As Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band prepare for the second of two nights at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, in the Garden State, we pause and acknowledge the most prominent Jewish member of the Boss’ crew (and I don’t mean longtime producer/Svengali Jon Landau): Max Weinberg. Last week, in Philadelphia, the drummer (who also led the house band on Conan O’Brien’s show for many years) toured the National Museum of American Jewish History. He also gave a great interview to the Forward.
Weinberg has been the prime drummer on eight Springsteen studio albums, including most of your favorites (Born to Run, Born in the U.S.A., Darkness on the Edge of Town, The Rising) as well as a couple seminal live ones (Live/1975-85, chiefly). Drums in Springsteen songs and concerts are not showy; they keep the beat and add to the bombast. It means Weinberg is rarely the focus of attention, but it also means that, more than anybody else performing, he can’t afford to screw up, even slightly. Forthwith: the ten best Bruce songs for Max Weinberg!
Update: It was pointed out to me that “Born to Run” is the one track with drums on Born to Run that Weinberg didn’t play on. Replacing the studio version with a live one.
10: “Born to Run” (live)—maybe the only prominent Springsteen song that begins exclusively with drumming, it also is the one that owes the greatest debt to Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” techniques, which means the drumming has to be very loud indeed.
9: “I’m Going Down” (studio)—another great opening.
8: “Radio Nowhere” (studio)—the drums are essential to driving this relatively recent single through.
7: “Because the Night” (live)—the 10,000 Maniacs hit was actually written by Bruce and Patti Smith, and played only live. Weinberg really builds into the chorus.
6: “Out in the Street” (studio)—low-key, with some hints of range.
5: “Sandy” (live)—proves he can do slow and dramatic just as well as fast and sharp.
4: “Candy’s Room” (live)—Weinberg actually did record the studio version, too, but the live one is better, and perhaps more than any other record showcases his range.
3: “Rosalita” (live)—antic, wonderful madness.
2: “Born in the U.S.A.” (studio)—yes, unbelievably simple. But every hit has to be exactly right, or the entire song falls apart. Plus, if you wait til the end, he does let it rip.
1: “Badlands” (live)—Same as above, except the drumming’s even more important and trickier. And as much as that’s true of the studio version, it’s even more true of the seminal live one.
Q&A: Max Weinberg on Springsteen and Conan [Forward The Arty Semite]
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.