Friday, 1 June 2018

Bruce Springsteen - The Wild, The Innocent & The E St Shuffle (1973)

Goodnight it's alright Jane....

  

Released November 1973

Recorded at 914 Sound Studios, New York City

Running time 46:47

For many people, myself included, this album, from 1973, is up there as one of their favourite Bruce Springsteen albums.

After the somewhat half-cooked debut of 1973's Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. This saw a bit of a shift from verbose Dylanesque semi-folky stuff to more wide-ranging influences creeping in - rock n roll, Phil Spector, Stax & Atlantic funk, Latin rhythms. However, Bruce still looks like a cross between Al Pacino's "Serpico" and Gil Scott-Heron on the cover. I remember seeing this album as I leafed through albums in my local record shop as a teenager in 1974 and thinking it was a laid-back "hippy" rock album and dismissing it in favour of the pompadour/glamorous images displayed on the covers of albums by Bowie, Roxy Music and Cockney Rebel. It would be another four years before I would be entranced by it, but when that occurred, it did so, big time. I got into it after Born To Run and Darkness as my liking for Springsteen really took off. 

TRACK LISTING

1. The E. St Shuffle
2. Sandy (4th Of July, Asbury Park)
3. Kitty's Back
4. Wild Billy's Circus Story
5. Incident On 57th Street
6. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
7. New York City Serenade                                

This album featured the first line-up of the E St. Band by the way, featuring drummer Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez and keyboardist David Sancious. No Max Weinberg or Roy Bittan as yet. Consequently, the sound is not quite the E St. sound of subsequent years. Lopez's drumming has a rolling gait to it that differs a lot to Weinberg's powerful thump and Sancious's keyboards are inventive and maybe a bit lighter than Bittan's. 

The first track, The E St. Shuffle  is a funky number, featuring wah-wah guitar, congas and a street soul feel. It is one of those songs that is almost impossible to categorise. Sandy is a classic Springsteen dramatic ballad, packed full of atmosphere, that perfectly evokes the boardwalk summer life of Asbury Park. Its low key but melodic guitar opening sees Springsteen developing the impressive guitar style that would serve him so well over subsequent years.

Next up is Kitty's Back, an extended piece of jazzy rock with a riff that surely Boz Scaggs "borrowed" on 1977's Lido Shuffle. Again, it starts with some searing guitar from Springsteen. The album's oddity is Wild Billy's Circus Story, a rather sad tale featuring various circus characters backed by bassist Garry Tallent playing the tuba.

The old "side two" is magnificent, possible best side of music Springsteen ever recorded. Three tracks flowing into each other - the street romance of Incident On 57th Street between "Spanish Johnny" and "Puerto Rican Jane" two of those characters Springsteen delighted in creating in this era. Springsteen's guitar as the track ends is a delight, as indeed it is all the way through the track. The bit where the music stops and you get these lines is classic early Springsteen -

"...Johnny was sittin' on the fire escape, watchin' the kids play down in the street...he called down "hey little heroes, summer's long, but I guess it ain't very sweet around here anymore...". Janey sleeps in sheets damp with sweat...Johnny sits up alone and watches her dream on, dream on...and the Sister prays for lost souls, then breaks down in the chapel after everyone's gone..."

That is early Springsteen encapsulated in one block of verse - the heat of the summer, the forlorn hope, the false street "heroism", the hope, the dreams, all topped off with a bit of Catholicism too. 

Then, as if it couldn't get any better, we get the tour de force that is Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), a frenetic, Latin-influenced stormer of a rock track that is still a concert favourite. The part where Incident... suddenly becomes Rosalita as the guitar kicks in is simply magical. I remember seeing him perform this on The Old Grey Whistle Test and being just blown away.

Finally comes the jazz-tinged epic of New York City Serenade. There is a fair case for the latter track being the finest piece of music Springsteen ever composed. For me, this is the the summery, street romanticism that serves as the very essence of Bruce Springsteen.  I could make a fair case for this being his best ever album, even over Born To Run or Darkness. There is a slight imperfection to its instrumentation and recordings, clunky piano pedals clearly audible at times, but there is a loose, enthusiastic, excitable energy that you could almost say was never truly caught on record again. Seven impressive and different tracks that make this a completely unique album within the Springsteen canon.

It is just a pleasure from beginning to end. Well remastered by the experienced Bob Ludwig. Give me this over Born In The USA any day.

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Below is the legendary clip of Springsteen singing "Rosalita". 




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