When Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes recorded a new Bruce Springsteen song, “All the Way Home,” for their 1991 Better Days album, it sounded like a classic soul ballad. And when Springsteen first performed it in concert in 1992 (listen below), introducing it as “a song I wrote for Johnny,” he stuck to that classic-soul concept and arrangement.
However, when he recorded it himself for his Devils & Dust album, it almost sounded like a new song. Not only did he change some words, but it was faster, and the arrangement was totally different. Now it was twangy country-rock, with a new central guitar riff that sounded like something The Byrds might have used.
Either way, it’s a barroom song. There’s a guy who has seen better days (“I know what it’s like to have failed”). There’s a woman who has been divorced, separated or widowed (he sees “the shadow of that ring … that was on your finger”). It’s closing time, and he makes an awkward pass at her:
You got no reason to trust me
My confidence is a little rusty
But if you don’t feel like being alone
Baby, I could walk you all the way home
It’s basically “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)” with a beat. And another set of resilient characters in a catalog of songs that is full of them.
“Love leaves nothing but shadows and vapor,” Springsteen sings. “We go on, as is our sad nature.”
I’ve written about Springsteen’s use of the word “sad” before. It comes up in “Born to Run” (“Together, Wendy, we can live with the sadness”). And it comes up in “Night” (“You run sad and free until all you can see is the night”). And here it is again.
We know that Springsteen has suffered from depression. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that in his songs, sadness is not something that can easily be vanquished. It’s something that’s part of our “nature,” something you have to learn to live with.
Background facts: Springsteen included “All the Way Home” on his 2005 Devils & Dust album, after Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes recorded it on their 1991 album Better Days. Among the musicians backing Springsteen is pedal steel guitarist Marty Rifkin, who later performed with the Seeger Sessions Band.
The song also was released as the second single from Devils & Dust, after the title track, but failed to chart.
According to Brucebase, Springsteen performed it live 28 times between 1992 and 2006.
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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