In the day we sweat it out on the streets....
Released August 1975
Recorded at The Record Plant, New York City
Running time 39:23
This was Bruce Springsteen’s shot at the big time, after more years gigging than people may have thought and a couple of impressive but not particularly well-known albums. He saw this as pretty much his last chance at meaningful success. Together with producer Jon Landau and the newly-revamped E St Band in to the line up that was the most well-known, he merged a full-on “wall of sound” musical backdrop with his romantic, optimistic yet at times fatalistic lyrics. His songs were often character-driven - “street operas”, featuring an array of names like “Magic Rat”, “Barefoot Girl” and various other non-nickname ones but heavily featured, such as “Mary”, "Wendy", "Terry" and “Eddie”. The imagery in his songs was almost cinematic. You could see the characters, feel the “soft summer rain”. It really was a masterful piece of work. Hard to know how it could be bettered, certainly musically and lyrically.
It was painstaking in its creation, however, with Springsteen frustrated at his "having sounds in his head that he just could not explain to the members of the band". He brought in Jon Landau as producer, a relationship that would continue on after this, and this helped, and the final product would seem to be pretty much perfect, apart from possibly one thing - the sound.
Despite all the album's many good points, the reproduced sound quality, (as opposed to the actual music) however, has always let the album down slightly in my opinion. It is, however many remasters are done, always somewhat muffled and tinny. For some, though, therein lies its appeal, almost like a “back to mono” thing. I would just like to have heard it sound better, although I appreciate now that will never happen.
1. Thunder Road
2. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
5. Born To Run
6. She's The One
7. Meeting Across The River
Thunder Road is a candidate for Bruce Springsteen’s most iconic song of all time (yes, that includes Born To Run). This five minute slice of sweeping hymnal majesty sees killer lyrics meshing with a huge piano, harmonica and saxophone backing, and, (for one of the only times in rock music), a glockenspiel, a sound that just blows one away. “It’s a town full of losers and we’re pulling out of here to win”. Indeed.
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out is an inspirational, Stax-influenced slab of rock and soul that describes the initial meeting between Springsteen and saxophonist Clarence Clemons - “the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band”. A concert favourite for many years, with its singalong horn parts proving ideal in that respect.
Night - this song's machine gun drum attack ushers in this frantic “wall of sound” rocker that tells of a blue collar working guy waiting for his weekend night out, a common theme in Springsteen’s mid 70s/early 80s output. "Get to work late and the boss man's giving you hell..." was an archetypal line from this era, working hard all day for the relief of the night. Musically, Clarence Clemons's saxophone dominates the song. It is a relatively short number but it packs one hell of a punch and fits in well with the album's overall ambience. Backstreets - this lengthy, slightly sombre number is a bleak organ and guitar driven lament and a final climax repeats the line “hiding on the backstreets” many, many times. It doesn’t detract from it though, and the song is most evocative and atmospheric - the line "sleeping in that old abandoned beach house, getting wasted in the heat..." perfectly exemplifies it.
Born To Run - now we get the "one everyone knows". No introduction needed. Session drummer ’s rattling drum introduction sends us speeding down the freeway in search of a “runaway American dream” with Wendy in the passenger seat. The youthful optimism of Born To Run lives forever. We will always know that love is wild and love is real.
She's The One is an infectious, shuffling Bo Diddley/“Mona” groove backs the album’s most obviously romantic track. It contains a supreme saxophone solo from Clarence Clemons at the end. The atmospheric Meeting Across The River provides a distinct change in mood. Jazzy trumpet backs a mournful Springsteen vocal concerning the tribulations of a small time criminal and his hope he will “throw that money on the bed”. This is the often-forgotten song of the album and makes for an interesting listen because of it.
Finally, the album ends with a true Bruce classic, Jungleland. It is the album’s A Day In The Life. A monumental closer, an atmospheric slow-building piano intro, a great guitar solo and Clemons’ extended jazzy saxophone solo before Springsteen’s poetic finale. "The poets down here don't write nothing at all" - an overblown lyric in many ways, but all of these type of lines just suit this album perfectly.
A nod to the iconic nature of the cover too. Unbelievable as it sounds, in 1975, a white man and a black man together in friendship on the cover was not a regular occurrence.
In comparison with most of Springsteen's other albums there were only two songs recorded during the sessions for this album that didn't make it, they were:-
Linda Let Me Be The One is one of my absolute favourite Springsteen non-album "rejects". It is a marvellous piece of Spectoresque majesty, with an infectious Be My Baby beat and piano refrain. It is a street romance song about characters Linda and Eddie, the sort of thing he did so well in this period, with lyrics about "the midnight boys", "angels in defeat" and "empty homes and broken hearts". I love everything about it and feel that it would have made an idea addition to the album, after She's The One, maybe.
So Young And In Love was a vibrant, saxophone-driven rock 'n' roller with a bit of a funky soul guitar line underpinning it. Clarence Clemons's saxophone roars out throughout the song and the feel is a bit like that heard on The E St Shuffle, but much faster, with shades of Kitty's Back too. Max Weinberg's drums pound and roll all the way along. It is a lively, fun number, possibly too much so for a final inclusion on the album.
The clip below sees Bruce and the band performing "Thunder Road" from 1976.