July 19, 2016

BORN TO BE MILD:

INTERVIEW / 'I said to myself, what's wrong with Israel? Why haven't you gone there?' :Why Springsteen never made another album like 'Born to Run,' and other questions only Mike Appel can answerThe Boss largely stopped pushing music's boundaries after his epic third album, which happened to be around the time he fell out, spectacularly, with his original manager. Coincidence? (DAVID HOROVITZ July 19, 2016, Times of Israel)

The Times of Israel. I'm so glad this finally worked out... The truth is I'm no different to tens of millions of people around the world who love Bruce Springsteen's music. I bought Born to Run when I was 14. And I just loved it. And I was interested to meet with you because I don't think he ever equaled that third album, and you were obviously pretty central to that period of his life, and I wanted to ask you a few things about it, and him, and you.

So, first of all, the songs on that album, are almost operatic in ambition -- epic.

Mike Appel: Yes, absolutely.

And I would argue that he never really did that again. There are some amazing songs since, but much more formulaic. That post-Born to Run transition from wild poetry and drama to much more conventional songwriting was a bit of a loss, [...]

But to get back to Bruce, and if he had aspirations to be, let's use a name, Elvis Presley, if that was his idol, somehow, if he wanted to be that big... That stardom is what he wanted. Deep down, that's what he wanted.

You have to want it, and you have to want it badly, to put up with all the hell that goes with being a star. There is a lot of hell that goes with it. Your life is not your own anymore. It's not so easy to be a star and be friendly to everybody, and be what everybody expects you to be on the one day that they're at your concert. Not easy.

But, in any case, that was always there. Yet, here he is coming with these songs that are Dylanesque, if you will. We recorded the first album (1973's Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.) with Dylan more in mind than Elvis, for sure. And then we did the second album (The Wild, the Innocent...), and then it kind of grew. Artistically it grew. Musically it grew. But we still had not given in to Elvis Presley, to any Elvis Presley leanings.

Then he says to me, when we're coming home from Richmond, Virginia, one night -- he's in the back seat of the car; I'm driving. He says, hey Mike, you know what I want to do? I wanna utilize Phil Spector's production values in music, with my lyrics. I said, Well, if you look at the number of words on a Phil Spector recording, there's maybe 30 words in the whole song. You have 130, on every song. So, for you to pare down your lyrics to the point where you can actually be doing musical production values, something's gotta give here. I don't know how you're going to do that.

Next thing I know, he says, I've got a new song. I was doing the sound at Swarthmore College. And it was an outdoor concert. And he and the band played Born to Run for the first time. He asked me what I felt. I said, well, I could understand the guitar, but I really couldn't hear what we were going to do with it, or anything like that yet. He said, alright, well, let's take it to the studio and see how it turns out.

Then he turns to me and says, do you know how Phil Spector made his records - what techniques he used to make the Wall of Sound? I said, yes, I do. I said, do you remember Jimmy Cretecos? Jimmy used to be my partner. He was my partner through the second album, but not the third album.


Jimmy, I said, used to be very close with a kid who was starring in Hair at the time, Robin MacNamara. And Robin MacNamara had a record deal with Jeff Barry. And Jeff Barry of course, wrote Da Doo Ron Ron and so many of the Phil Spector recordings and hits. So Jeff was very familiar with the techniques that Phil used. He was at a million sessions. In the control room a thousand times. Out in the studio with other musicians. And he learned how Phil made his Wall of Sound. I said, Jimmy imparted all of that information to me because Jimmy got it from Jeff. He's oh, that's great. So then we started utilizing these techniques.

When we got into the record just a little bit, especially once we got Clarence (Clemons') saxophones on, you got that "Ahhhhhh, dada-dada-da" (Appel hums the percussive intro of Born to Run), you got that Da Doo Ron Ron sound right away. And he said, oh jeez, yeah. It is starting to sort of work.

Then I said to myself, what about all his lyrics? We haven't concentrated on any lyrics yet. I haven't heard him sing a word. I don't even know how the song goes anymore. But I'm hearing the music. And he's just directing the band out there in the studio.

I said, why don't you give me kind of a rough vocal, see how these lyrics are ever going to work? It doesn't have to be a final take. We'll do it a hundred times. Just do it, so I'll have a notion. So he does. He goes through the whole damn song and it's not that many words. It's okay. It works somehow. It's like Phil Spector meets Bruce Springsteen.

We had a great engineer, Louis Lahav.

Israeli. Suki's husband.

He was great... So, we're going through the record and one night I remember distinctly the bleating of the horns and the power of the entire track disappeared. It was very late, like 4 in the morning, and I'd been up since 8 a.m. And I said, stop, stop, stop. So Louis stops the machines. I said, why am I not liking this track anymore? What is happening? So Bruce answers. Bruce rats out Louis. He says, Louis is turning up the reverb and he's washing the saxophones out. I said, is that what you're doing? There was no guts, no grit, no impact. I said, turn the reverb completely off. Now we'll start again. And the minute I heard it again, I said, thank god. Once that happened, we were on our way again.

So you did manage to produce a record that was true to all of the wild poetry -- more disciplined than the first two albums, but still, it had that operatic sensibility.

Yes, it did.

And that did set him on the way to Elvis-style stardom.

Yes, it did.

And yet he never really made another record as epic.

No. And by epic you have to include the definition of how important the lyrics were, up through that third album. After that, the lyrics became more plain, more direct. Not that he never had a great line afterwards... Like Brilliant Disguise.

But the lyrics were more disciplined and the song structures were much more disciplined.

Absolutely.

Because?

Because (of Springsteen's subsequent and still manager) Jon Landau, as well as Bruce... Deep down, Bruce needs to be coaxed. But if whatever you're trying to coax out of him is in him anyway, then you're going to hit paydirt. Because he's going to do what he wants to do anyway in the end. And that's what he wanted to do, what he wanted to be: He wanted to have hit songs on the radio. He didn't want to be some obscure, poetic character strumming his guitar in the forest. He really wanted to be center stage, be a star. That's what he wanted, and that's what he got.

Posted by at July 19, 2016 4:06 PM

  

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