Sparks Fly On E Street: Bruce Springsteen, "Johnny 99" (1982)

When I first heard “Johnny 99,” it was the driving, almost rockabilly bent to Bruce’s guitar that drew me in. But it was the combination of such upbeat music with a truly nasty story (unemloyment, murder, imprisonment…basically, a life unhinged) that made me pick up the needle and drop it back for another listen. Was it my first experience with ironic juxtaposition of styles? Probably not, but since I hardly ever paid attention to song lyrics back then, this surely made me conscious of the phenomenon.

These days, Bruce amps up the irony by playing “Johnny 99″ as a glorious rock & roll rave-up. Yeah, it might be an awful story, but in the telling, there’s a whole lotta fun to be had. Just check out this version from night #1 at Fenway Park. The horns just push it over the top.

Next up: Highway Patrolman

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.