My favorite Bruce Springsteen song of the last 30 years is also, I believe, one of the greatest love songs ever written: “If I Should Fall Behind.”
It’s not just the song’s gorgeous melody and warm delivery that makes it great. It’s its complexity. “If I Should Fall Behind” is rooted in reality instead of fantasy; that’s why it’s uplifting but not cloying.
“Everyone dreams of love lasting and true/Oh, but you and I know what this world can do,” Springsteen sings.
He was in his early 40s when he wrote it. His first marriage, to Julianne Phillips, ended in divorce, but now he and Patti Scialfa were happy together, and she had given birth to their first child, their son Evan.
Springsteen came up with a beautiful metaphor for two partners who may not be perfect, but are committed to each other, no matter what:
We said we’d walk together, baby, come what may
That come the twilight, should we lose our way
If as we’re walking, a hand should slip free
I’ll wait for you … should I fall behind, wait for me
After the L.A. Riots took place in 1992 (soon after the song’s release), Springsteen talked about them when introducing the song, broadening its message to have a political component. And after the E Street Band reunited, later in the decade, the song became an anthem of solidarity within the band, with various band members taking turns singing lines, and Clarence Clemons contributing a sweet, tender saxophone solo (see the wonderful video for this version of the song, below).
Springsteen has said he wrote “If I Should Fall Behind” soon after Evan’s birth.
“It took me a long time to write this song,” said Springsteen when introducing it at a show at the Richfield Coliseum in Richfield, Ohio, in August 1992. “I think in a lot of my earlier music I was kind of writing about a dream of a world without limitations, and real short-term blessings, and I think this song is … about a world with … learning how to live within the limits that life provides, and digging up some of those long-term blessings that keep you going.”
Background facts: “If I Should Fall Behind” was released on Springsteen’s 1992 album, Lucky Town. He played all the instruments except for the drums, which were played by Gary Mallaber. It was also released as the third single from Lucky Town.
For the 70 days leading up to Bruce Springsteen’s 70th birthday (on Sept. 23, 2019), NJArts.net did a post on one of The Boss’ best songs of the last 30 years. We started with No. 70 and worked our way up. For more on the project, click here.
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