, much to my disappointment. So as soon as I heard the record continue, “You never turned around to see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns,” I considered it a good day. And just listen to those internal rhymes, which, along with the elliptical meaningful meaninglessness of his lyrics in general, convinced me that Dylan was the best poet of my time. After all, who knew anyone who was seriously writing poetry in the late ‘60s? If Robert Frost were born 50 years later, wouldn’t he have been a folk singer? ’64 to ’68 in Cambridge (as on many campuses) was a time of rejecting the Establishment, discovering that things weren’t as they seemed, feeling lost, without a purpose, with no direction home. Whoever that princess on the steeple was, we could identify in some small way. Prep school and college wasn’t leading us to Wall St. after all. We were going to Vietnam, or somewhere to avoid Vietnam, and Wall St. really wasn’t where it’s at, anyway. (And if you were doing drugs, it was probably magnified.) Dylan hardly qualifies as a vocalist, but his nasal, anguished-but-not-emotional voice was perfect here: how does it fee-ee-lll? Sing along in the ultimate rock anthem of disillusionment.


B Side: Dylan’s Oeuvre

No one in the Rock Era has written more songs performed in a greater variety of styles to better effect than Bob Dylan. (And of all the opinions you will find scattered over this list, that is undoubtedly the least open to challenge.) Start with Blowin’ in the Wind by Peter, Paul & Mary (pure folk), Mr. Tambourine Man, You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere, My Back Pages, the Byrds (western rock), Don’t Think Twice, the Four Seasons (pop), Mighty Quinn, Manfred Mann, I Shall Be Released, Tremeloes (British Invasion), All Along the Watchtower, Jimi Hendrix (psychedelic), It Ain’t Me Babe, Turtles (top 40), Boots of Spanish Leather, Nancy Griffith (urban folk), Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, (metal), Tomorrow Is A Long Time, Forever Young, Rod Stewart (blue-eyed soul/schmaltz). And those are just songs that were #1 on my personal chart when I first heard them. Then there are the songs that Dylan made his own that I loved just as much: Visions of Johanna, Just Like A Woman, I Want You, She Belongs to Me. How many artists have a Greatest Hits Volume II worth the vinyl it’s printed on? Dylan’s Volume II is two discs, and at least 20 of the 22 songs are gorgeous classics. After recording all these songs, Dylan then comes out with what may be my all-time favorite album, Blood on the Tracks. It was such a milestone, if I remember correctly, that Rolling Stone devoted its entire Reviews section to it, something not done before or since. A decade after Blowin’ in the Wind, Dylan comes up with song after song that no one since has dared to cover: Tangled Up in Blue, Simple Twist of Fate, Shelter from the Storm, Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts and perhaps my favorite, You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go, plus five others – all on the same album! Pete Hammill’s liner notes are evocative: “Dylan sings a more fugitive song: allusive, symbolic, full of imagery and ellipses, and by leaving things out, he allows us the grand privilege of creating along with him…Dylan’s art feels, and invites us to join him.”

6. Margaritaville, Jimmy Buffett

            Ah, the introduction of a personal idiosyncrasy into the list, or is it? By any numerical measure – concert grosses, records sold, longevity – Jimmy Buffett can hold his own in the rock pantheon. But is he too much fun to be taken this seriously? Nah, who says rock can’t be fun. And certainly, establishing a fantasy lifestyle in one’s mind is one of rock’s great gifts, and on that score Margaritaville easily makes the top ten. For it is the national anthem of Jimmy Buffett’s tropical paradise, inhabited solely by like-minded Parrotheads, where a moral crisis is deciding what SPF-level sunscreen to put on today. Of course, there’s more than that: there’s love and friendship, missing you and Bahama breezes. I own 14 Buffett records, 8 CD’s and one tape, not counting greatest hits collections. His magisterial 4-disc compilation, aptly titled Beaches, Bars, Boats and Ballads wasn’t enough, so I made my own 4-disc collection and descriptively titled the discs “Lilt,” “Sleepy Time,” “The Philosopher” and “Good Times,” capturing the moods that Buffett mines time and again.

            As suggested, all Buffett songs are somewhat similar, but Margaritaville deserves to be singled out not only for the pride of place it’s accorded by its author and his fans, but because it was my introduction to his music, sealed when I heard it played in a New York City record store. So many Buffett themes are encapsulated in those three minutes: the weather (watchin’ the sun bake), food (nibblin’ on sponge cake) and drink (booze in the blender), existentialism (searchin’ for my lost shaker of salt) and lurking behind everything, the love of a girl. And lest you fret that Jimmy presents an excuse for an indolent existence, the story comes full circle, from “some people claim that there’s a woman to blame,” to “but I know, it’s my own damn fault.” And the simple story is told with a calypso-inflected beat that reminds me of every happy hour I’ve ever spent on a Caribbean vacation. And that is happy, indeed.


Sidebar: Favorite artists

            At 23 records and discs, my Buffett collection exceeds that of any other artist, but it also raises the question, how do I deal with artists whose oeuvre is in my top ten but may not have a distinguishing single song that makes this list. The first artists I collected, and this is a good example, were the BeeGees, starting with BeeGees 1st, the first album I ever bought, and on through such nonessential output as Mr. Natural. I liked them first of all because, while they may have copied the Beatles, they weren’t the Beatles, and I could assert my individuality by favoring them over the Beatles. Their orchestrations were lush, their sound was appropriately melancholy, even angst-ridden (“To Love Somebody,” “Holiday”), Barry Gibb was gorgeous and their melodies were, too. I’m not a lyrics person (see TK, above), so the fact that their words were routinely among the most inane in rock history (“and the lights all went out in Massachusetts”) didn’t bother me. But there’s no masterwork, just a great sound, and a general level of consistency, until they went disco. Next came the Moody Blues – anything they put out, I bought, even when they split up and issued their own individual records. But, as with Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull, other great exemplars of orchestral rock, a song here or there might be better than others, but it was the overall album that was hypnotic and made me a fan. The opposite may be true of the great singer-songwriters of the ‘70s, led by Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Elton John and Billy Joel, each of whom I supported to the tune of a half-dozen or more discs. The sheer quantity of good numbers makes it hard to single just one out for this list, although until I get to the end “Piano Man,” at least, is in the running. The point is, in assessing my musical tastes, one can’t just look at my list of 25 singles.

7. Imagine, John Lennon

You can consider this the coda to “The Sixties” (it came out in 1971), or you can consider it timeless, perhaps depending upon whether you are a realist or a hopeless optimist (there’s a trick of the English language Lennon might have appreciated). As for me, this is the final song I want played at my funeral. Like a Buddha, Lennon has captured the most profound thoughts in simple words and a simple tune. There is nothing tricky to the two-note lone piano riff that starts the song, or the naked drum that enters midway through the first verse and builds the intensity before soaring strings fill out the orchestration. And Lennon’s voice, which we all know can be biting and sarcastic, comes through with a sincerity that would be naiveté if it weren’t, well, Lennon. In three short minutes Lennon decries religion, nationalism and materialism as causes of conflict in the world. What was true in 1971 is just as true – think 9/11, think Iraq – today. Is it still possible to dream, to imagine, or was that just a delusion?


B Side: The Beatles

When someone asked, how could I choose out of all the Beatles songs, I answered, I wasn’t, I didn’t like the Beatles. When “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” et al., arrived in America, they were too “pop” for my taste. I preferred the harder edge of the Rolling Stones and the Who. Plus, they kept my then-favorite group, the Four Seasons, out of the number one spot. I think “Dawn” was #2 for about 17 straight weeks – or maybe it was #3 if the Beatles had two songs out. Then there were all sorts of old farts who had never acknowledged rock’n’roll, like Leonard Bernstein, who pronounced themselves Beatles fans – interloping shamelessly on my territory. The undifferentiated success of all Beatles recordings was another turn-off: they could put out a nursery rhyme (Yellow Submarine), or a song with no melody(Get Back), and it would race to the top of the charts. In the end, there are probably as many Beatles songs I like as those I don’t, and I could easily compile a whole album that would be a minor classic. But they filled the airwaves for so long with so many dogs – Twist and Shout, Ticket to Ride, Paperback Writer, Lady Madonna, etc. – that I never became a fan.

8. Maggie May, Rod Stewart

Rod Stewart was the greatest rock vocalist of his time – perhaps of all time, a uniquely hoarse sound that carried its own urgency – and this is the song that introduced his greatness to us.  But first there are those opening drum shots, a kickstart whenever I hear them, that make me sit up and listen. Then, “Wake up, Maggie,” Rod shouts insistently, and I am hooked until I hear the end of his plea. And it’s not your usual plea: “I suppose I should collect my books and get on back to school. Or steal my daddy’s cue and make a living out of playing pool.” Interesting choice! The rasp in Stewart’s voice conveys a melancholy that makes this a perfect end-of-summer lament. That is the season I first heard it and will forever think of when the ultimately mysterious Maggie May shows up on my airwaves.  And just as the drums produce a classic start, the mandolin figure that comes at the end is one of rock’s great fade-outs.


Sidebar: Rock Covers

One measure of Rod Stewart’s supremacy as a vocalist is his ability to do justice to other singers’ songs. Listen to Downtown Train (Tom Waits), First Cut is the Deepest (Cat Stevens), Have I Told You Lately (Van Morrison), Reason to Believe (Tim Hardin) or the Motown sound of This Old Heart of Mine (Isley Bros.). There’s so much emotion in that husky voice, you almost think he can’t really sing. But he can. Eventually he falls back too far on that voice and leaves rock behind – some think he’s a sellout after about his second album, but that’s too harsh. He also writes some darn good songs himself: You’re in my Heart; Killing of Georgie, Tonight’s the Night.

            Is there anyone else in the rock pantheon who leaves his mark as an “interpreter”? I’m not counting someone like Elvis, who of course always sang other writers’ songs, since they were written for him in the first place. (Nor, except for My Way, did he add much when he sang a song you already knew.) Johnny Rivers comes to mind, on the strength of Tracks of My Tears, and the fact that 14 of the 16 songs on his Greatest Hits CD were first made famous by someone else, including major players like Chuck Berry and the Beach Boys. Otherwise it’s an interesting phenomenon of rock that songs are defined by their first singer. A list of “covers” that are not as good as the original would be endless.

9. Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen & E Street Band

The best thing I ever heard about New Jersey was when they made this the official State song. I don’t know if it still is, and I don’t think “the Boss” lives in Jersey anymore, but the grungy image of that state, deserved or not, is the perfect petri dish for the characters and sounds rising out of Springsteen’s world. It’s not a world most of us would admit to, and certainly not aspire to, but it’s a world we recognize and comes with emotions that are honest. (None of this passive-aggressive stuff!) First comes the urgency, with a drum machine pounding away in split time, a beat that keeps on going. Then a seven-note riff, maybe not as memorable as My Girl’s opener but just as totemic, stresses the importance of what’s to come. We’re pouring out our hearts in this one, baby, the music seems to say, and a xylophone(?) and all sorts of orchestral sounds add to the pounding. The lyrics are the quintessence of Springsteeniana. The first verse establishes the Tough Guy in a tougher world: “this town rips the bones from your back/ it’s a death trap, a suicide rap.” In the second, love, with its softening and hope, arrives in the guise of Wendy and double entendres: “Just wrap your legs ‘round these velvet rims and strap your hands ‘cross my engines.” The pounding slows, we move to a more universal perspective and the narrator switches to the third person, as “girls comb their hair in rearview mirrors/ and boys try to look so hard.” Clarence Clemons’s slightly flat sax solo restores the urgency, we wait for the Boss to return, then, always one bar after I expect it, comes “1-2-3-4” and we arrive at the crashing climax, and it’s a dream, a hopeful dream, echoing the elegiac ending of West Side Story’s “Somewhere.”  “There’s a place for us” becomes “Someday girl I don’t know when/ We’re gonna get to that place…and we’ll walk in the sun.” But never forget who you are, who we are: “tramps like us, Baby we were born to run.”


B Side: The Boss’s Magic

How to write about Bruce Springsteen, the subject of far greater minds than mine; and how not to get lost in the crowd when crying, I loved him at Greetings from Asbury Park, long before the rest of the world awoke to find him on the cover of Time and Newsweek the very same week! He was hailed as the “new Dylan” – one of many in those years – largely because they were on the same label and Asbury Park was, maybe, over-lyricked. “Madman drummers, bummers, Indians in the summer with a teenage diplomat” did sort of recall the words Dylan threw together in Rolling Stone, or Positively Fourth Street. But by the time of Born to Run, it was clear that Springsteen was something more than a wordsmith: his best songs had a power, a drive, the ability to rock your soul, that Dylan wasn’t interested in. The Boss was just as much the voice of a generation, but it was a different generation. The hippy, arty, change-the-world hopefulness of the ‘60s was gone. Nixon-Watergate-Vietnam had produced an air of defeat, of desperation, and this is where Springsteen went for his powerful stories: Jungleland, Darkness on the Edge of Town, Hungry Heart. By celebrating the gritty, the real, Springsteen connected his words, his world, to the listener; but at the same time the anthemic chords, the pulsing beat gave an uplift. Instead of making you depressed, his music made you feel stronger. It’s no coincidence that Born in the USA was used as a political theme song by Republicans who didn’t notice the anti-war, downer lyrics. It’s that combination of “life is tough,” but “you don’t have to feel bad about it” that is the Springsteen miracle, that makes his music such a touchstone to so many people, including me.