I don’t pay much attention to the age of rock stars but it’s still hard to believe that Bruce Springsteen turned 70 yesterday. I always thought he was a good bit younger than me, certainly more than two years anyway, and when I watch him do his thing his energy befits a man 20 years my junior. Footage of Bruce popped up all over my news feed yesterday, but none of it showed him performing this song which, over time, has edged past the pack to become my favourite from a catalogue that simply refuses to stop growing, and one that holds its place among the shifting playlist of old and new songs I listen to all the time. 
         ‘Racing In The Street’, from 1978’s Darkness On The Edge Of Town, is not really about racing cars at all. It is a metaphor for the terrifying, uncertain prospect of growing up, far more so in fact than the hi-energy but rather wordy song of that name that appeared on Springsteen’s second album in 1973. In this respect it can be likened to the songs that Pete Townshend found himself writing for The Who By Numbers when age was catching up with him, so yesterday, as Springsteen entered his eighth decade, I felt like writing about how much I love this song.
         On first hearing you could certainly be forgiven for thinking ‘Racing In The Street’ was another of Springsteen’s songs about cars, their performance and taking girls for rides in them, subject matter he once seemed lumbered with like Chuck Berry or The Beach Boys. But that’s just the first verse, the sharply detailed opening that sets the scene against a measured but edgy musical backdrop with hints of The Crystal’s ‘Then He Kissed Me’ and, in closing couplets loosely repeated throughout, a clever juxtaposition of lyrics from Martha & The Vandellas’ ‘Dancing In The Street’. This was youthful music for youthful escapades that are abandoned midway into verse two, reluctantly perhaps, since there’s a realisation that they can’t – and won’t – last forever.
         This is when Springsteen looks despondently around him as his peers pack away their dreams, symbolised by the cars in which they race, and he’s conflicted. To stay the same or grow up; to ‘blow ’em off in my first heat’ or ‘start dyin’, little by little, piece by piece’? It’s a dilemma we all face sooner or later, and one that those of us who love our rock’n’roll that bit more than maybe we should tend to defer to our cost. (And perhaps it’s because I waited until I was 44 to marry and have children, far later than average, that ‘Racing In The Street’ resonates in me as much as it does.)
         By the beginning of verse three the weight of his choice, of growing up, of the inevitable, has taken its full toll, and Springsteen is staring into the beyond. Is this all that life has to offer when once I was racing in the street? There’s trepidation when his girl stares forlornly into the night – is he right for me? – but force of will surmounts and as the final verse winds down he’s come to grips with his dilemma and is riding to the sea with his girl to wash their sins – their past – off their hands. Well, that’s my reading anyway.
         But there’s another, more specifically Springsteenish, interpretation I think about when I listen to ‘Racing In The Street’, and this is that the song connects the contradictions of Springsteen the performer. On the one hand, in the earlier lines, there’s the kid with that old Broadcaster who doesn’t want to grow up, who bounces on stage like he was born to rock, singing requests from the audience like that joyous cruise through ‘You Never Can Tell’ that you can’t avoid on YouTube, or getting a girl up on stage to join him for ‘Dancing In The Dark’, or racing through party anthems like ‘Sherry Darling’ or ‘Out In The Street’. This is Bruce the Younger, the kid who worships rock’n’roll and will go to his grave defending it as the most fun you can have with your clothes on, the romantic whose electric guitar has unlocked the door to a personal paradise.
         Then, in the song’s conclusion, there’s the guy who sings about decay and change in ‘4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)’, or hard times in ‘The River’, or injustice in ‘American Skin’, or a life lived on the wrong side of the tracks on Tom Joad, or tragedy in ‘Wreck On The Highway’, or even ‘Badlands’, as powerful a rocker I know about the price you have to pay. This is Bruce the Elder who grew up and got married, had kids and, although he’s banked a pirate’s treasure, tries his best to stay grounded, to retain a conscience, a responsibility that comes with the weight of fame that, like The Beatles, he must carry a long time.
         ‘Racing In The Street’ links these two Bruce Springsteens together for me. Its stately, sombre, minimal piano-driven pace makes it more profound than any of the other ‘serious’ songs he’s written and when, in more recent live versions, it reaches that instrumental coda, all five minutes of it, we are ever-so-slowly lifted up by this repeated surge, rim shots becoming pounding drums, a swirling organ, ringing guitars, a gradual escalation in intensity, crescendo after crescendo like an incoming tide as the E Street Band join him from every angle, rising and rising so as to restate the message of that final verse, that despair can turn to joy, and the question ‘Did you make it alright?’ is finally answered. Yes, we really can grow up and make it alright. It really is the greatest song he’s ever written.

For the record, I listen to four versions of ‘Racing In The Street’ – the original on Darkness…, live versions from 1978 (Agora, Cleveland) and 1981 (Meadowlands, New Jersey) and an embryonic version on The Promise, also from 1978 – and a live version by Emmylou Harris that is suitably reverent but instead of the lengthy coda features a lovely vocalised sign-off. I found the pic with the lyric on Google (credited to YouTube) and the version of ‘Racing In The Street’ on YouTube I attached above is from 2009, Paramount Theatre, Asbury Park, where it all began for Bruce. Happy 70th birthday old man.



For the past few days Pete and Roger have stared out at me from the cover of Mojo magazine’s November issue which sits on the coffee table in our front room. There’s a bit of a mystery surrounding the session from whence the picture came as no one seems able to identify the photographer or the precise date of the photo session, not the usual gang of Who experts with whom I am in fairly regular contact, nor even Richard Evans who has for years been the group’s art director and who probably has the world's biggest archive of Who images on his computer.
         The picture, however, is very well-known and was first seen on the sleeve of ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ when it was released as a single in June 1971. Richard used a variation of it on the cover of the booklet in the Track Singles box that came out in 2015. Pete is in a blue denim shirt and white dungarees similar to the overalls he was fond of wearing on stage in those days and Roger, all golden curls and come-hither eyes, wears a colourful top and has a crucifix around his neck. Below is the original shot from the session, so Mojo have photoshopped it to eliminate Keith, who was second left on the original picture, and John, who was on the right. The effect is to bring Pete and Roger closer together.

         Closer together? Well, up to a point Lord Copper. The 14-page feature inside dwells on the forthcoming new Who album, to be titled simply WHO, and includes new interviews with the two surviving members of the group but, as ever, there seems to be an element of mistrust between them. Pete begins his interview by complaining that Roger didn’t turn up to the sessions for the new album and Roger complains that, at first, he felt was being asked to sing the songs on a Pete Townshend solo album.
         “I got so fed up with just going out touring,” says Townshend. “I’ve spent so much time saying, ‘I don’t like touring. I don’t even like The Who. I’m certainly not sure I like Roger’.” So Pete spent five months writing 15 new songs. “I thought I was just going to send him these songs and he was gonna love ’em. He actually didn’t listen to them for a long time.”
         “I was very negative because I couldn’t see myself inhabiting these songs,” counters Daltrey. “A lot of them were ‘I’ songs which means they’re Pete Townshend singing at you. I suggested we change the tenses… But Pete had the grace to allow me to do what I wanted and the songs have come out really well. I had a wobble though.”
         So an accord was reached and the new album will be released on November 22. I have gleaned from the Mojo feature that one song is called ‘Hero Ground Zero’ – “Somewhere between ELO, The Who, Led Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac,” says Townshend – and another, called ‘Street Song’, was inspired by the Grenfell Tower Disaster. The first single from the album, ‘Ball And Chain’, is already previewed on the internet and certainly sounds to these ears more like The Who of old than anything on 2006’s Endless Wire. There’s a typically Townshend guitar flourish at the start and a lengthy looping keyboard intro before Roger, his voice much deeper now, growls a 12-bar that laments the immorality of America’s Guantanamo Bay prison on the island of Cuba. At the midway point the song steps back to twist and turn around Pete’s blend of acoustic and electric guitars before finding its way back, a dynamic I feel sounds not unlike several songs from the Who’s Next era.
         The sleeve of the new album has been designed by Peter Blake who selected the 16 portraits that appeared on Face Dances in 1981. In a somewhat similar style, WHO features 22 images that suggest The Who and/or the songs within.

         Mojo’s Who coverage also features brief interviews with Simon Townshend, Zak Starkey, Pino Palladino and Dave Sardy, who produced the new album. There’s also a retrospective glance at the Quadrophenia movie, info on Townshend’s forthcoming novel The Age Of Anxiety, to be published by Coronet on November 5, and the revelation that Daltrey has just received from screen writer Jeff Pope the first draft of a script for the long-awaited Keith Moon biopic. Since this project has been doing the rounds for about 20 years now I’m not holding my breath – but I am looking forward to getting my hands on WHO.



To the Bloomsbury Theatre on London’s Gordon Street to witness Mark Lewisohn’s run-through for his forthcoming UK lecture tour on The Beatles’ Abbey Road album, ingeniously titled Hornsey Road. Why is that, I hear you ask? All will be revealed later.
         Having now firmly established himself as the world’s foremost Beatles archivist and historian through his many books and sleeve notes on various historical Beatles product, Mark is taking time out from writing Volume 2 of his humungous All Those Years trilogy (the extended edition of Vol 1 was a staggering 1,698 pages long) to undertake this 25-date UK tour that opens on 18 September in Northampton and closes on 4 December in Manchester.
         Addressing an invitation-only audience last night from a stage whose floor was painted like a zebra crossing and flanked by two flashing belisha beacons, Mark began by solemnly instructing us to switch off recording devices and cameras. This was in order to prevent us from revealing too much, but at the same time we were encouraged to be judgmental, to make notes, all in the interest of offering Mark suggestions whereby his talk might be improved.
         This is a bit like being asked to improve on the Taj Mahal. All around me were other music writers of similar vintage to my own, persons whose knowledge of The Beatles might not be in Mark’s league but is probably greater than the average fan. That we all clapped during those portions of the show wherein Mark’s research revealed arcane bits of minute trivia, like where Paul might have come across the word ‘pataphysical’ or John discovered a real life Mr Mustard who was, indeed, very mean, indicated a keen awareness of the extremes to which Mark goes when chasing down a lead. Sherlock of Baker Street could do no better.
         The show is a multi-media event. Accompanying Mark’s erudite discourse are photographs, video footage, documents and newspaper clippings on a big screen, and the whole caboodle is soundtracked by the songs from Abbey Road, of course, albeit not as you know them. Instead Mark has used 5.1 mixes and The Beatles’ Rockband Playstation game that enable him to utilise isolated individual performances and in this way we get a feel of how the songs developed in the studio and who contributed what. Two things stood out for me: the inimitable three-part choral wash that John, Paul and George were able to conjure up when required, and the sophistication of Paul’s bass playing, those melodic touches, often in a high register, that were too often buried in the mix. The music tracks are sequenced chronologically, ie in the order in which they were recorded, and accompanied by still photographs, mostly black and white, and judged by Mark to have been taken while a particular track was being recorded, or thereabouts. The many different guitars and keyboards, including a Moog, that The Beatles used are therefore clearly in evidence.
         This is the meat of the two-hour plus presentation. Interspersed between the songs are sections wherein Mark deals with whatever else was happening in the world of the individual Beatles during 1969, among them John’s Plastic Ono Band, his peace campaigning, bagism and the fateful car journey – in a humble Austin Maxi – to Scotland with Yoko and their children; George’s involvement with the Hare Krishna movement and growing friendship with Eric Clapton; Paul and Linda’s wedding and trip to Scotland; Ringo’s acting debut with Peter Sellers; the transformation of four Beatles into family men; and John and George’s drug busts, both of which seem likely to have been the result of police corruption.
         Towards the end of the lecture, after the album has been recorded and is waiting release, we are informed that John, Paul and George met to discuss their future together, and because Ringo was absent – in hospital with an upset stomach – John recorded the meeting so that Ringo would know what was said. Herein lay the most interesting part of Mark’s speech, also judged as such earlier this week in the Guardian when he gave an interview to my former Melody Maker colleague Richard Williams. Somehow or other Mark has obtained a copy of that recording, until now unheard by any of us in the room. Suffice to say that John, for one, envisaged a future for The Beatles, albeit one in which the traditional songwriting credit of Lennon/McCartney would be discontinued in favour of individual credits for each and that George, and to a lesser extent Ringo, would have a greater representation in this area. To say more would be to disclose too much.
         The closing sequence is wonderful, tearful almost. “And in the end…” sing John, Paul and George, in perfect harmony in the Abbey Road studio even if business issues were dragging them apart outside. This was the year of their breakup – not that you’d know it from the unity they exhibit on Abbey Road – and, lest we forget, the youngest of them in 1969 was just 26, the eldest 29.
         And Hornsey Road? Apparently EMI were in the process of buying up a recording studio there where all of the non-classical artists signed to the label, including The Beatles, would have been obliged to record their music. It doesn’t have the same ring to it somehow does it? And nor would it attract the crowds like Abbey Road does. There’s even an EarthCam set up there 24 hours a day recording the action on the world’s most famous pedestrian crossing point: (https://www.earthcam.com/world/england/london/abbeyroad/?cam=abbeyroad_uk). Seems like every moment of the day someone is taking a photograph there.

Full details of Mark Lewisohn’s talk can be found here: https://www.marklewisohn.net/hornsey-road/