Friday, December 14, 2007

The Ten That Made Springsteen: 2. Twist and Shout - the Beatles

"the first record that I ever learned was a record called "Twist and Shout", and if it wasn’t for John Lennon, we’d all be in some place very different tonight" Springsteen December 9th 1980.

The second major influence on Springsteen were the Beatles. During 1963"Introducing the Beatles" made it into the Springsteens' household and rekindled Bruce's interest in the guitar. Although the reports are somewhat conflicting, Bruce first got a guitar when he discovered Elvis at age eight to nine. At that time Bruce's hands were to small to even begin to play. The instrument sat in the corner. After hearing the Beatles Bruce wanted to pick up the instrument again. His mother, Adele Springsteen, got him one for Christmas. Close to thirty years later Springsteen would thank his mother when he wrote "the Wish". "Twist and Shout" is allegedly the first song Bruce learned to play, at least he admitted as much during a show the night after John Lennon got shot. It is highly possible that Bruce was already strumming along when the Beatles performed the song on the Ed Sullivan show early in 1964. Lennon's clunky strumming on his Rickenbacker and his strained belting caused a tilde wave that would cement R&R and make it an art form to be reckoned with.

As Bruce recently affirmed once more during a recent interview for German television, radio was at the time Bruce grew up his main source for music. Other than today, radio in the late fifties and early sixties did bring the best in music, or at least in R&R. At the Springsteens' house hold Adele had the radio on through out the day as her escape for her dreary live into the romantic world of Pop. It is therefore likely that Springsteen heard the Isley Brother's version of "Twist and Shout", originally a lack luster early Phil Spector production for the Top Notes, well before the Beatles issued their album in the United States. The cross over success the Isley Brothers enjoyed at Wand records with the song early in 1962 directly led to them being signed at Motown. During the sixties the sound of young America was omni present on the radio and would ultimately be a big influence on Springsteen as well. But it were the Beatles that proved to be at the nucleus of what Springsteen would become.

The Beatles first broke in the US with "Please, Please Me", a mid tempo bluesy song that according to John Lennon was inspired by the singles of Roy Orbison and Bing Crosby. Seeing how heavily the Beatles success was derived from Black American culture it does seem fitting now that the Black owned VeeJay got to break the Beatles in the American market when everybody was still underestimating the impact the Beatles would have. After all what were they but a bunch of middle class white kids from Liverpool recycling American music. As an independent label VeeJay probably jumped at the opportunity to distribute to make a quick buck, as the Beatles had already scored a minor hit back home with "Love Me Do". What record companies failed to realize at the time was that with Elvis in the army and Jerry Lee Lewis caught up in the scandal surrounding his marriage to his 13 year old niece, R&R had a gaping void. The market was dominated by Black acts and what white acts there were had gone over to sugar cane pop. White teenagers really hardly had any reference, as far as they were concerned R&R was something exotic performed by wild Black acts. Suddenly there were the Beatles proving you and your friends could be in a R&R band and make it big. Exactly the type of R&R mythology the E-Street Band still thrives on today.

Aside from what is now called the British invasion, the success of The Beatles caused a tilde wave of Garage bands to storm the scene. Amongst those bands were big Springsteen influences such as The Young Rascals, Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, the Animals, the Rolling Stones and of course the Kingsmen who immortalized "Louie Louie" and did a mean version of "Twist and Shout" themselves. Part of this scene, albeit very minor, was a band Springsteen joined in 1965, the Castilles. If there was any doubt on the influence the Beatles had on the then zit infested Springsteen one only has to look at the hairdo of choice in that particular outfit. The Castilles would prove to be Bruce's first important school of R&R. It was with this band he did his first show, wrote his first songs and would ultimately record his first single "That's What You Get" with the flip side "Baby I". The single never saw the light of day. The band performed on some local dances and even at an insane asylum, what better place for R&R to thrive, but ultimately disbanded in 1967 at the dawn of the Summer of Love.

Though the Beatles busted it all wide open for Springsteen, his influences didn't stop there. Springsteen was that kind of kid who absorbed it all, borderline obsessive an head ache to his parents, his father especially. For his live presence the Garage or Fraternity Rock bands and the great Soul acts would ultimately be more important. "Twist and Shout" would ultimately become something of a staple in his sets when he formed the E-Street Band. Notorious for their long shows from the beginning the E-Street Band was confronted with too little original material to fill out a set. Besides, Springsteen as learned with the Castilles a R&R band would go over much better when they played a few hits from the radio that would allow the crowd to really shake it on down. Maybe that's why covers would be featured so prominently near the end of the set, to really tear the house down. These were the days before Born to Run became a R&R classic in its own right, Springsteen needed to lean into the hits of others. In developing his stage act, the Isley Brother's version of "Twist and Shout", with them calming the audience down before firing it up again as to get the audience in a frenzy became the template to which the E-Street Band set their encores. The Beatles may have busted R&R wide open, over the years Springsteen would become instrumental in keeping R&R alive.

"Twist and Shout" - The Isley Brothers
"Twist and Shout" - the Kingsmen
"Twist and Shout" - Bruce Springsteen (live, august 20th 1975)

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