Friday, 20 September 2019

Bruce Springsteen - The River Extras

The price you pay....



Bruce Springsteen's late 1979/early to mid 1980 sessions for The River album produced mountains of unused tracks. The double album was originally intended to be a ten track single release. The first ten tracks below were those chosen. It would have been an ok album, but certainly not as good as the eventual double release and also would have suffered in comparison to its illustrious predecessor, Darkness On The Edge Of Town.


The original selections for "The River" album:-

1. The Ties That Bind (1979)
2. Cindy (1979)
3. Hungry Heart (1980)
4. Stolen Car (1980)
5. Be True (1980)
6. The River (1979)
7. You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch) (1979)
8. The Price You Pay (1979)
9. I Wanna Marry You (1979/1980)
10. Loose Ends (1979)

The "River" sessions previously unreleased tracks:-

11. Meet Me In The City (1979)
12. The Man Who Got Away (1979)
13. Little White Lies (1979)
14. The Time That Never Was (1979)
15. Night Fire (1979)
16. Whitetown (1980)
17. Chain Lightning (1979/1980)
18. Party Lights (1979)
19. Paradise By The "C" (1978)
20. Stray Bullet (1980)
21. Mr. Outside  (1980)

"River" sessions tracks that previously appeared on the "Tracks" box set:-

22. Roulette (1980)
23. Restless Nights (1980)
24. Where The Bands Are (1979)
25. Dollhouse (1979)
26. Living On The Edge Of The World (1979)
27. Take 'Em As They Come (1980)
28. Ricky Wants A Man Of Her Own (1979)
29. I Wanna Be With You (1979)
30. Mary Lou (1979)
31. Held Up Without A Gun (1980)
32. From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come) (1979)

The Ties That Bind

Apart from a few vocal inflections this sounds pretty much like the version that eventually appeared on the album. To my ears, this version sounds a bit bassier, but maybe that is just me.

Cindy is a mid-pace romantic number with echoes of Buddy Holly and a Crickets-style guitar solo. It is not particularly special and doesn't really merit inclusion on the eventual album. Hungry Heart sounds very similar to the final version, if not exactly the same.

Stolen Car

This is here in its longer, and in my view superior version, full of delicious piano and big, heavy bass. Springsteen's vocal is great on this, gently backed by a fetching accordion from Danny Federici. The bit near the end when you just get his vocal, keyboards and piano for a while is wonderful. Garry Tallent's bass dominates and rightly so. This would have been one of the original album's centrepoints, one we all would have talked about, however, the version that appeared on the double album was only half as good as this one.

Be True is an infectious, lively rocker that eventually appeared as the 'b' side of Sherry Darling. This version seems slightly different to that one. It has a less strong vocal. The 'b' side version appears on the Tracks box set. It is a track that deserved to be on the double album, in place of material like Crush On You or I'm A Rocker, for me.

The River is not much different. Again, it seems to have a warmer bass line.

A track that is considerably different, though, is You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch) which is far more rockabilly in its rhythm and guitar sound. I prefer this one, it has a loose swing to it. The album's other classic number would have been The Price You Pay, which features here with a completely different second verse to its eventual incarnation. The Spectoresque  I Wanna Marry You is almost identical to the final version.

Loose Ends appeared later on Tracks with a few minor changes. This is another good track inexplicably omitted from the final product.


Then we get the tracks that didn't make either album. A lot of these tracks date from early to mid 1979 and have quite a different feel to them to a lot of the ones from 1980. They are edgier, tougher and more piano-driven.

Meet Me In The City is a lively, piano-driven rocker that has early hints of 2008's Radio Nowhere in places. It was resurrected as a show opener for Springsteen's The River tour in 2016. It has a killer Clarence Clemons saxophone solo. Again, it is a far superior song to some of those rockers that appeared on The RiverThe Man Who Got Away is a pounding, drum-powered number with similarities to "Roulette". It contains some Elvis Costello & The Attractions-style organ breaks.

The fast -paced rocker, Little White Lies sounds a lot like Graham Parker, who Springsteen was recording with at around the same time.

The Time That Never Was has a big, Spector style drum beat and a mournful Springsteen vocal over a throbbing bass line a sonorous backing vocals. It is a track with potential, but some of the vocal parts are a bit indistinct. A great saxophone solo lifts it high up, however.

Night Fire features Roy Bittan's piano prominently. It is another with that Roulette vibe to it. Very much the sound of Springsteen circa early/mid 1979.

Now we move on to 1980 with Whitetown and you can tell, for there is far more of a River-sound to it, with vague hints of I Wanna Marry You lurking in its otherwise dense-ish melody. This is one of the first songs to find Springsteen trying out his falsetto vocal that he would come to use more in later years.

Chain Lightning starts with a bass riff like Nebraska's State Trooper. The track's menacing, bluesy groove is something quite different to anything else from this period. There are a few bits that sound like 1984's Pink Cadillac. It is a big grinder of a track. Clemons's saxophone is far more beguiling than his usual bullhorn blare.

Party Lights is a return to that jangly Searchers-style guitar-driven rock that featured on The Ties That Bind. Some of the lyrics from Point Blank and vague references to the lyrics of Sherry Darling turn up in here.

Paradise By The "C" is a jaunty rock'n'roll saxophone-powered instrumental that is known to those who bought the "Live 1975-1985" box set, as it was performed on there. From April 1980 is the quietly sad and brooding Stray Bullet, enhanced by some excellent evocative,  jazzy tenor saxophone. The bass/piano/guitar/saxophone bit near the end is superb. This is one of the first sombre songs that Springsteen had done. Iceman and Meeting Across The River being others. Subsequent years would find him doing many more. This was a really good track and should have appeared on an album.

Mr. Outside is the only track that has that raw "demo" acoustic feel to it. It is a lively Paul Simon-esque number that we will never get to hear in a full band version.


On to the songs that previously appeared on TracksRoulette contains some of Max Weinberg's finest rolling drum sounds. It is an intense song about the perils of nuclear power. Restless Nights is a similar song to Loose Ends in some ways, with a strong piano, drum and bass backing. It is pretty typical of Springsteen's 1980 rock output. Danny Federici' s organ solo is excellent. Where The Bands Are is a 1979 out-and-out fun rocker with a bit of a The Ties That Bind feel to it. Clarence Clemons contributes a typically rousing saxophone solo. Another frantic Searchers-riffy rocker is Dollhouse which is absolutely packed full of energy. Similarly ebullient is the very enjoyable Living On The Edge Of The World. Some lyrics appeared later on Nebraska's State Trooper and Open All Night. It is one of Springsteen's fastest tracks, the pace just doesn't let up.

Take 'Em As They Come is a regular pace rocker that has never particularly stuck in my mind. It is in the style as a lot of this material - dominated by its jangly guitar riff and Weinberg's gunshot drum rolls. Ricky Wants A Man Of Her Own is a slightly amusing fast rock 'n' roll number about a teenage girl growing up driven along by some rocking organ and piano. I Wanna Be With You has its origins back in 1977 but finally got properly recorded in 1979. It has a guitar/drum/piano stomping intro that was successfully used as a show opener on the 1999 E St. Band Reunion Tour. Once again, it is a solid song that more than deserved an album place.

Mary Lou is an early version of Be True which doesn't quite flow as cohesively as its eventual replacement. It is still not a bad song, though, and I have always liked it. Held Up Without A Gun is a short, punky rocker that appeared as the 'b' side to the Hungry Heart single. It last just over a minute and is Springsteen's shortest ever song. From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come) is a rockabilly song that Dave Edmunds covered. It is a lively bassy number full of good rockin'.

As I have said before, how some of this material could be rejected is a never-ending mystery. There is some real quality stuff here.