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Verse Chorus Verse: Bruce Springsteen, Nashville, TN | Nov. 18, 2009

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Last night brought my two-year journey with the E Street Band to an end. I began this road — well as a traveling fan — in April of 2008 in Atlanta, Georgia. Six shows later, I said goodbye to the E Street Band in Nashville, Tennessee last night. I don't know if last night was the end of the road for the E Street Band, but there is no denying that feeling was in the air and on the stage. Maybe they'll just take a break. That's what they've said and it might be true. They may not have even decided, but you can tell it has dawned on them they might be playing — including last night — their final three shows together.

It's been one hell of a ride, filled with highlights and lowlights. As a public service to the mouthbreathers and sycophants incapable or unwilling to understand the complex capabilities of the human mind to love something while simultaneously subjecting it to honest criticism, I'll save that for the end so your precious eyes can skip over it. It's the holiday season and I'm a giver. Let's get to it.

I want to begin with the Main Event of the night, Born to Run in its entirety. I saw them do it less than a month ago so while I was excited about this portion of the show, I had lowered my anticipation just slightly. Big mistake. It was phenomenal, and I was wrong to expect anything less. In my defense, I didn't think it was going to suck. I knew it wouldn't. I'd just seem them do it and the memories were fresh. It was as good as I remembered and, in some cases, better.

"Thunder Road" was played very well by the band. You might think this a given for a crack band playing a song they've played for 35 years. It's not always great. It was last night. Bruce rushed his delivery on the vocal and wasn't quite in sync, but it was still a thrilling rendition. My wife isn't a Nick Hornby type, so she doesn't run around with Top 5 and Top 10 lists for every musical moment but if she did, I know "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" would be there for Springsteen songs. I've heard it at more shows than I haven't, but I love this song and it was performed with energy. I've seen Bruce hit the knee drop as the song begins with a little more intensity, but they've been on the road for three years and he's 60. That he can do it at all puts him miles in front of me.

The revelation for me on this night was "Night." I heard it for the first time in St. Louis and I was glad to finally get it. Last night's performance was much crisper than in St. Louis. It wasn't bad that night. It was just better in Nashville.

"Backstreets" deserves its own paragraph. Let me start with the unimportant: the St. Louis performance was probably slightly better, but only by a slim margin. I don't know if this anguished tale of friendship lost and betrayal is real or imagined, but it is authentic and visceral every time Springsteen sings it and it feels like it just happened yesterday. I have enjoyed the Springsteen shows I saw prior to hearing "Backstreets" these last two times, but I have to say it feels in one sense like you haven't seen the E Street Band until you've heard them do "Backstreets." There's something in that song that can only be found in that song. It had gravitational pull.

I'm not going to say much about "Born to Run" because, similar to "Thunder Road," there's not much left to be said. It is simply one of the great songs in rock and roll history and last night's performance was characteristically strong. I've heard "She's the One" performed at every show I've seen, and it's always great. The Atlanta performance from earlier this year is the definitive one for me, but these guys hit it every time. "Meeting Across The River" is probably my least favorite song on Born to Run, but the two live performances of it in the last month have helped it grow on me. Bruce had more control of the vocal in Nashville than St. Louis, and the scoped-down sound gave the song a jazzy sophistication.

Ah, "Jungleland." I've gone over 600 words already and I could spend 600 more words just talking about this song. I won't, but I could. I'm sure if I thought long and hard I could compile a list, but I'm ready to call it. Clarence Clemons' saxophone solo in "Jungleland" is the finest saxophone solo in the history of rock. That sweeping, stirring moment fills the arena and it has the power to stop space and time. Of all Springsteen's epics, "Jungleland" may well be his greatest.

So let's backtrack to the beginning of the show. I'll admit I was nervous when the first two songs in Nashville were identical to the first two songs in St. Louis, but he quickly took a hard left turn as he rolled out "Trapped." The only quibble I have with "Trapped" is that he's played it at three of the six shows I've attended but I know how rare that is. "Trapped" is a rarity for a huge swatch of Springsteen fans. I just happen to have pulled the "Trapped" card more than most. I enjoyed it and was thankful to see him shaking things up in the intro block that proceeds the full-album performance.

He wasn't done shaking things up. It never even dawned on me that he'd play "Something In The Night." I recognized that glorious, dramatic intro immediately and instantly started to lose my shit. I've never heard it before and I can't imagine it being much better. The performance was intense and warm.

The least surprising moments of the night were sign requests for "Santa Claus is Coming To Town" and "Ring of Fire" (I said they were unsurprising, I didn't say they were bad. I promise I'll warn you before I get to the complaints). "Santa" rocked and while it wasn't what I wanted, even my Grinch ass couldn't help but get carried away by the fun of it. "Ring of Fire" worked nicely because Curt Ramm was there to provide the trumpet. Bruce made sure he knew the riff before they launched into it. It was a bit ragged but they pulled it off.

The same holds true for "Two Hearts." I love it when Bruce and "Little" Steven Van Zandt ham it up on stage. My preferred song for this would have been "Ramrod," but I'd never heard "Two Hearts" live before and it was fun and he and Stevie were having a ball. "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)" was more of the Bruce-n-Stevie show. Some may not find that as fun as I, but Stevie and I were enjoying ourselves.

*** PSA: It's now time for the airing of grievances. If you don't want to read it, please skip to the conclusion. ***

Let's quickly dispense with a couple repeated refrains. First, "Waiting On A Sunny Day" sucks. It's the retarded cousin of "Hungry Heart." It sucks and it sucks hard and hearing nervous little kids sing it off-key isn't charming, it's embarrassing. Get a lap, Bruce. Speaking of "Hungry Heart," it should be a highlight but it's not because Bruce crowdsurfs instead of singing it. It was cute the first few times, but crowdsurfing is cliche. Take a lap.

Three songs from The Rising are still getting played every night, and only one of them is a good one. "The Rising" is a great song that could stand to be occasionally rotated out of the lineup. "Lonesome Day" shouldn't be played half as often as it is. We've already covered "Sunny." To put it another way, he plays more songs from The Rising than he does from Magic and Working On A Dream combined. Kill "Lonesome Day" and bring back "Radio Nowhere."

Now it's time to talk about the sign requests. There are some audience members who better lace them up, because you're running with Bruce. Someone brought a sign — I shit you not — for "The Rising." I can count on one hand the number of times "The Rising" hasn't been played since it was released in 2002. Bringing a sign for that is like going to McDonalds and hoping they have Big Macs. You're an idiot. Get a lap. Someone down in the front row brought a sign for "My Hometown" and held it in plain view where Bruce might have actually seen it! I thought the Supreme Court said you can't yell "Fire!" in a crowded building, but that's what "My Hometown" is. Few songs send people to the beer lines faster than "My Hometown." It's a health hazard. Get a lap! My personal favorite was the sign for "Outlaw Pete," a song in the Bottom 10 of Springsteen's catalog. It took months, but even Bruce finally gave up on selling us on that one. That's a lap in Hell for you, buddy, and these are the signs he didn't play!

Now let's talk about the one he did. "Darlington County." Darlington nutcrunch County. It's a good thing I don't know who brought that sign, because one of us at least one of us would have gone to the ER and then I would have gone to jail. They would have needed a police escort. A lap? No. Just run. Run. Keep running until I say stop. Oh, and Bruce? You passed two signs for "Thundercrack" to pick one up for "Darlington County?" A kick in the crotch, is what. Add two more. Making matters worse, he brings up a half dozen women wearing glittery, pink cowboy hats to dance. It was like Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burned. I don't know which embarrassed me more: these women or the fuckin' kid. That is the fastest my ass has ever transitioned from an upright to a seated position in my life. Get a lap!

What makes "Darlington" even more hurtful is that he picked up a sign for "Pink Cadillac" and ignored it. Bruce, you have six women in sparkly pink hats and a pink sign for "Pink Cadillac." Do I have to draw the line for you? Judas Priest! That would have been a game-changer! As it was, I went 0-20 on my Top 20 list. There were some songs I'd never gotten before and some I quite enjoyed, but for the first time not a single song from my wish list went off the board. To get so close to one of the rarer songs on that list only to be served up "Darlington" is soul crushing.

What can I say about the encore? "No Surrender?" Not so much, because I give up. The fifth time in six shows for a song that would be marginal on a Bon Jovi greatest hits record. It's not one of Bruce's Top 50. It wasn't a single. I don't think it holds any particularly special meaning for the broader audience. When Marcus Allen complained to Raiders' owner Al Davis that he wasn't getting enough carries in games, Al told him he could carry the ball around the block. It gets even better, though, because he went right into "Bobby Jean." It was like one of those Bill Murray movies where he suddenly snaps and starts laughing maniacally. I am incapable of expressing just how exasperated, frustrated, and angry this 1-2 punch made me. My wife, like many of you, having heard 11 hold court on that particular song many times had tears of laughter streaming down her face. I was as close to speechless as I get. I should make him take a lap for each song, but the entertainment my wife got at our expense is worth something. One will do.

The encore is supposed to be the pinnacle of a show. Look at the encore and explain to me how this functions as a high point:

Ring of Fire
No Surrender
Bobby Jean
American Land (with Curt Ramm)
Dancing in the Dark
Rosalita (with Curt Ramm)
Higher and Higher (with Curt Ramm)

You have two covers. I know, I'm the only guy who wants Bruce Springsteen songs at a Bruce Springsteen show. I don't care. He doesn't have any songs of his own worth playing in an encore? Both were good — although "Higher and Higher" lasted about five minutes longer than it needed to — but that's going to cost him two laps. "American Land" is a song from an album that undersold Working On A Dream (the special edition of The Seeger Sessions). Michael Flatley wouldn't allow that song in a Riverdance revival. Take a lap. Two (bad) album cuts from Born In The U.S.A. aren't qualified for the main set, let alone the encore. I take back what I said earlier. That's another lap apiece. That leaves us with two legitimate encore-worthy songs: "Rosie" and "Dancing In The Dark." He's wrong for that.

*** PSA: Most sycophants and mouthbreathers will find the remainder of this article safe. ***

So where does that leave us? When you put it all on the scale — the good, the bad, the undefinable — the good outweighs the bad, and by a wide margin. There were hits, misses, surprises, and predictable warhorses sprinkled throughout the set. The band was energetic and sounded fantastic as they played some of the finest songs in the Springsteen catalog.

At different points throughout the night, there was a sense they were trying to tell us something without really saying it. I'm not suggesting this is the end of the road for them, but they seemed not to just be thanking fans for coming out last night but rather for coming out night after night, year after year. I came to the party late, but I went "all in" from the moment I arrived.

Sure, I had moments of frustration and flew into a blinding, all-consuming rage a time or two. The source of these sporadic tantrums is my eternal love for the music of Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band. I have friends who have been seeing these shows for years and I've heard the stories of legendary concerts and transcendent, life-changing experiences and I just wanted to touch the garment for myself. I expected more because I wasn't there hoping for greatness; I expected it and every minute he wasted on lesser material — his own or someone else's — was a missed opportunity and as I was reminded on an evening in Kansas City, we don't know how many more opportunities we're going to have. I wouldn't get so crazy if I didn't care. Maybe my passion is misguided. I know it's been misunderstood.

I expected greatness because I knew he was capable of giving it and I can say without reservation I was in the presence of greatness last night for the better part of three hours.

Wrecking Ball
Seeds
Trapped
Something in the Night
Hungry Heart
Working on a Dream
Thunder Road
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out (with Curt Ramm)
Night
Backstreets
Born to Run
She's the One
Meeting Across the River (with Curt Ramm)
Jungleland
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
Santa Claus is Comin' to Town
Two Hearts
Darlington County
You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
Lonesome Day
The Rising
Badlands
* * *
Ring of Fire
No Surrender
Bobby Jean
American Land (with Curt Ramm)
Dancing in the Dark
Rosalita (with Curt Ramm)
Higher and Higher (with Curt Ramm)

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About Josh Hathaway

  • http://willkillforfood.com Lisa McKay

    You know how I feel about setlist complaints, and yet I found myself laughing pretty much through this whole piece (okay, and maybe nodding in agreement a little). Nicely done, Josh.

    The one show I truly regret missing was The River at MSG, which sounds like it must have been simply amazing.

  • Josh Hathaway

    Aww, thanks, Lisa. I appreciate the slight agreement and the laughs. It was one hell of a night.

    11 actually went as far as to check the airfare — and I can’t emphasize how much he does not fly — for Wild, Innocent night because he’s been stalking “Incident” his entire adult life. Mark Sahm and S.Rod told me I should have come and stayed with them in CT and gone to a show at MSG rather than traveling to Missouri. Let’s keep this our little secret but they might have been right.

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    looks like a fun show.

    p.s. me and my fellow-mouthbreather wife enjoy Waiting On A Sunny Day

  • Josh Hathaway

    Liking “WOASD” isn’t what makes you a mouthbreather, Mark. Now get a lap.

  • http://www.bigeventhomerental.org John Adams

    Wow, I have been seeing Bruce since before he was on the cover of Time and Newsweek, best show ever: Nashville. It made Bonnaroo show pale in comparison. Yes, I like Josh have seen him many times since 1974. I thought the highlights were the covers: Ring of Fire and Higher and Hihger were awesome. It was anice tip of the hat to Nashville which had many empty seats on the upper level. Playing the old album from the seventies when he was “a young man music” as Bruce says was not the best moment and maybe after a few cool songs from the album he played a few that were never great and should have never been done. More people went for a beer during this part of the show. He showed how much he has grown as an artist. I loved the Rising and wish he would have done “you’re missing” or the songs from the Divorce album Tunnel of Love. Or that song called Human touch. I also liked the fact that his sulking pissed off wife was not there and Stevie got more male bonding time. Josh while your blood was boiling he did announce that they were planning to do more “shows next year”–maybe you were puking when he did his take (Better than the Johnny Cash version, of Ring of Fire. Questions: When did Patty get the boot? The addition of the tumpet was really good. Maybe Paul McCartney should levarn from Bruce–do the horns and strings with humans and not some plastic keyboard. Did anyone go to to Roberts Western World after to see Nils join Harry Fontana for Peggy Sue and La Bamba? Awesome. Anyway, Josh you need to take ten laps. You just sound miserable, have you been to a Phish or Black Eyed Peas concerts lately? Finally, the Little Girl Singing was nice touch. I think Bruce is better than ever. Best show of the year and beat the SF and TN Bonaroo show. Prediction: Burce will get a divorce and use that to write some new songs–he desrves to be with a super model now. I just hope it is not one of Billy Joel’s ex’s.

  • http://www.bigeventhomerental.org John Adams

    Yes, I too loved “Waiting for a Sunny Day” I just wonder why he didn’t do more ballads like Phil or “You’re Missing or Reno. By the way, do others think that the shows are better without uptight Patty? Maybe its all the smoking she does with Clarence bettween songs?

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

    Nice review Josh…and much more balanced than I expected. Thank you.

    I wish I’d been there. Just so you know, according to Rolling Stone, the E Street Band is not breaking up, but rather taking a much deserved hiatus. Even Clarence has too many ex-wives to afford a lay-off, according to Steve. LOL…

    Also according to the article, Next on the horizon is a WOAD tour DVD, and the long-awaited Darkness box.

    So you and your joined-at-the-hip pal 11 can rest easy — there should plenty more setlists to bitch about in about two years.

    -Glen

  • http://www.cnnsi.com Herb Lauder

    Josh–You went to the wrong concert in Nashville. Its not about bitterness and anger that you but joy, hope and love. You just missed the message. You got to play tribute to the greats and honor them with newly arranged covers–Check out Higher and Higher on Youtube. Wow. Anyway, here is the review from the local newspaer in Nashville along with comeents made by others who attended and saw the show–like me, the author and the comments thought it was one of the best shows ever. I was wondering before I provide the attched link? We know that Patti fell off the horse she rode on (get it?) last April in Boston but what was the excuse in Nashville? I agree the show was much better without her. She just gives these ice cold stares to BS and seems thousand miles away from NJ divorce lawyers. So here is the link

  • 11

    I see that two of my favorite subsets of BruceFan have joined us here. We have ‘I Always Hated Patti And Now Bruce Does Too And Their Marriage Is A Sham Guy’ and ‘Bruce And The E-Street Band Are Immortal And Will Play Forver And Ever And Ever Guy.’

    Josh didn’t say these are the last shows; he said they could be. As an aside, Bruce has said nothing about any future shows being played, next year or any other time. He did imply that they would be back ‘ina little while,’ but who knows? No one. They are going to be away for a while at least.

    Anything can happen to 10 60-year-olds in three years. They may be back. I hope they will be, but to say there isn’t at least a 50-50 shot that this is the last full-scale ESB tour is just denial.

    Now for Patti: Patti has not toured regularly with the band since the first part of the Magic Tour. I think there are a couple of reasons for that. Patti was treated extremely rudely by a bunch of mysogonistic mouthbreathers who are convinced that they would be out cruising for chicks with Bruce if only the old ball and chain weren’t around. Bruce tried dueting with Patti on her ‘A Town Called Heartbreak’ and 20,000 of Bruce’s closest friends responded by hitting the head at the start of the song without even giving it — or Patti — a chance. She has been scarce since. I think the two are related.

    Also, let’s face it: As a member of the band, Patti is a luxery, but not a necessity. The Springsteens have three kids. They need a mom more than the ESB needs a hot, red-headed backup singer/fourth guitar player.

    Patti and Bruce have been spotted together many times out socially since she stopped touring reguarly and since the ‘affair’ rumors popped up. She played the MSG shows and a couple of the GS shows. They are together. They are going to be together until they aren’t.

    Plain and simple, Patti loves Bruce, Bruce loves Patti, and people need to deal with it. It’s been 20 years people. Accept it.

    Also, one day, the ESB will be no more, and Bruce is going to be on to the next thing, permantly. If you can’t handle either fact, keep your old records, put them on and cry, and feel free to get off ‘this train (get it?)’ at any stop.

  • Amanda

    LOL! I’m enjoying this. Thanks, Josh, 11, JOHN and others. My big regret, having traveled from south of Huntsville, AL, for our first overnight away from our 3-year-old son (and both of us, um, “around” age 50; this was actually my DH’s anniversary present to me this year), and having been in love with Bruce’s music for over 30 years? Not managing to make a sign I’d envisioned, something like “Our 3-year-old loves RADIO NOWHERE and GIRLS IN THEIR SUMMER CLOTHES,” because those would have made the night super-complete for us. (We hear those songs in most waking moments as well as in our sleep, because he is OBSESSED with them now. And he sings them WAY better than that 9-year-old sang “Sunny Day”… Sorry, but the curmudgeonliness is catching, you see? ;-D)) We were closer than we’d ever been (I’ve only been to 5 concerts, alas), about 10 people between us and the back of “the pit,” and about 5 people away from his final crowdsurfing moment. The one song I didn’t know was “Trapped.” (?!?) I wish they’d done a few from Tunnel of Love, Human Touch/Lucky Town, and Magic, but as my DH says, when you commit to performing an entire album (and what a treat that was, truly), that’s a big chunk of time. We loved the Irish jig, Higher and Higher, Night, Something in the Night, The Rising, and, well,most everything.
    I thought “No Surrender” with the sentimental photomontage of the band’s long history was nice, and it felt very elegiac, like a real swan song. :-( I agree about “Sunny Day,” Josh, but hey, Bruce is the great democratic rock-poet, heir to Whitman, Dylan and others, so the little tone-pitch girl up there was an example of his egalitarianism, I guess. (I think his having all the instruments drop out and letting her go acapella was a sort of wry joke, underlining that philosophy… but yeah, I’d have MUCH preferred another song. RADIO NOWHERE, for pete’s sakes, would have been divine, IMHO. ;-))

  • Curly

    I guess since we probably attend a lot of the same shows it makes sense that I also feel like I am a magnet for Trapped. However, I loved the version in Nashville unlike in Atlanta earlier this year when I let myself get slightly disappointed that it was one of the sign requests.

  • Jonathan Frapart

    I have seen Springsteen 7 times during the Magic/working on a dream tour. Just from your review, I can tell we’ve been to many of the same shows (Atlanta, Nashville, St. Louis). I enjoyed your analysis, but had some thoughts on your criticism. In regards to song choices like Bobby Jean, No Surrender, and Darlington County, I think there are two things you need to consider.

    First, Springsteen tends to understand his crowds. As you could tell by the many empty seats, Nashville is not a Springsteen hot spot. Hence, it would make sense for him to play songs with greater commercial appeal. Even though I rarely listen to it, there is a reason why Born in the U.S.A. holds the record (along with Thriller) for the most top ten singles on one album (7). While a crowd in the east coast or Cleveland may relish the opportunity to hear Thundercrack or Zero and Blind Terry, I believe Springsteen knew a song like Darlington County would resonate at this particular show.

    May second point is that in your condemnation of some of his song choices, you fail to consider the context of the show. This is ironic in that much of your articles touches on the palpable finality seen in the band at this point in the tour. When Steve Van Zandt left the E-Street band in 1984, Springsteen wrote “Bobby Jean” as a way to thank Stevie for his friendship and tell him that he supported the decision. Currently, as they are on the verge of going their separate ways for the first time in over two years, the E-Street band would seem to be having many of the same feelings as depicted in Bobby Jean. Sentimental about their friendship, but also wanting the best for one another in the future. Hence, “Good luck goodbye. Bobby Jean.”

  • http://www.bigeventhomerental.org John Adams

    These last two posts were excellent. I just felt sorry for Josh since he seemed so miserable from the Nashville concert and he acted like he just attended NIN concert. All the greats whether it is Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash, Billy Joel (just kidding!) and Stevie Wonder honor the fathers and mothers of blues, rock, gospel, and country. Most of the time it is a risk but it is a humble way of both saluting and showing that sometimes it even better than the original. In the case of Bruce Springsteen he did it better–Ring of Fire and Higher and Higher. Another comment about up and coming bands, good ones do covers and the ones who don’t should take a lap. Five days later I still have that WOW feeling from the concert! I mean Bruce is even better with age than the 70’s , 80’s and 90’s and without Patti givng those cold stares to him on stage and not kissing him at Bonaroo when he asked for it. Even afater that show Patti would not hang with him–it was just Bruce and his son attening the late night shows like Band of Horses etc. By the way, Bruce off stage is a super nice guy along with his son. Josh please take a couple of laps and please dont’ watch the BS show on HBO next Sunday night–he plays a lot of covers in that show. Best Wishes,

  • http://www.cnnsi.com Herb Lauder

    The song “Trapped” is about a famous rock star who wants other women to have sex with but he feels trapped in a marriage with a wife that has not aged well. Its a song about yearning. I think that Tiger had this on the ipod or maybe it was Will Smith. Anyway, loved the Nashville show. I just wish the NJ hottie behind me did not have to leave to go back stage. She told me her name was Tinka and she was staying at Dolly Parton’s place. By the way, I hung out with the base player at a show and noticed he had a big bald spot and like “magic” he now has a hair piece and cosmetic surgery. Hey the trumpet player was great. OK the Santa’s coming to town is getting a big old too. How come that little guitar player, Lofgren, is not doing his tumbling act anymore? I mean his contract states he gets $500 bonus for doing that. Finally, does the violin player have a boyfriend and what about the sparks on stage between her and Clarence? One more thing, I just wish that Bruce brought up Dolly Parton to sing “Trapped” Or “Let’s Get Physical” Oh yeah now that would be awesome.One more thing, I noticed the organ player shaved his head and waxed it. Comon get a hair piece, a tat, and some rock and roll clothes. Anyway, Bruce you were great but next time start on time not 45 minutes late. Finally, Bruce should have said something about the crisis in Sudan and made a plea make a donation. One more thing, Hey Bruce you were great. Next time make the screens bigger for us folks with bad eyes. Finally, if you decide to fire anyone from the band, I would do the following: Clarence might be too old to blow those high notes, Patty, OK she is already gone, Lofgren since he refuses to take a tumble for the band, the organ player is kind of a show-off the way he used his hands and feet at he same time, and maybe the show should just last 90 minutes instead of 3 and half hours. How about a warm up band like My Mornign Jacket or Tower of Power. In fact maybe they should back up Bruce. Anyway, I love you Bruce but not like a gay guy would like you but hey you are my hero.

  • jemimallah

    found this after googling “waiting on a sunny day sucks” to illustrate to someone that this was a widely held belief. this was the only hit, but as a hit its a damn big one. cheers