Singer-Songwriting Rockers 1: “One Step Up”

Bruce Springsteen’s birthday (he’s 66 today–happy birthday, Boss!) inspires me to turn the spotlight on him and a couple of other rockers who have written first-rate songs over a remarkable span of time. In Springsteen’s case, we’re talking forty years: from “Blinded by the Night” in 1973 up through “We Take Care of Our Own” in 2012. That’s almost Richard Rodgers territory, which is high praise indeed. Even more remarkable, this trio (you might be able to guess who the others are) has crafted memorable and distinctive songs from a pretty limited harmonic palette, usually no more than four chords.

For the Boss, I’ll feature a searing tune from his excellent 1987 album Tunnel of Love, the ballad “One Step Up,” which Springsteen biographer Dave Marsh called “as miserable a cheating song as Nashville ever knew.”  Springsteen wrote it in the midst of his breakup with his first wife, Julianne Phillips, and in the words of the singer-songwriter we’ll be featuring next, there are blood on the tracks. Autobiographical or not, Springsteen’s lyric, tied to a haunting and deliberate melody, captures the bad taste of a relationship gone sour as well as any song I know:

It’s the same thing night on night
Who’s wrong baby who’s right
Another fight and I slam the door on
Another battle in our dirty little war

When I look at myself I don’t see
The man I wanted to be
Somewhere along the line I slipped off track
I’m caught movin’ one step up and two steps back

Here’s the music video Bruce put out; background vocals by Patti Scialfa.

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