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VCV: Roy Bittan’s Greatest Hits

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Today we wish E Street Band pianist Roy Bittan a happy 61st birthday.  I rarely pass up an opportunity to discuss and listen to the E Street Band, so let’s revisit a few moments from the band’s past that feature the master work of The Professor, Roy Bittan.

Like so much of E Street folklore, there are multiple stories that purport to explain how it is Bittan came to be known as The Professor.  Bruce and Roy have both told different stories. They either don’t remember the real story or aren’t going to tell it.  Either is possible but Springsteen still introduces him that way night after night on stage, where he shines.;

Today’s Professor playlist isn’t ‘The Definitive Roy Bittan.’  These are a few highlights from his career, some personal favorites of mine.  Do you have a favorite?  Jump in with both feet in the comments section.  Let’s wish Roy Bittan a happy birthday while reveling in his contributions to one of rock’s best discographies.

“Jungleland:”  When I think of Roy Bittan and his place in the E Street Band, I think of the piano intro to “Jungleland.”  I’ve been privileged to hear this song in concert on multiple occasions and there’s nothing quite like the thrill of hearing the delicate, intricate opening as well as the majestic, dramatic passages throughout the song.  That’s at the core of Bittan as a player.  He’s not a honky tonker or a boogie woogie sort.  He can dabble with those but it’s the flair for the dramatic that makes him the invaluable piece of the E Street Band.

“Thunder Road:”  Did someone say flair for the dramatic?  How about the intro to this song?  “Thunder Road” is considered one of the greatest rock and roll songs of all time and also one of the best songs to open an album.  What are the first things you hear when you queue up Born To Run?  Bruce’s mournful harmonica and Roy’s beautiful piano intro.  It’s one of the most memorable sounds of the past 35 years.

“Something In The Night:”  This is another great, great quintessential Bittan moment and also one I was privileged enough to experience for myself in Nashville back in 2009.  This was among the highlights of that show.  When Springsteen wants to make a bold statement you can usually bet Bittan is going to help him frame it.  

“Because The Night:”  Here’s one that got away.  Springsteen fans know this is a Springsteen tune but there are a lot of listeners who don’t.  It’s never appeared on an E Street Band studio record (debatable when you consider how many overdubs were made on the ‘Live ‘75/85’ box set, but…) and for years went unplayed on Sprinsgteen tours.  Starting with the Magic tour, this one came out more frequently.  I wasn’t lucky enough to get it but again the piano intro from Bittan is unmistakable.

“Tunnel Of Love:” No, not that one.  Bittan had already played on a song of the same name before Springsteen wrote his Tunnel Of Love record, this one from Dire Straits and their Making Movies LP.  Roy’s piano isn’t front and center throughout the song but there are moments early and at the end where you can hear the unmistakable sound of The Professor at work.

Happy birthday, Professor!

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About Josh Hathaway

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    New York City Serenade

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/josh-hathaway Josh Hathaway

    Roy plays that now but I left that and a couple of the good ones from Asbury off the list because he didn’t record them on the ESB records. There are some great ones on those first two records Roy plays now.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    I was thinking of the live version (rarely played as it is). The piano break on Kittys Back would qualify here as well. Not to diss on David Sancious, of course….

    Of the more recent albums, I’d also rate Roy’s piano on Girls In Their Summer Clothes pretty high. Granted, it’s a bit buried in Brendan O’Brien’s mix, but his accents really add to the Spector/Brian Wilson feel of that song.

    -Glen

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/josh-hathaway Josh Hathaway

    Roy didn’t get as many moments to shine on the last three E Street records, owing to largely trimmed down run times and any number of other factors. Either way, when you think of the E Street Band sound, Clarence Clemons’ sax and Roy Bittan’s piano are huge, huge pieces of that.

    Let’s not spoil Roy’s birthday by speaking of Brendan Judas O’Brien…

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Since you brought up Jungleland, I think Backstreets also warrants a mention…

  • 11

    Dancing In The Dark.

    Yeah, I said it. Great melody. And the live version of Atlantic City.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    To add to what you already said in comment #4 though, as an architect of the E Street Band’s sound, I think Roy Bittan is the one guy there who is pretty much indispensable.

    The guys are all great, but Roy is the cornerstone. It’s no coincidence that when Bruce toured with out the E Street Band in ’92 (Human Touch/Lucky Town), Bittan was the one guy who Bruce retained.

    -Glen

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/josh-hathaway Josh Hathaway

    I would put Maximillian in that category. Bruce and Max have had at times a testy relationship but — and I know I haven’t seen him as many times as you, Glen — every time I go watch them, I can hardly take my eyes off him. Having seen he and his talented young son Jay switch seats in the concert, it was audibly different. Jay is a talent and may go on to be a great one, but he’s still learning to be the Jedi Master that his dad is. Roy, Max, and Clarence are the essential trio. Garry is an original so I have a sentimental connection but I don’t think he’s irreplaceable on bass. The other three mean too much to what that band sounds like on stage to be removed.

    “Dancing” is a great melody, no question about it.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Max is a monster, no doubt about that. The only guy I can think of who might be able to pull off replacing him is maybe Kenny Aronoff (another guy who hits the skins really damn hard).

    Unfortunately with Clarence, it’s likely he will be replaced out of necessity on the next ESB tour. Clarence’s role has always been as much Bruce’s onstage foil as it has been his sax solos (which, truth be told, he muffs fairly regularly). But as Bruce’s foil, I’d agree he’ll be hard to replace.

    As for Max, let’s hope that replacing him never becomes a possiblity…

    -Glen

  • Dave Phillips

    I know it’s not an ESB recording but a mention for his work on Bat Out of Hell deserves a mention as one of his greatest hits

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/josh-hathaway Josh Hathaway

    Dave, you’ll get the kudos of my sidekick 11 who worships and adores Bat. I’ve never had a particular love for that record but it’s a rock and roll classic and yes, Roy was instrumental in it. I’m glad you brought it up.

    Clarence has gone and gotten back surgery and says he’s on his way to feeling better. He’s got no original parts left except for that big heart which he channels through that saxophone, so we’ll see how much longer he’s got in him. Aronoff is a great rock drummer and would be a competent replacement but the heart of the E Street Band for me is Bruce, Max, Roy, and C.

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    you’ll get the kudos of my sidekick 11 who worships and adores Bat

    what? yer kiddin’ me!!!? yeesh, i feel woozy….

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Liking Bat Out Of Hell explains a lot…

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    great idea here! uh, there are so many to choose from. i know many fans hate “Factory” (from Darkness) but i’ve always liked the Floyd Cramer-ish lilt of the piano.

    more recently, the intro on Magic‘s “I’ll Work For Your Love” is pretty cool. i happened to listen to a live version of that a couple of days ago. dunno why it didn’t catch on on the tour because it sounded great.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    The piano intro for “Prove it All Night” from the 1978 Darkness tour is also pretty dang sweet. That whole extended intro for that song is something I really hope is part of the Darkness box out later this year. Great stuff.

    -Glen

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/josh-hathaway Josh Hathaway

    Bat is a guilty pleasure but he does love it and Roy’s piano.

    I’ll leave your collective musical sins for another day, going so far as to ignore mention of, say, “Factory.”

  • Glenn

    Roy = my favorite E Street Band member.

    But his best non-Bruce performance? “The Fire Inside.”

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Actually Mark mentioned Factory, Josh. Beyond that, my own musical sins are many and include the likes of Abba and Sir Mix-A-Lot. But, that is a topic best left for another day….

    -Glen

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    sorry, but i don’t even consider “Factory” any kind of sin. growing up when i did, i was steeped in both the blue collar thing (dad actually did work in a factory, ran machine that made ball-bearing parts) and the country-lite thing: Floyd Cramer.

    i remember being surprised when first hearing Darkness…that he did a tune with that kind of flavor.

    and as for Bat Out Of Hell, holy smokes…those lyrics make Bon Jovi seem like Dylan.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/josh-hathaway Josh Hathaway

    This is why having certain kinds of discussion with certain people becomes a circular type of jerking motion because certain things don’t matter when certain people bring them up but they do matter when someone else brings them up but only if certain people want them to.

    I’ve got no problem with songs about blue collar life. My dad worked in a foundry, blacksmith shop, and all sorts of other things along the way. Bruce has written many odes to the blue collar working men and some of them were actually songs. “Factory” happens to not be one of them.

  • 11

    Uh, before you BruceFans start hating on Bat Out Of Hell too much, go back and check out a boot from the Working On A Dream Tour, and tell me you can’t sing the chorus to ‘Bat’ along to the intro of ‘No Surrender.’

    As a matter of fact, Meatloaf and Bruce’s epics have a lot more in common than what most of you would like to admit.

    ‘Bat’ is a much better song anyway.

    And by the way, as the son of a blue-collar union worker who literally lost his life to his job, ‘Factory’ blows. Nice sentiment Bruce, but no sir. The twangy version from the Reunion Tour was way better than the clunker on ‘Darkness,’ though.

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    love “Factory”, hate “Bat”.

    even as a no-lyrics person, Steinman’s words stick out to me as an overwrought pile of cliche.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    And Springsteen’s aren’t cliche on “Factory”? Just because my dad worked at a GM plant doesn’t mean that’s not a weak song.

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    yep, they probably are, though the lyrics are never what made me like the song in the first place. actually, that pretty much describes every song i’ve ever liked.

  • Bill Vogegesang

    Wish i could find Roy’s song ‘The Dance” somewhere.

  • Orpheus

    Candy’s Room and I’d Do Anything For Love.

  • Norman

    Just seen this and if you have not seen it find Racing in the Street Live from Hyde Park….the whole band are excellent but Roy is just excellent

  • Clifft437

    Having seen the ESB many times, on the few occasions they play Racing in the Street i find this the most haunting & inspiring of the lot.Big mentions to Backstreets,Hungry Heart& yes Bat out of Hell.