What is it about reaching their 70s that makes great songwriters want to sing old songs they didn’t write? Paul McCartney reached backwards to pre-Beatles music and released an album of mostly Tin Pan Alley ditties, slipping in a couple of originals in the same style, in 2012, the year he turned 70. Bob Dylan took up crooning vintage standards associated with Frank Sinatra for the first of several albums in this vein when he was 73, in 2015. Now Bruce Springsteen, at 73, has offered up a new album consisting wholly of covers of soul-music songs from his younger days.
The music in all three of these cases is infused with the artists’ pleasure in doing something they had never gotten around to—or perhaps had felt they couldn’t or shouldn’t do—when they were younger. Exercising the privilege of age, with nothing left to prove or lose, they are singing what they feel like and have ended up expressing dimensions of themselves that hadn’t come through so potently in music of their own authorship. All three reveal qualities of gentleness and unpretentiousness; a kindness toward the creative world of their elders, now that they have become elders too; and a pride in showing what they can still do in a life stage of diminishing physical resources. With Springsteen alone, though, there seems to be something else in the music: He seems to be reminding us that he’s younger and asserting that he’s cooler than the rest. He decided to do covers, but his covers aren’t songs of his grandparents’ time or easy-listening radio; he’s doing mostly Black music from the postwar era of Motown and Philly soul. He’s not just crossing generational lines; he’s crossing lines of color. That’s how cool he is, even as a septuagenarian white guy.
The album, Only the Strong Survive, presents Springsteen as the lead singer on a selection of 15 songs, most of them from the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. The curation is a nicely balanced, not-too-showy work of connoisseurship. It includes six numbers from the Motown labels as well as two titles from the writer-producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff of Philadelphia International, the soul-music power center likely within AM-radio range of Springsteen’s boyhood hometown in New Jersey. It also features former Top 40 hits such as Tyrone Davis’s “Turn Back the Hands of Time” and the Four Tops’ “When She Was My …read more
Source:: The Atlantic – Best of