Parsing the samples and quotes on Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Wrecking Ball’
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In the liner notes to Bruce Springsteen’s new album ‘Wrecking Ball,’ which arrives Tuesday, amid the lyrics, line-up, thank-yous and production notes is a tiny-fonted paragraph listing the non-Boss recordings and songs that Springsteen and producer Ron Aniello either sampled or quoted on the record.
Bruce Springsteen, sample king?
It’s not the descriptor that most would use when discussing the artist, but, according to the notes, Springsteen references no less than five other songs within his 18th album, ranging from funk vocalist Lyn Collins to Curtis Mayfield to the Alabama Sacred Heart Convention and a few different Alan Lomax-directed field recordings from the 1940s and ‘50s. He employs the sound of an AK-47 firing, and even swipes a chunk of Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire.’ (Alas, he doesn’t use the classic ‘Apache’ break.)
On the surface, the Boss’ curiosity about cut-and-paste culture might come as a surprise; he is, after all, an American songwriter born and raised within the pure tradition of original musical storytelling. But Springsteen has long quoted others’ music within his own, beginning with the first song on his second record, ‘The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle,’ whose ‘The E Street Shuffle,’ is an acknowledged riff on Major Lance’s 1960 hit ‘The Monkey Time.’ Too, he loves peppering his set with a good cover song, and is quick to list influences and inspirations when discussing his craft.
Judging by the list of samples for ‘Wrecking Ball,’ he dug into the well of American music during the construction of the record. Below, some of Springsteen’s quotes and samples.
Lyn Collins, ‘Me and My Baby Got Our Own Thing Going’
Lyn Collins’ 1972 funk jam ‘Me and My Baby Got Our Own Thing Going’ was produced by James Brown and written by Collins along with Brown, Fred Wesley and Charles Bobbitt. Springsteen references it on the third track on ‘Wrecking Ball,’ called ‘Shackled and Drawn.’
Alabama Sacred Harp Convention, ‘The Last Words of Copernicus’
On ‘Death to My Hometown,’ the Irish-tinted jam on ‘Wrecking Ball,’ Springsteen dips back to the world of sacred harp singing, and a 1959 Alan Lomax-recorded version of the hymn ‘The Last Words of Copernicus.’ The thrilling whirlwind of voices serves as choral accompaniment during the chorus of Springsteen’s song.
Church of God in Christ Congregation, ‘I’m a Soldier in the Army of the Lord’
This hymn has been used over the years as a patriotic anthem for religious zealots looking to justify any number of causes (see the Bible quotes in the video above for examples), and it’s easy to see why: its aggression is unapologetic. Springsteen uses a raucous Lomax-recorded version in his song ‘Rocky Ground,’ which draws from the stories of the Bible for its lyrics -- and features a 16-bar mid-song rap (!) by singer Michelle Moore. Yes, there is a rap verse in a Bruce Springsteen song.
Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, ‘People Get Ready’
Curtis Mayfield’s classic song ‘People Get Ready’ plays a major role in ‘Land of Hope and Dreams,’ the seven-minute rocker that appears second on ‘Wrecking Ball.’ In fact, the song virtually becomes ‘People Get Ready’ after an epic Clarence Clemons tenor solo.
Johnny Cash, ‘Ring of Fire’
The final song on the 11-track ‘Wrecking Ball’ begins as an acoustic number that then transforms into a mid-tempo, banjo-led charge featuring a whistled version of ‘Ring of Fire.’ The song at times sounds a little bit like an Ennio Morricone spaghetti western theme, especially at the end, when the ‘Ring of Fire’ melody takes hold as a guitar line.
-- Randall Roberts
Updated: The original version of this post got the name of the album’s producer wrong. It’s Ron Aniello, not, as originally written, John Aniello.