My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Single Review – Eric Church – ‘Springsteen’

When a singer desires to prove their worth they’ll often name check a music legend in their song in hopes of drudging up a modicum of credibility. Of late, the practice has been in overdrive morphing from adoration to insolence. And it seems the songs with the most name checking often rock harder than any of the legends being cited within.

So it’s refreshing that Eric Church would co-write a song, about a legend, that smartly avoids those pitfalls. “Springsteen” is by and large one of the strongest songs currently vying for airplay because the details in the story and the choices in the production are nearly flawless.

We’ve all heard it before – the teenage couple in love and the song that binds them together for life, long past the confines of the relationship. Here that song is “Born In The USA,” Bruce Springsteen’s classic from 1984. But what makes “Springsteen” a cut above the rest is the masterful way Church and co-writers Jeff Hyde and Ryan Tyndell craft the story.

The song begins with the male protagonist thinking back on the memories drudged up whenever the magical song comes on the radio:

To this day when I hear that song

I see you standin’ there on that lawn

Discount shades, store bought tan

Flip-flops and cut-off jeans

Somewhere between that setting sun

I’m on fire and born to run

You looked at me and I was done

And we’re, we’re just getting started

While Church does mumble the opening lines a bit too much for my taste, he makes up for his delivery by nicely setting the scene for the love affair to be fleshed out in more detail later. The second verse has the lead character running into this girl in the present day yet she doesn’t remember him that well. The writers glaze over this meeting but use it as a bridge to further develop the love story back when the characters were 17:

 Back when I was gasoline

And this old tattoo had brand new ink

And we didn’t care what your mom would think

About your name on my arm

Baby is it spring or is it summer

The guitar sound or the beat of that drummer

You hear sometimes late at night

On your radio

And like any well-crafted song, it isn’t just the tiny details in the lyrics (like mentioning the jeep they would ride around in) but also choices in the production that add to the overall feeling of the song. Sonically, “Springsteen” is unlike anything else on country radio right now – a little gritty and atmospheric with a steady drumbeat to help guide the story along.  When listening you get the impression that you’re hearing the work of a singer/songwriter and not just another four minutes of filler churned out by the Nashville machine. It’s that level of concentration that elevates “Springsteen” above the standard piece of nostalgia.

This may be another song about songs, but it works because the whole thing is believable. Brad Paisley’s “Old Alabama,” for instance, failed because he tried to mix novelty and tribute in his ode to Alabama. Adding in that touch of playfulness only extenuated the weaknesses in the lyrics and turned what could’ve been great, into something corny. It’s as if Church learned from the faults of that and other recent songs about songs and decided to write something truly outstanding that honored the artist being mentioned without that singer getting in the way of the song.

But you’ll see in the coming months that “Springsteen” is more than just the third single from an album, but rather a turning point in a career. It’s now that Church will begin to be taken seriously as an artist and not just as a singer. I’ve always preferred his rockish stylings to Jason Aldean – there’s an authenticity to Church you don’t get with Aldean. Like Miranda Lambert he’s a real country singer and I’m glad to see the material is finally matching the promise I’ve seen in him since I first heard Sinners Like Me seven years ago.

Grade: A 

13 responses to “Single Review – Eric Church – ‘Springsteen’

  1. Ken Johnson February 10, 2012 at 11:44 am

    Well I’ll give him credit for honesty. Unlike most of today’s sad excuses for country singers he’s not singing about country legends that he probably has NEVER listened to, Anytime I hear a younger new performer reference Hank Williams, Merle Haggard or George Jones I wish that I could check the CD’s in their car or the songs on their ipod to truly determine how much they really listen to those artists. My guess is that you’d probably find only rap & rock in their libraries. They know country legends by name only.

    The fact that an artist who is supposed to be in the country genre records a song about Springsteen speaks volumes about how country music has lost it’s way. The format is becoming more and more unrecognizable to folks who loved country music 20+ years ago.

  2. Occasional Hope February 10, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    In principle I suppose there’s nothing wrong with someone listening to rock music as a teenager and being inspired by it, and subsequently finding a home in country music, while still getting some nostalgia from his teenage loves. But I do find it depressing that Eric Church went from singing ‘Pledge Allegiance To The Hag’ on his first album (with cameo from the man himself), and at least name dropping country legends on his second (the song ‘Lotta Boot Left To Fill’), to lauding Bruce Springsteen – and getting it played on country radio.

  3. Ben Foster February 10, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    This might be my personal favorite Eric Church single to date. I’m with you on the comparison to “Old Alabama” as well – That one didn’t quite work.

  4. luckyoldsun February 11, 2012 at 1:43 am

    I don’t know, but I still have the feeling that this song was recorded for the purpose of getting Eric Church a spot opening for Bruce on his next stadium tour.

  5. Goodtime Steve February 12, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    I really owe Eric Church an apology (not that he knows who I am or would really care…) I was all set to hate “Chief” based mostly on the fact that Church is a pompous donkey, but I gave it a listen anyhow and came away really, really impressed. Unlike artists like Aldean, Church is pushing at the edges of country but staying just inside the boundaries — an innovator, much like Ronnie Milsap was back in the 1980s. Even the material on “Chief” that I didn’t like I found I respected the effort. “Springsteen” is one of my favorite songs on “Chief,” and along with Kenny Chesney’s “Anything But Mine” from a few years ago really shows that country music can still weave a story of summer loves of the past.

    • Jonathan Pappalardo February 12, 2012 at 11:02 pm

      I feel exactly as you do, Goodtime Steve. I judged “Chief” on the first two singles and thought it wasn’t for me, but bought into the positive reviews at the end of last year. I now really, really like the album and especially this song (and I couldn’t give it anything less than an A).

      You nailed it with your comments.

    • Occasional Hope February 13, 2012 at 10:31 am

      Perhaps I should give it another chance.

  6. dixie March 6, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    has a line from clint black’s “state of mind” isn’t that supposed to be copywright?

    • TamB April 25, 2012 at 11:19 am

      I just heard that line from Clint Black’s song yesterday while listening to the radio. It stuck out like a sore thumb because I get that “melody/memory” line from “Springsteen” stuck in my head so much and there it was, being sung by Clint Black on his own older song. Blew me away because I thought the line was so clever before now knowing it’s a copy cat.

      • Jonathan Pappalardo April 25, 2012 at 12:23 pm

        Until your comment today, TamB, I honestly couldn’t find the line in question from Clint Black’s song within the “Springsteen” lyrics. But you and Dixie are both right.

        It doesn’t damper my enjoyment of the song, though, because its so hard to be 100% original with anything anymore. It’s impossible to set aside all influences when writing a song. The main reason it doesn’t damper my enjoyment of the song is because there isn’t any proof that Eric Church was ripping off Clint Black or that Clint was an inspiration when he wrote “Springsteen.”

        It’s good to point this out, and as of right now you’re the only two talking about it, but it seems like a non issue to me. Lines in songs are repeated all the time, even distinctive ones (although good examples aren’t coming to mind). I wonder if Eric Church even knows he copied that line from Clint’s song or if he’s even familiar with “State of Mind.”

  7. Brad Paisley May 12, 2012 at 6:43 am

    i have to disagree,springsteen is the worst song on radio today.its just a bunch of garbage being passed off as a song. BTW old alabama never failed, its one of the most listened to brad paisley songs and is way better than this sad attempt at music

  8. Tom July 11, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    This song is like nails on a chalkboard to me when it comes on the radio, not because it’s a terrible song overall but because of a few specific unforgivable sins. I’ll list them in chronological order:

    1 – The chimes, or electronic xylophone, or whatever it is that first appears in the intro and repeats throughout the song. Did somebody in the studio keep getting text alerts while they were recording? It sounds dumb as all get out.

    2 – The vocals would have been better if he had removed the clothespin from his nose before he started singing. Nothing supports the stereotype that all country artists sing through their noses like an artist singing through his nose while recording a hit song.

    3 – In the first verse, “tan” and “jeans” don’t rhyme. Which is fine, not every verse in every song has to rhyme. But he purposely mumbles the word “jeans” to cover up the fact that they don’t rhyme which really doesn’t do anything but say “Hey, I feel like an idiot for recording a song with a verse that doesn’t rhyme!”

    4 – So he does the first verse, then the chorus; then after a couple of instrumental measures he says “Springsteen.” Just like that, drops the name in. Sounds dumb as heck, and I really have no idea what the purpose is. I mean, people who know Bruce Springsteen’s music will pick up on the song titles scattered throughout the lyrics and figure out that the event he took this girl to when they were 17 was a Bruce Springsteen concert. Was it for the benefit of the listeners who might not be familiar with the Boss’s music? Maybe he got scared and said “What if people don’t get that it’s about a Springsteen concert? I don’t want to let Mr. Springsteen down, I’d better put his name in there so everybody knows!” Anyway, I don’t like it. And it doesn’t help out that it’s immediately followed by more of those chimes or whatever they are.

    Other than that, it’s really not bad. Kind of a tired theme – “Back when I was young I did something that at the time seemed like the ultimate thing to do in life, now that I have a job and bills and responsibilities I’m feeling sentimental about those days and wonder if the girl I experienced it with feels the same way” – that can be heard in two or three songs on the country charts at any given time, but still fairly solid lyrics with a good melody, strong instrumentals, and decent production. But I can’t get past the things listed above.

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