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Springsteen’s Nebraska Turns 30

Bruce Springsteen Nebraska cover
Columbia Records

Bruce Springsteen’s minimalist masterpiece Nebraska turned 30 yesterday.

The album, released Jan. 3, 1982, was a major departure from the vibrant, full-bodied E Street Band sound. Springsteen recorded the album on a four-track portable cassette recorder, delivering sparse, acoustic arrangements that included only acoustic and electric guitar, harmonica, mandolin, organ and light percussion.

Lyrically, the album cuts present stark images of the poor and working class in America. Springsteen would later explain that the work of author/historian Howard Zinn, specifically A People’s History of the United States, would serve as inspiration for the songs. Whether it’s his laid-off auto worker turned drunken gunman in “Johnny 99″ or his own take on Charles Starkweather, a real life teenager who killed 11 along with his teenage girlfriend, on the title track, Springsteen used the album to humanize and romanticize people who lived on the fringe.

The release of Nebraska was met with nearly universal acclaim. The album is frequently featured among lists of popular music’s best albums. It reached number three on the Billboard 200 and had three singles make the charts including “Atlantic City,” “Johnny 99″ and “Open All Night.”

Nebraska is often cited as one of the early predecessors of the indie, lo-fi and college radio style of folk and alternative-country that came to prevalence in the late 1980s and 1990s. Songs from the album are frequently covered by other artists including the legendary Johnny Cash, whose 1983 album Johnny 99 featured covers of both “Johnny 99″ and “Highway Patrolman.”

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