I’m Going Down (1984)
All of the major influences that had been dammed up in the frontal lobes of Bruce Springsteen for decades flooded forth in “I’m Going Down,” recorded in 1982 and finally released in late 1985 as the sixth single off the 1984 album Born In The U.S.A. In the song are the ebullient, swinging Doo-Wop rhythms of artists like Dion. The raucous Philly sound throbs along as typified by Bruce’s sometime collaborator, Gary U.S. Bonds.
New Wave and its children make appearances, most emphatically in the opening guitar riffs: Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl”; “Just What I Needed” and “My Best Friend’s Girl” by The Cars, and Elvis Costello’s “Less Than Zero.” Speaking of Elvis, the other guy by that name has stomped his blue suedes all over this number, too.
“I’m Going Down” from The Boss’s Born In The U.S.A. album
Springsteen’s ability to work within the great Rock tradition but still expand its boundaries is one of his greatest gifts. The sentiments and changing production values of “Down” spring out at us, but the old songs held sway over Springsteen strongly in this period.
Dion’s “Lovers Who Wander”
Check the sax in “New Orleans” by Gary U.S. Bond
Listen to the opening of “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield
In fact, the lyrical thrust of “I’m Going Down” draws on the subtext that was present in all of the honeymoon-in-June songs from the ’50s. It’s the aspect of love that cannot be spoken, although Bruce does: boredom.
Ouch. Call me a low-down, no-good, cheating rat, but don’t tell me I bore you. Now that really hurts a lover. And the ennui is expressed in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The shrinking from someone’s touch. (Sexual boredom as well?) The abandonment of old pastimes and routines. And that look in another’s eyes.
We sit in the car
Outside your house you’re quiet
I can feel the heat coming ’round
I go to put my arm around you
And you give me a look
Like I’m way out of bounds
Well lately when I look into your eyes
I’m going down, down, down, down
The music behind these fears so suddenly realized is scandalously upbeat. Hey, guys, this is a funeral!
The bottom is robust, drums piercing, bass deep and resonant. There is a “happy organ” playing like a circus calliope in the background. Little Steven’s guitar is fluid, forceful, and aside from Springsteen’s petitioning voice, it is the main source of the angst in “I’m Going Down.”
By the time the third and final verse rolls around, the petition has become more of a counterattack. “What more can I do for this person?” The narrator is pissed he’s become a big fat bore:
I pull you close now baby
But when we kiss I can feel a doubt
I remember back when we started
My kisses used to turn you inside out
I used to drive you to work in the morning
Friday night I’d drive you all around
You used to love to drive me wild
But lately girl you get your kicks
From just driving me down
Beyond question, the wailing saxophone bits by stalwart Clarence Clemons is the most inscrutable musical component of the song. It is at turns happy-feet dance music, a sound that protests against the whims of the universe, and a song that says “I’d like to give you a boot in the backside.”
By the end of the song, which closes with a long (1:20) instrumental bash covered by Springsteen’s Doo Wop scat singing, the band’s collective hair is on fire. Blazing. It’s fitting and just that there are lyrics in “I’m Going Down” that relate this:
We get dressed up and we go out, baby, for the night
We come home early burning burning in some fire fight
The Beatles, as is their wont, make their vast influence known via an appearance of the rhythmic clapping lifted from “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” There are a number of false stops, during which you think the song is over, only to hear it kick up into high gear again.
Roy Bittan’s piano playing is just the right pick-me-up for this job. He tinkles high, he pounds, he struts on the keys.
In review, though, it is the voice of The Boss in some of the best singing of his whole career that takes the song into the high peaks of Rock-N-Roll’s DNA mountains. He’s working hard with the band (essentially The E Streeters), and instead of riding above with the vocals, he seems part of the whole composition.
A keeper for all time. Although there’s a downbeat message, you can rock any night away with this killer.
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- In Nashville in 2008, Bruce said “I’m Going Down” is “One of my most insightful songs about men and women.” He laughed when he said it. Make of that what you will.
- Frank Black & The Catholics do a creditable cover. All Neo-Punk and stripped down as a dumped lover.
Also by Bruce Springsteen on SongMango.com:
- The Promised LandHow about a national anthem that’s easy to sing, one that makes you stand up without being told to?
- Thunder Road“Thunder Road” very well may be the greatest Rock-N-Roll song of the 1970s and one of the greatest Rock songs of all time.
- Hungry HeartWe are all very much alone in the spiritual sense and the soul's hunger is part of our condition as humans.