Released on September 20, 1982
02. Atlantic City
03. Mansion On The Hill
04. Johnny 99
05. Highway Patrolman
06. State Trooper
07. Used Cars
08. Open All Night
09. My Father's House
10. Reason To Believe
The music written and recorded on Nebraska is stark, minimalist and as black and white as the photograph on the CD's front cover. No one saw this type of album coming - not even Springsteen himself. After the great success of The River and Bruce's first top ten hit, Hungry Heart, Springsteen was finally enjoying some financial stability in his life. No one could have predicted that after finishing The River tour, Bruce would sit alone at home and pour his heart and soul into a new, Teac four-track tape deck.
"Nebraska was rock bottom. I came home from the tour, sat down for two months and I wrote the whole thing. I recorded and mixed it in my bedroom and put it on cassette. I always think of it as my most personal record."
Nebraska still stands as Springsteen's most open and honest album. The songs were intended to be demos for the E Street Band to work from. However, the longer rehearsals progressed, the more Bruce was drawn back to his own solitary solo acoustic versions of the songs.
E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg once commented, "It became obvious fairly soon that what Bruce wanted on the record was what he already had on the demo tape. The band, though we played the hell out of them, tender to obscure the starkness and the vide he was going for."
Try as he might, Bruce could never (either solo or with the E Street Band) recreate the mood he had evoked at home that January day in Colts Neck, NJ. "It just seemed to be a mood I was in at the time - I knew I wanted to make a certain type of record, but I certainly didn't plan on making that record."
While this release effectively alienated the new Springsteen 'Hungry Heart Crowd', the music critics loved it. During a time when Reaganism was starting to crush those at the bottom of the economy and synthesizer POP music was king, Nebraska stood out as an extremely fresh, honest and relevant commentary on American society.
The haunting title track is inspired by Terence Malick's movie, Badlands, which chronicles the 1959 Charlie Starkweather killing spree. The opening lines are taken right out of the movie's first scenes. One music critic wrote, "The inherent chill of the album's title song comes from Springsteen's flat vocal, whether telling of the murder of 10 innocent people or the narrator's own death, the vocal remains as cool and unemotional as a traffic report. Nebraska is as flat and barren as the badlands of Eastern Wyoming, the killing fields where Charlie Starkweather and his girl wrought havoc during 1958."
Mansion on the Hill is another track on Nebraska that Springsteen based on a real location that he and his father used to visit while Bruce was growing up. The childhood sense of wonder he must have experienced is maintained during this song. The same blue-collar characters from Springsteen's Factory (from Darkness on the Edge of Town) must be envious as they spill out of work and then drive by the gates that keep them out of the mansion. You can picture them driving by while listening to this rather cinematic track.
Johnny 99 could not have been timed better - it was released just before the Reagan recession hit the USA. Unlike the psychopath speaking to us on the title track, this track provides us with a motivation and a very relevant story. Unemployment, frustration, foreclosure, robbery, attempted murder, and a probable public execution are all on offer this time. Ralph, the song's main character, accepts his sentencing from the judge but anticipates worse. He now knows things will never get any better.
The record's last track, Reason to Believe, is an ambiguous song about faith. One wonders if Springsteen is mocking people's desire to believe, or is he envying it? Reason to Believe . . . that was the bottom. I would hope not to be in that particular place ever again. It was a thing where all of my ideas might have been working musically, but they were failing me personally."