If power pop fans ever needed a reason to believe in Bruce Springsteen, if only for three minutes and 46 seconds, “Where the Bands Are” is that reason–a balls-to-the-wall power pop number stacked high with electric guitars; punctuating, popping bass; four-and-a-half-to-the-floor drumming, and a catchy chorus with an indelible hook. The split second it kicks off with a single, call-to-arms snare shot and the full band comes right in, you are drawn into another world.
And you already know that world. It’s a world where music consumes you, where you can let it all hang out and show your girl how great it all can be–where you just live for the moment, and the moment is alive.
“Yeah, tonight I wanna break my chains/Somebody break my heart/Somebody shake my brains,” the boy sings. “Downtown there’s something that I wanna hear/There’s a sound, little girl, keeps ringing in my ear,” and that is the sound of the beat, the guitars turned up so loud that the paint is peeling off the walls, the sweat pouring into imagined buckets all around you. It’s the sound of the beat, of the fire inside of you when you’re taking it all in even before you get there. It’s the sound of impassioned singing into microphones–the sound of a power pop rodeo where the crowd is being roped in to feel the heat rising from the stage.
It is the quintessential mind over matter trick that heightened sensitivity plays on you when you’re knee-deep in the thick of it. It is the best you can do–the only thing you can do–when two worlds come together as one. “Tonight I wanna feel the beat of the crowd/And when I tell you that I love you/I wanna have to shout it out loud/Shout it out loud” is the cry in the night. Your arm is holding your partner tight as the singer is bringing the both of you into his world.
You know the score. You know why you’re in that club or that bar. You know why you’re dressed to the nines and impressing your partner as the music plays and the electricity is pulsing through you. You know why you’re there. “I wanna be where the bands are,” you shout. “I wanna be where the bands are…” And here comes the power pop version of a Greek chorus: “Where the bands are…” and you answer: “I wanna be where the bands are.”
Springsteen is remembering what moved him in the first place when, in his early days, he wanted to be right there in the center of the action with his girl by his side while those beautiful notes were flying freely throughout the space, drawing him in and getting him to sing along with the chorus that he will never, ever be able to get out of his head. “I wanna be where the bands are,” he sings out loud, shouting, reaching for the stage and wishing he were on it.
Recorded in 1979, “Where the Bands Are,” a song that, like many Springsteen numbers, had floated around in collector’s circles for years before seeing legitimate release on the Boss’s Tracks collection in 1998, is an anthem quite unlike the other anthems he had recorded. It is an anthem drawn purposefully for the boys and girls of the live music nation, the people who gather together to celebrate the feelings that move them.
“Where the Bands Are” is a song that moves in straight-ahead, upbeat fashion. It reveres the hook all the way through. It invites the constant head bob whether or not you can hold to the beat. The drums take charge. The saxophone punctuates. The guitars rock and roll with the best of them. It’s impossible to forget the melody, even if you’ve only heard it once. It gets in there and becomes part of your DNA. Really, you’d be powerless to stop it.
“I wanna be where the bands are,” Bruce proclaims just before the song comes to an end. It’s a tremendous song and a tremendous power pop record and it speaks to the heart of the matter–that the music that speaks to you can move you like nothing else and give you a reason, a reason to believe in the power of the song, in the power of power pop. – Alan Haber