In Hear This, The A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week: Songs our families made us listen to repeatedly.
Bruce Springsteen, Badlands (1978)
My mom has solid taste in music, something I didn’t appreciate but benefited from greatly growing up. She started taking my twin and me to concerts when we were in middle school, highlights including Elvis Costello, Tom Petty, and Bob Dylan—all artists I like and respect now, but didn’t necessarily stack up as better than Good Charlotte when I was 13. But the crowning voice of my childhood was Bruce Springsteen, whether I liked it or not—his were the songs my mother played repeatedly, and his concerts were the ones she (awesomely and daringly) pulled us out of school for days at a time to see.
I’m going to see Springsteen in Boston on his upcoming tour, and I’m stoked—but I wasn’t always a fan. It might be the inevitable consequence of his voice comprising most of the soundtrack to my childhood, with one of my earliest memories being the dance parties my mom used to throw in our living room, probably to both listen to her favorite music and to tire us out. My sister, younger brother, and I would flail around the house, jumping from the couch to the coffee table and back, until one of us clunked our head on the wall or a corner and halted the fun. “Badlands” sticks out particularly strongly here, which makes sense: It’s one of the fastest, most danceable songs to put on for kids to rock out to.
But come puberty and moodiness and discovering my own music—my sister and I favored Dropkick Murphys over The Boss in those days—made me absolutely loathe the music (any music, really) my mother put on in those pre-iPod and -earbud days. Car rides were the worst: I remember alternating songs, each person in the car choosing their own in rotation, but my mom’s unending bootleg collection meant Springsteen’s already longer-than-average songs could be stretched out to eternity for a teenager. “Badlands,” I now know, is an awesome song to see live, with Springsteen digging into the angsty, dark lyrics, often with accompanying organ not in the original recording from ’78’s Darkness On The Edge Of Town. Best of all is how he extends the song to allow the audience additional “ooo-ooo-oooh”s. But 10 years ago, it meant an extended torture-fest for my siblings and me.
Of course, in high school I’d confine myself to my room to play records on the player I stole from the family room, one of which included “Badlands,” because I couldn’t pretend to hate the song for long. It actually is a great anthem for a moody teenager, or anyone who feels the discontent of youth or poverty, or struggles against the circumstances they’re born in or forced into. “Working ’neath the wheels / ’Til you get your facts learned / Baby, I got my facts / Learned real good right now” certainly spoke to angsty teenage Caity, and a different set of lines—“Poor man wanna be rich / Rich man wanna be king / And a king ain’t satisfied / ’Til he rules everything” sure still speaks to me now. I can’t be certain I wouldn’t have fallen for Springsteen regardless of my mother’s musical tastes. But in this case, playing a song on repeat had the best outcome she could’ve hoped for, which will be on full display when she sees her old favorite live with the kids who used to roll their eyes all the way through “Badlands.”