As you’ve seen online, in print, on TV news and perhaps on a banner being pulled by a small plane while you were at the beach tanning or rusting (your weather and mileage may vary), it was this week forty years ago (!!!) Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run (BTR) and the publicity storm that accompanied him hit the big time.
As a student at Rutgers College, Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, I and the thousands who had seen him, in various incarnations, play The Ledge, a garish and grotesque architectural affront intended as the ‘commuter student’ lounge plunked down on a bank of the Raritan River on one side of the campus, dozens if not hundreds of time before CBS released his first album, Greetings from Asbury Park (how can you not love this?), there was a sense of validation with the success of what was/is his third album, mixed (at least a little) with ‘what’s the hubbub, Bub?’
Both the debut and (still my favorite complete piece of work) his second release, The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle (the joyous noise of Rosalita still drills and thrills me whenever I hear it) were terrific. So they were barely known beyond small sections of the East and West Coast. Heck, both of them got tons of airplay on the Metromedia radio stations in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.
It was that airplay and response to it at WBCN-FM in Boston that helped assure Springsteen and the band’s shows in small venues in the Boss-town and it was there that Jon Landau caught the act, opening for Bonnie Raitt and penned his ecstatic review and endorsement (this is a really good retrospective on that time and space).
BTR is an album of brilliant songs, superlatively performed by musicians fighting for their (commercial) lives. A story has floated for years that the album was the ‘fish or cut bait’ effort for CBS in terms of keeping Springsteen on the label. Seems to have worked out for all concerned (okay, Mike Appel, maybe not so much).
This is a great piece from, for me, slightly unusual place in terms of rock and roll but sometimes it’s the journey and other times the destination and helps highlight that every fan of the album has a favorite song and I am no exception.
Of course, I love the title track, Thunder Road and the audacious scope and scale of Backstreets and the raucous rock and roll of Night and Candy’s Room but for me the song on BTR that holds a special place combines the subtly mordant piano chording of Roy Bittan with the wistful brilliance of Randy Brecker on Meeting Across the River.
All of this album is music from a lifetime ago, not just for me, and I believe sounds as vital today in these times as it did four decades ago when we were all a little more wide-eyed and more inclined to believe there’s magic in the night even for tramps like us.