I’m not sure if I’ve ever officially commented on “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” by Bruce Springsteen on this site, so let me do that right now: It’s one of my favorite songs of all time, if not my favorite.
I also think that the studio version is more or less perfect, unassailable. There’s so much going on in each of the exciting, perfectly balanced performances. Bruce sings with infectious energy, but also a slyness that adds a compelling layer to the song. He can waver between ironic and sincere in a single syllable.
So that raises a question: What about the live version? I love the song, and it’s known as one of his concert staples and a live fan favorite. So surely I’ll love it, right?
Actually, there’s a lot missing from every live version of the song I’ve listened to. The ambiguous intents of the narrator have more or less disappeared, completely overpowered by the surface layer of the song. The emotional complexity and narrative tension of the lyrics have been drowned in high-energy, boy-meets-girl passion and jamming bliss. Nothing subtle about the live version.
Not that this is all bad. I love a fist-pumping crowd-pleaser as much as the next guy. It’s just not the song I fell in love with, and it sounds like Bruce doesn’t really care about the words he’s singing.
But, in spite of my pretensious loyalty to the original recording, there is a live version that sweeps me away every time. It’s the version off of Live 1975-85, the definitive, official concert album for the most important part of Bruce Springsteen’s career. “Rosalita” is the eleventh of twelve tracks on the first disc of the three-disc compilation. You can listen to it below.
So, how does this live version of Rosie win me over?
Let me count the ways.
- If you couldn’t tell from the title of the post and the title I gave the MP3 link, I love the way he opens the track and shouts “Rosie, come out tonight!” and the crowd goes a little bit nuts. (0:00)
- I love the way that he shouts “You’re the one!” at the end of the first verse and the drums pick up. (1:03)
- I love the way he says “So what’s the big deal?” before the first refrain and then unleashes one of the great aural assaults you’ll hear. (1:49)
- I love the way he holds off saying “…use the door!” even though every one in the audience knows that’s exactly what winners do. I get the chills every time. (2:57)
- I love the riff that precedes the band introductions. You can practically hear the people dancing in the audience. (3:30)
- I don’t think I’ve ever said this before, but I love the band introductions. They might actually be my favorite part of the song. I never skip over them. The best part is the crazy nicknames he has for everyone. I think my favorite nickname is “now you see him now you don’t,” the organ player. (4:01)
- I especially love the way Bruce introduces Clarence. I know it’s stupid because it’s not even part of the music. It’s like the credits to a movie. Who enjoys watching the credits? The whole point of credits is so that the stuff before it is possible. But Bruce’s love for his sax player is obvious, and it transmits. This is important. I love it all: the fan reaction, the pause after Bruce says “last but not least…”, the way nobody is sure whether to respond with “yes” or “no” to the question “Do I have to say his name?”, the many superlatives and specs Bruce shares (“master of the universe”), the way you can practically see in your head the whole thing transpire on stage as Big Man gets the spotlight. It’s all fantastic, and for some reason I feel like it’s a window into what’s so special and mystical about Bruce Springsteen’s best music. Nobody else can introduce a sax player and make you feel something. I actually choked up the first few times I listened to this song after Clarence died, which is weird and stupid because I never met him. But it moved me, and I feel like that’s important in some way. (4:35)
- I love the way the song leaves the band introductions and crescendos and builds for about a minute before climaxing for another minute of musical eupohoria. (5:10)
- I love the chant of “Papa says he knows that I don’t have any money.” It sounds more like a pep cheer than a chain gang song (which was the point of the original, and actually makes thematic sense), but it’s fun to listen to regardless. (7:23)
- I love the lyrics change from “big advance” – which rhymes and, again, makes thematic sense – to “big bucks,” which is probably more accurate. (7:38)
- I love the way Bruce holds back during the second-last stanza. (“There’s a little cafe…”) It’s like the last big breath before the explosion to come. (8:10)
- If Clarence’s intro is my favorite part of the song, the way the band’s shouting leading into the final refrain lasts about ten seconds longer than I should is a close runner-up. You just keep waiting for it to release, and it keeps getting more and more awesome when it doesn’t. (8:27)
- The highly concentrated doses of rocking out during the “hey hey” chant doesn’t really carry much sonically. You have to imagine that you could just feel the reverberations of those drums all across whatever stadium he performed at. (9:09)
- And THAT, folks, is how you end a song. (9:15)
So it may not have the layers that studio original does, but, suffice to say, the live version of “Rosalita” sweeps me away with its sheer force nonetheless.