Even among obscure Bruce Springsteen songs, “Sugarland” is more obscure than most.
According to the Brucebase website, it was recorded in 1983 and considered for the 1984 Born in the USA album, but not included. It was performed twice by Springsteen and the E Street Band in 1984, and never again. It did not surface on Springsteen’s 1998 rarities boxed set, Tracks, or on any other official Springsteen release.
Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Cole Gallagher has recorded his own version of it, though, and is releasing it on his new EP, The Confluence. You can listen to Gallagher’s version and bootlegs of a Springsteen concert performances and three different Springsteen studio versions, below.
The song is about a farmer whose work isn’t going well (“We got a whole lot of grain that ain’t got nowhere to go”). This takes a toll on his home life as well (“My wife’s got another coming in July/She’s laying up in bed, all she does is cry, cry, cry”). He contemplates, in the last verse, setting his fields on fire, after which he’ll “watch the flames rise up against the Sugarland sky.”
Springsteen’s two concert performances of this song were both in the Heartland: in Ames, Iowa, and Lincoln, Nebraska. “I know you got a lot of the farmers out here, particularly the family farmers, having a hard time,” he said in Ames, and then he said pretty much the same thing, two days later, in Lincoln.
Sugarland seems to be the town in which the song’s narrator lives. There is a city called Sugar Land in Texas, but Springsteen could be writing about a fictional place.
For more on Gallagher, visit colegallagher.com.
Here are the song’s lyrics, as sung by Gallagher, with the videos below.
Grain’s in the field, all covered with tarp
Can’t get a price, to see my way clear
I’m sitting down at the Sugarland bar
They might as well bury my body right here
Tractor and combines out in the cold
Sheds piled high with the wheat we ain’t sold
Silos filled with last year’s crop
If something don’t break, yeah, we’ll all gonna drop
My wife’s got another coming in July
She’s just laying up in bed, all she does is cry, cry, cry
“Tommy, oh, Tommy, I’m so alone,
Tommy, oh, Tommy, oh, stay home”
Pa don’t say nothing except when it rains
Just sits by the window listening to the sound of passing trains
Roaring out of the night, carrying an empty load
We got a whole lot of grain that ain’t got nowhere to go
Well, if drifting prices don’t get no higher
I’ll fill this duster with gas and set the fields on fire
Sit up on the ridge where the bluebirds fly
And watch the flames rise up against the Sugarland sky
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