“Leavin’ Train” — from Bruce Springsteen’s boxed set of rare and previously unreleased recordings, Tracks — is an aggressive rock song, built around a unique and very memorable guitar riff. For that reason alone, it belongs on this list. But it’s also got more lyrical complexity than you might notice at first glance.
An outtake from the Human Touch album, it’s built around a simple idea: The narrator is still in love with someone, but every time he looks into her eyes, he gets the feeling that she wants to leave him (“Your eyes look like a leavin’ train”). His doubt is unresolved, and he turns on himself, wondering if it’s a form of “contrition/To have the love that I longed for fill me with suspicion” and asking himself, “Am I just a victim of my lost faith?”
Like “Brilliant Disguise,” recorded just a few years previously, it’s a song about a troubled and potentially doomed relationship. But whereas that song represents a diary-like confession, this one is a desperate, starkly emotional cry. It’s one of the standout finds, for me, of the Tracks set.
Background facts: “Leavin’ Train” was recorded in 1990 but not released until it was included on Springsteen’s 1998 boxed set, Tracks. The backing musicians include keyboardist Ian McLagan, best known as a member of The Faces and The Small Faces.
According to Brucebase, it was not performed until May 22-23, 2014, when Springsteen joined Joe Grushecky & the Houserockers for shows at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Pittsburgh. You can watch one of those performances below. It never has been performed since then.
On each of the 70 days leading up to Bruce Springsteen’s 70th birthday (on Sept. 23, 2019), NJArts.net will do a post on one of The Boss’ best songs of the last 30 years. We’re starting with No. 70 and working our way up. For more on the project, click here.
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