Bruce Springsteen Part Two
Bruce Springsteen Part Two, maybe long, but what the heck, it’s Springsteen, that I’m typing about.
1972–1974: Initial struggle for success
Springsteen was signed to Columbia Records in 1972 by Clive Davis, after havinginitially piqued the interest of John Hammond, who had signed Bob Dylan to thesame label a decade earlier. Despite the expectations of Columbia Records‘executives that Springsteen would record an acoustic album, he brought many of his New Jersey-based colleagues into the studio with him, thus forming the E StreetBand (although it would not be formally named for several months). His debut album‘Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., released in January 1973, established him as a critical favorite though sales were slow.
Because of Springsteen‘s lyrical poeticism and folk rock-rooted music exemplified on tracks like “Blinded by the Light“ and “For You“, as well as the Columbia and Hammond connections, critics initially compared Springsteen to Bob Dylan. “He sings with a freshness and urgency I haven’t heard since I was rocked by ‘Like a Rolling Stone‘“ wrote Crawdaddy magazine editor Peter Knobler in Springsteen‘s first interview/profile in March 1973. Photographs for that original profile were taken by Ed Gallucci. Crawdaddy discovered Springsteen in the rock press and was his earliest champion. Knobler profiled him in Crawdaddy three times, in 1973, 1975 and 1978. (Springsteen and the E Street Band acknowledged the magazine‘s support by giving a private performance at the Crawdaddy 10th Anniversary Party in New York City in June 1976.) Music critic Lester Bangs wrote in Creem in 1975 that when Springsteen‘s first album was released “… many of us dismissed it: he wrote like Bob Dylan and Van Morrison, sang like Van Morrison and Robbie Robertson, and led a band that sounded like Van Morrison‘s“. The track “Spirit in the Night“ especially showed Morrison‘s influence, while “Lost in the Flood“ was the first of many portraits of Vietnam veterans, and “Growin‘ Up“, his first take on the recurring theme of adolescence.
In September 1973, Springsteen‘s second album The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle was released, again to critical acclaim but no commercial success. Springsteen‘s songs became grander in form and scope, with the E Street Band providing a less folksy, more R&B vibe, and the lyrics often romanticized teenage street life. “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)“ and “Incident on 57th Street“would become fan favorites, and the long, rousing “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)“continues to rank among Springsteen‘s most beloved concert numbers.
In the May 22, 1974 issue of Boston‘s The Real Paper music critic Jon Landauwrote, after seeing a performance at the Harvard Square Theater, “I saw rock androll future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen. And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time.“Landau helped to finish the epic new album Born to Run and subsequently became Springsteen‘s manager and producer. Given an enormous budget in a last-ditch effort at a commercially viable record, Springsteen became bogged down inthe recording process while striving for a “Wall of Sound“ production. But when his manager, Mike Appel, orchestrated the release of an early mix of “Born to Run“to nearly a dozen radio stations, anticipation built toward the album‘s release.
The album took more than 14 months to record, with six months spent on the song “Born to Run“. During this time, Springsteen battled with anger and frustration over the album, saying he heard “sounds in his head“ that he could not explain to the others in the studio. It was during a recording session of “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out“, on July 13, 1975, that Steve Van Zandt was asked by Springsteen and Jon Landau to take charge and instruct the horn players. They both knew he was playing guitar and managing Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, who had the sound they were looking for. Van Zandt “sang each horn player his part, with the lines, the timing and the inflection all perfect. The musicians played their parts, and the horns were recorded. When they ‘d finished, Springsteen turned to Mike Appel. “Okay,“ he said. “It‘s time to put the boy on the payroll. I‘ve been meaning to tell you— he‘s the new guitar player.“ Van Zandt joined the E Street Band a week later on July 20, the opening night of the Born To Run tour. He also helped Springsteen perfect “Born to Run“ by adding its memorable guitar line. In the 2005 documentary Wings for Wheels, Springsteen called his friend‘s input on the track “arguably Steve‘s greatest contribution to my music.“
The album was completed on July 25, but at the end of the grueling recording sessions Springsteen was not satisfied, and upon first hearing the finished album, threw it into the alley; another master was so bad that Bruce flung it out of his hotel room window and into a river. He was going to scrap half of it, he told Appel, and substitute live recordings from upcoming dates at The Bottom Line inNew York (a place he often played).
1975– 1983: Breakthrough
On August 13, 1975, Springsteen and the E Street Band began a five-night, 10-showstand at New York‘s The Bottom Line club. This attracted major media attention and was broadcast live on WNEW-FM. (Decades later, Rolling Stone magazine would name the stand as one of the 50 Moments That Changed Rock and Roll.) Oklahoma Cityrock radio station WKY, in association with Carson Attractions, staged an experimental promotional event that resulted in a sold out house at the (6,000 seat) Civic Center Music Hall.
Born to Run was released on August 25, 1975. It proved to be a breakthrough album that catapulted Springsteen to worldwide fame. The album peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, and while reception at US top 40 radio outlets for the album‘s two singles was not overwhelming (” Born to Run” reached a modest No. 23 on the Billboard charts, and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” peaked at No. 83), almost every track on the album received album-oriented rock airplay, especially “Born to Run“, “Thunder Road“, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” and“Jungleland”, all of which remain perennial favorites on many classic rock stations.
Springsteen appeared on the covers of both Time and Newsweek in the same week, on October 27 of that year. So great did the wave of publicity become that he eventually rebelled against it during his first venture overseas, tearing down promotional posters before a concert appearance in London.
Springsteen and the E Street Band, 1977
A legal battle with former manager Mike Appel kept Springsteen out of the studio for nearly a year, during which time he kept the E Street Band together through extensive touring across the U.S. Despite the optimistic fervor with which he often performed, Springsteen’s new songs sounded more somber than much of his previous work. Reaching settlement with Appel in 1977, Springsteen returned to the studio, and the subsequent sessions produced Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978 ). Musically, this album was a turning point in Springsteen’s career. Gone were the raw, rapid-fire lyrics, outsized characters, and long, multi-part musical compositions of the first three albums; the songs were leaner and more carefully drawn and began to reflect Springsteen’s growing intellectual and political awareness. The cross-country 1978 tour to promote the album would become legendary for the intensity and length of its shows.
By the late 1970s, Springsteen had earned a reputation in the pop world as a songwriter whose material could provide hits for other bands. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band had achieved a US No. 1 pop hit with a heavily rearranged version of Greetings‘ “Blinded by the Light” in early 1977. Patti Smith reached No. 13 with her take on Springsteen’s unreleased “Because the Night” (with revised lyrics by Smith) in 1978, while The Pointer Sisters hit No. 2 in 1979 with Springsteen’s also unreleased “Fire“. Between 1976-1978, Springsteen provided four compositions to Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, including “The Fever” and “Hearts of Stone“, and collaborated on four more with Steven Van Zandt, producer of their first three albums.
In September 1979, Springsteen and the E Street Band joined the Musicians United for Safe Energy anti-nuclear power collective at Madison Square Garden for two nights, playing an abbreviated set while premiering two songs from his upcoming album. The subsequent No Nukes live album, as well as the following summer‘s NoNukes documentary film, represented the first official recordings and footage of Springsteen’s fabled live act, as well as Springsteen’s first tentative dip into political involvement.
Springsteen continued to focus on working-class life with the 20-song double album The River in 1980, which included an intentionally paradoxical range of material from good-time party rockers to emotionally intense ballads, and finally yielded his first hit Top Ten single as a performer, “Hungry Heart“. Like the previous two albums, musical styles on The River were derived largely from rock‘n’ roll music of the 50s and 60s, but with a more explicit pop-rock sound than earlier albums. This is apparent in the adoption of Eighties pop-rock hallmarks like the reverberating-tenor drums, very basic percussion/guitar and repetitive lyrics apparent in many of the tracks. The title song pointed to Springsteen’s intellectual direction, while a couple of the lesser-known tracks presaged his musical direction. The album sold well, becoming his first No. 1 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart, and a long tour in 1980 and 1981 followed, which included Springsteen’s first extended tour of Europe and ending with a series of multi-night arena stands in major cities in the United States.
The River was followed in 1982 by the stark solo acoustic Nebraska. Recording sessions had been held to expand on a demo tape Springsteen had made at his home on a simple, low-tech four-track tape deck. However, during the recording process Springsteen and producer Jon Landau realized the songs worked better as solo acoustic numbers than full band renditions and the original demo tape was released as the album. Although the recordings of the E Street Band were shelved, other songs from these sessions would later be released, including “Born in the U.S.A”and “Glory Days“. According to the Marsh biographies, Springsteen was depressed when he wrote this material, and the result is a brutal depiction of American life. While Nebraska did not sell as well as Springsteen’s three previous albums, it garnered widespread critical praise (including being named “Album of the Year” by Rolling Stone magazine‘s critics) and influenced later works by other major artists, including U2’s album The Joshua Tree. Springsteen did not tour in conjunction with Nebraska’s release.