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Shut Out The Light – Bruce Springsteen: Great B-Sides

Bruce Springsteen Born in the U.S.A.

American rock icon Bruce Springsteen celebrated his 70th birthday this week. This means it’s half a lifetime since he released his most commercially successful album, 1984’s Born in the USA. A decade earlier, 1975’s Born to Run had launched Springsteen into the big leagues, but Born in the USA made him a superstar.

Springsteen was a prolific writer in his early career, allowing him to select songs for an album to capture a particular mood. 1982’s Nebraska was austere, with a solo Springsteen delivering claustrophobic acoustic songs. Born in the USA took the opposite approach, with Springsteen choosing accessible, upbeat songs like ‘Glory Days’ and ‘Dancing in the Dark’.

Born in the USA has never been one of my favourite Springsteen records, with the simplified approach providing less replay value. But the sessions for Born in the USA were prolific, with around eighty songs recorded, and plenty of great songs were left behind.

‘Shut Out The Light’ surfaced as the b-side to ‘Born in the U.S.A.’, and it works beautifully as a companion piece. The narrative of the harmful effects of Vietnam of ‘Born in the USA’ was lost for some listeners behind the bombastic music and the American flag imagery on the album cover. There was no mistaking the message of ‘Shut Out The Light’ – even though Vietnam’s never mentioned by name, the acoustic arrangement leaves listeners in no doubt over the disconnection suffered by Vietnam veterans.

Springsteen wrote ‘Shut Out The Light’ after reading Ron Kovic’s Born on the Fourth of July. The book was written in 1976, later adapted into a movie starring Tom Cruise in 1989, an autobiographical tale of Kovic’s time in Vietnam, his paralysis, and his transformation to a peace activist.

Springsteen received draft papers in 1969, but failed his medical examination due to concussion from an earlier motorcycle accident and erratic behaviour at his medical examination. When introducing the song live for the first time, Springsteen said that “it’s about leaving home and not being able to find your way back”, while in a 1984 Rolling Stone interview he said that “the guys that did come back were not the same”.

Despite its status as a b-side, the song was always highly regarded by Springsteen fanatics. It later surfaced on the 1998 box-set Tracks, showcasing some of the myriad of Springsteen’s outtakes and b-sides.

Thanks to Paul from https://mikeandpaulsmusicblog.com/ for suggesting this song for the series.

The runway rushed up at him as he felt the wheels touch down
He stood out on the blacktop and took a taxi into town
He got out down on Main Street and went into a local bar
He bought a drink and found a seat in a corner off the dark
Well she called up her mama to make sure the kids were out of the house
She checked herself out in the dining room mirror
And undid an extra button on her blouse
He felt her lying next to him, the clock said 4:00 am
He was staring at the ceiling
He couldn’t move his hands

Oh mama mama mama come quick
I’ve got the shakes and I’m gonna be sick
Throw your arms around me in the cold dark night
Hey now mama don’t shut out the light
Don’t you shut out the light
Don’t you shut out the light
Don’t you shut out the light
Don’t you shut out the light

Well on his porch they stretched a banner that said “Johnny Welcome Home”
Bobby pulled his Ford out of the garage and they polished up the chrome
His mama said “Johnny oh Johnny, I’m so glad to have you back with me”
His pa said he was sure they’d give him his job back down at the factory

Oh mama mama mama come quick
I’ve got the shakes and I’m gonna be sick
Throw your arms around me in the cold dark night
Hey now mama don’t shut out the light
Don’t you shut out the light
Don’t you shut out the light
Don’t you shut out the light
Don’t you shut out the light

Well deep in a dark forest, a forest filled with rain
Beyond a stretch of Maryland pines there’s a river without a name
In the cold black water Johnson Lineir stands
He stares across the lights of the city and dreams of where he’s been

Oh mama mama mama come quick
I’ve got the shakes and I’m gonna be sick
Throw your arms around me in the cold dark night
Hey now mama don’t shut out the light
Don’t you shut out the light
Don’t you shut out the light
Don’t you shut out the light
Don’t you shut out the light

23 thoughts on “Shut Out The Light – Bruce Springsteen: Great B-Sides Leave a comment

  1. I thought I knew it from Tracks. Good tune. For a collection of outtakes, that is one strong album. There are songs on there that I think were better some of the songs on the original albums. Side four is especially strong.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I fucking love this song. I’m on a B.I.T.USA deep dive at the mo for a piece I’m working up and have found more to enjoy in it than previous but this is just an unabashed great tune. Love that opening line too

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great tune! Like a couple other posts here I first heard this on the Tracks box and it was instantly one of my favs. Typically I don’t care for bonus tracks and outtakes and rarities or any of the studio leftovers that started flooding the market when CDs took over from vinyl. But Springsteen’s unreleased material is amazing in its quantity and quality. Also, I agree that BITUSA is not one of his best albums, (mostly because of lame “contemporary” production of otherwise good songs – except Cover Me which is the absolute worst song he ever did,) the bonus tracks from those sessions are much better than most of the official album.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I hate quit buying singles by this time but broke my rule during this period to buy all the Bruce and Prince singles due to the non-album B-sides- fantastic stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

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