In early , Bruce Springsteen was living in a rented house in Colts Neck, New Jersey, recuperating from a year-long tour following his double album The River. His band played marathon shows and were on their way to becoming one of the biggest rock acts in the world. During this period, Springsteen tasked his guitar tech, Mike Batlan, with buying a simple tape recorder so that he could tinker with some new songs and arrangements without having to bother with renting studio time.
Batlan picked up a Teac Tascam Portastudio, a then-new device that was the first piece of equipment to use a standard cassette tape for multi-track recording. On it, he would craft what is still the most singular album in his catalog. Nebraska remains an outlier for Springsteen, a record that sits uneasily in his discography.
Instead of making an impact upon release, Nebraska has been accruing weight gradually over the last four decades, becoming a marker of its socioeconomic era as well as an early document of the later home-recording revolution. Springsteen seemed both emotionally closer to his characters but also less interested in judging them. These songs had no heroes and no villains, everyone in them was making their way with what they were given, every grim or brutal scene had its own context and its own internal logic.
Once the new songs recorded on the Portastudio began to gel, Springsteen selected some of his favorites, ran his simple arrangements through a Gibson Echoplex unit to add some reverb and echo, and mixed them down to a boombox he had laying around the house.
Views Read Edit View history. Help Learn to edit Community portal Recent changes Upload file. Download as PDF Printable version. Add links. Unlike previous albums, which often exude energy, youth, optimism and joy, the vocal tones of Nebraska are solemn and thoughtful, with fleeting moments of grace and redemption woven through the lyrics. The album's reverb-laden vocals and mood combined with dark lyrical content have been described by music critic William Ruhlmann as "one of the most challenging albums ever released by a major star on a major record label".
Initially, Springsteen recorded demos for the album at his home with a 4-track cassette recorder. They felt certain songs were too personal, and the raw, haunting folk essence present on the home tapes could not be duplicated or equaled in the band treatments; the tracks they felt this way about made up the album Nebraska.
However, eight of the 12 tracks that went on the album Born in the U. They were led by " Born in the U. The demo recording sessions that produced the album actually covered several days, but January 3, is credited as the "legendary night" when 15 tracks were recorded.
Two of these, "Downbound Train" Born in the U. There was another demo, "The Big Payback" recorded later in spring , and "Johnny Bye-Bye", which Springsteen confused with a live version recorded July , that was actually never recorded during this period, that brings the total to the often-cited In an interview with Rolling Stone , Springsteen said, "I was just doing songs for the next rock album, and I decided that what always took me so long in the studio was the writing.
I would get in there, and I just wouldn't have the material written , or it wasn't written well enough, and so I'd record for a month, get a couple of things, go home write some more, record for another month—it wasn't very efficient.
So this time, I got a little Teac four-track cassette machine, and I said, I'm gonna record these songs, and if they sound good with just me doin' 'em, then I'll teach 'em to the band. I could sing and play the guitar, and then I had two tracks to do somethin' else, like overdub a guitar or add a harmony.
It was just gonna be a demo. Then I had a little Echoplex that I mixed through, and that was it. And that was the tape that became the record. It's amazing that it got there, 'cause I was carryin' that cassette around with me in my pocket without a case for a couple of weeks, just draggin' it around. Finally, we realized, 'Uh-oh, that's the album. The stuff was recorded so strangely, the needle would read a lot of distortion and wouldn't track in the wax.
We almost had to release it as a cassette. Springsteen fans have long speculated whether the full-band recordings of the Nebraska session tracks, nicknamed Electric Nebraska , that took place in the last week of April , will ever surface. The album begins with " Nebraska ", a first-person narrative based on the true story of year-old spree killer Charles Starkweather and his year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate , and ends with "Reason to Believe", a complex narrative that offers a small amount of hope to counterbalance the otherwise dark nature of the album.
Springsteen stated that the stories in this album were partly inspired by historian Howard Zinn 's book A People's History of the United States.
In , Nebraska was ranked number on Rolling Stone ' s list of the greatest albums of all time ,  and in a revised list. Being a highly influential album, the songs of Nebraska have been covered numerous times. Minnesota indie-rock band Halloween, Alaska covered "State Trooper" on its self-titled debut album. Under these conditions, he achieved total artistic control, but it was at the cost of his community of fellow musicians, the E Street Band.
He would later convene them at the end of April at The Power Station, with full band arrangements of these songs, but in the end, only three would see the light of day. According to legend, on the night of January 3, , Springsteen recorded fourteen new songs for Jon Landau, purposefully omitting half a dozen songs that he knew he wanted to work out in more detail with the band.
Only about half the songs he recorded that night were about criminals; the songs were more about people who felt cut off from the society in which they lived. Over half the tracks he recorded that night were based in country music, and many of the rest in rockabilly.
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