Podcast Spotlight: Bruce Springsteen Sings the Alphabet
For almost five years, friends Rob Carmack and JB Clark have hosted the popular podcast Bruce Springsteen Sings the Alphabet, in which they discuss every officially released Springsteen song in alphabetical order. That’s 368 songs/episodes (and growing). In September 2019, they finished the songs, and they recently wrapped Season 2, which spotlighted Springsteen albums in chronological order up to 2014’s High Hopes.
Season 3 will change things up with a miniseries on the music of Jason Isbell. They will then return to the topic of Bruce, to discuss his three latest albums – Chapter and Verse (the companion album to Springsteen’s autobiography Born to Run), Western Stars, and finally, Letter To You, which is set for an October 23 release.
Bruce Springsteen Sings the Alphabet is the only podcast of its kind. The guys took their inspiration from the alphabetical Beatles podcast AlphaBeatical.
Carmack said the magic of the podcast is that it gives him the opportunity to become conversant on the many great lesser-known songs.
“The goal isn’t that you’ll have one more group of people talking about ‘Thunder Road.’ There’s tons of opinions out there about that,” he said. “The thing that makes it interesting is that you can go deep into the well and find all the B-sides and hidden gems and albums that are underrepresented in the body of work.”
With each song episode, Carmack goes over the basic facts of the recording, such as the release date and personnel. Carmack and Clark then get into the musical and lyrical analysis, discussing lyrical themes and how those themes tie back to the music.
Carmack said he enjoys contextualizing the songs and providing a historical perspective. As a theologian and senior pastor at Collective Church in Roanoke, Texas, Carmack’s specialty is explaining the religious and spiritual themes in Springsteen’s music.
“We’re able to point out when Springsteen’s Catholicism is showing,” he said. “When Springsteen says, ‘Nuns run bald through Vatican halls, pregnant, pleading Immaculate Conception,’ we’re able to say we know what that means. A person who maybe didn’t grow up with a religious education may not be able to reach all the way into the depth of what he’s critiquing.”
Clark, a public relations specialist at the University of Mississippi and a musician, will break down the more technical musical aspects of the songs, such as the instrumentation, time signatures, and production techniques.
Because the podcast has required Clark to listen to every song, he said his perspective on the Springsteen catalog has evolved.
“Now that I’ve heard the subversive text and my third eye is open, I can go back and re-interpret so much of his catalog,” Clark said. “‘Adam Raised a Cain’ is no longer just about guitar solos, it’s about the legacy of pain that we pass on.”
When asked about the lyrical themes in Springsteen’s work, Clark said a major theme is about being a better person and looking inward so that we can better look outward. “We’re better than our demons. We have to appeal to our better angels.”
Currently, 67 Springsteen songs are in the podcast’s “Hall of Fame,” meaning they were rated a perfect 5-out-of-5 by Carmack and Clark. Springsteen’s fourth album, 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, is the only album made up of all top-rated songs.
“Born to Run is the opus of what he was trying to do, and Darkness is his masterpiece,” Clark said. “I think it’s incredible he wrote such an epic, popular, radio-friendly record about depression.”
Fans can support the podcast via Patreon; donors get special access to bonus episodes, newsletters, and other perks. Half of the proceeds go to No Kid Hungry, a non-profit that works to end child hunger in America.
Carmack said 95% of the feedback they’ve gotten from Springsteen fans has been really positive.
Said Clark: “We had no expectations. We’re blown away that this is a thing people care about. We’re blown away that we’re still going and people check on us if we missed a week. I have friends I haven’t met in person who I’m deeply close with because of this podcast.”
To listen to Bruce Springsteen Sings the Alphabet episodes, visit their official site. The show is available on all major podcast platforms.