Bruce Springsteen – “I’m on Fire” 7” Single
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2011
Bruce Springsteen is best known for his big, soaring rock anthems (and having his name tattooed in a crude scrawl on a girl who stayed with us a few years ago but that’s neither here nor there) but I’m more of a fan of his quieter, sensitive stuff a la Nebraska and Tunnel of Love. Born in the USA is sandwiched between those two aforementioned records in his discography, and it’s probably his most famous (at least most famous for having its title track misappropriated by conservative politicians who don’t understand that it’s highly critical of their agenda). It’s at least his most famous cover, featuring Bruce’s all-universe butt in front of an American Flag. It’s got “Born in the USA” and “Dancing in the Dark,” and in the middle it has “I’m on Fire.” There are no chanting background vocals or handclaps or booming guitars. On this track it’s just Bruce, a sweetly sad little synthesizer, a minimal drumbeat, a delicately plucked guitar riff, and some sultry vocals about American Love (“At night I wake up with sheets soaking wet and a freight train running through the middle of my head/ Only you can cool my desire/ I’m on fire”). It’s simple, short, and sweet, and almost infinitely replayable. There’s no repeating the chorus five times here. The line “I’m on fire” serves as a refrain that is uttered three times before the song ends and you reset the needle. I don’t know if I’ve ever admired the Boss as a songwriter more than at this moment, listening to this song ten times in a row on a Monday morning. It’s a track that’s so good that it can even make those dated synths sound relevant. I’m a believer. B-Side “Johnny Bye Bye” is a short, low key reimagining of Chuck Berry’s “Bye Bye Johnny” that replaces the departure of Johnny B Goode with the death of Elvis Presley. It’s an exemplary b-side: it’s soulful and stands on its own and would make the album from whose sessions it was culled falter a little bit. This is an excellent single for staying up late and flipping through records with your beloved. Sometimes Jenny and I will do that. We’ll hang out up in the loft, she’ll say “what’s this?” and I’ll play a track. For me, that’s the point of owning records. It’s the thrill of discovering what you own, the songs you keep because they’re just that goddamn good and it’s the only way you know how to truly appreciate outstanding music.