Southside Johnny should have become an icon, a stadium-filler, and a rock god in the 35 years since Hearts of Stone. The Jukes were formed by Steve Van Zandt, known to many as sideman to Bruce Springsteen and a regular in The Sopranos, who formulated the intricate horn arrangements and solid rhythmic backbone of the Jukes provided by fellow E Street band members Max Weinberg, Gary Talent and the ‘Miami Horns’. The connections with Springsteen don’t end there, with ‘the boss’ offering song-writing responsibilities to a number of tracks having been a childhood friend of Southside in his hometown of Freehold, NJ.
The album has often been described as ‘the one that Springsteen should have written’. What Hearts of Stone offers, however, is a much more soulful and heartfelt approach to proceedings in terms of musical production, lyrical content and the stylistic influences that Van Zandt fed into the backing band he had assembled. From the pounding intro of ‘Got To Be A Better Way Home’ to the lyrical bass line ‘Hearts of Stone’ accompanying the fragile vocals of ‘Light Don’t Shine’, each song feels like an old friend with a sort of personal identity which is overrun by the anthemic qualities of much of Springsteen’s work making for a much more intimate offering.
Hearts of Stone should have been a timeless classic appreciated not just within its time, of its time but of all time. At thirty-seven minutes long it’s a short blast of perfection that has never quite been replicated. Even though the original line-up reunited in 1992 for Better Days, along with the E Street Band members who had gone down in rock-folklore in the intervening years, it was never quite the same.
“It’s over, the light don’t shine no more” Southside sings in the impeccable closing number. The “light” reflects the circumstances in which Hearts of Stone was created and which will probably never be emulated. Hopefully someday it will be appreciated for the soulful perfection it embodies.
Track to download: Trapped Again