Friday, 17 February 2012
Bruce Springsteen: LP’s and Rarities
When I went to see The Boss at Crystal Palace in 2003, I had been a fan for a few years but hadn’t quite listened to the albums enough times to remember everything he had recorded. So whilst I was quite impressed for the first two hours, hearing him do songs for which I couldn’t remember the titles meant it was a solid, rather than excellent, show as far as I was concerned. “Badlands” was quite good though.
However, things ramped up during the encore where everything just seemed noisier, raucous, and ridiculously good fun. When the band launched into the opening bars of “Born To Run”, the greatest song ever recorded in the history of music, I had never experienced anything that powerful at a gig in my life. It was exhilarating, but at the same time, I was nearly in floods of tears of emotion. Listening back to a bootleg I have of the show, I now realise just how incredible that set actually was that night. As regards “Born To Run”, the night I saw him play it, still remains the most incredible four minutes of my life at any gig I have ever been to.
A few years ago, a friend of mine told me about a website that allowed you to download a number of bootlegs every month from their site. It was all a bit “classic rock”, so I ended up with no bootlegs by The Donnas or Chicks, but loads by the Stones and Bruce. Just after I got married, I fell ill with a major bout of (man) flu, and was unable to do much other than lay in bed and try and recover for a fortnight. I ended up listening to these things I had downloaded “en masse”, and by the end, had managed to memorize a lot of these Bruce songs that previously I couldn’t place, as many of the shows dated from the E Street Reunion shows from 1999 onwards, including a number from the very same tour I had seen Springsteen on. The upshot of this was that I became well aware of things like “Light Of Day”, but still struggled to remember quite which album these things were on.
Of course, in the case of “Light Of Day”, well, it wasn’t really on an album at all. Bruce had written it years ago, given it away to someone else, but then took to performing it on stage just for fun. Same also for “Because The Night” and “Fire”. These bootlegs also revealed that Springsteen & The E Street Band would also do covers in the encores of things like “Devil With The Blue Dress On” and “Quarter To Three”, which had not appeared on studio records.
It is now ten years since “The Rising” was released. Partly, I guess, due to the fact that this was the record released just before the tour on which I saw him play, partly because, having listened to all those bootlegs, I seem to have memorized half the album note for note (he played the same seven or eight songs night after night on the accompanying tour), I do think it is something of a lost classic. As good as “Born To Run”, “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” and “The River”. To celebrate it’s anniversary, I figured I would look at The Boss on album, and attempt to detail when the “rarities” started to make their official appearances in the run up to this LP - if at all.
Although virtually every Springsteen studio album is credited to him as a solo artist, The E Street Band are actually present - in various incarnations - on many of them. A number of them were present on the 1973 debut album, “Greetings From Asbury Park NJ”, but that did not stop the follow up LP, “The Wild The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle”, from being credited as a solo LP as well, despite a photo of the E Street Band featuring as part of the album artwork this time around.
Even at this early stage, Springsteen was playing material that would remain (officially) unreleased - a 1974 Cleveland show featured a song variously known as “Tokyo” or “And The Band Played”. Whilst performing covers that would not get an official outing is par for the course, this was a Springsteen original. A 1975 show in Pennsylvania saw numerous ‘new’ songs played, such as “Mountain Of Love”, “I Want You” (the Bob Dylan song), “A Love So Fine” and “Back In The USA”. This show took place before the release of “Born To Run”, and several tracks that would eventually appear on that record also got an outing, including a radically different version of “Thunder Road”. Some of the ‘unreleased’ songs have recently appeared on “semi-official” releases, with the Pennsylvania show now available (in part) in your local HMV - a little bit more about this later.
“Born To Run” was 1975’s commercial breakthough for Bruce, and finally saw a member of the E Street Band make it onto the cover - sort of - as the fold out gatefold sleeve revealed Bruce was resting his arm on Saxophonist Clarence Clemons. It would be three years before a new LP, and thus intervening shows saw new material making it into the set, although not songs that would necessarily make it onto 1978’s “Darkness At The Edge Of Town”. The 23rd March 1977 Boston Music Hall gig included performances of “Don’t Look Back” and “Mona”, and an incendiary encore consisting of “Quarter To Three”, “Little Latin Lupe Lu” and “You Can’t Sit Down”. Even after the album’s release, Springsteen continued to play new/cover material - a show at Charleston Civic Centre on 4th August 1978 included performances of “Oh Boy”, an astonishing “Paradise By The C”, “Sherry Darling”, “Not Fade Away” and “Because The Night”. The latter, later taken into the charts by Patti Smith, had been taped during the album sessions but left unreleased. “Sweet Little 16” was performed at an August show in Philadelphia.
A New Years Eve show in Cleveland saw the likes of “Rendezvous”, “Independence Day”, “Pretty Flamingo”, “The Ties That Bind”, “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”, “Fever”, “Fire”, “Point Blank”, “Rave On” and “Good Rocking Tonite” all make the set, some of which did make it onto 1980’s “The River” (“Independence Day”, “The Ties That Bind” and “Point Blank”, plus “Sherry Darling” from the Charleston gig) whilst the likes of “Fire“, “Paradise By The C”, “Because The Night” and “Rendezvous” would eventually get official releases many years later (“Live 1975-85” for the first three, “Tracks” for the latter). A version of “Santa Claus” was later released as a live Christmas single, and is actually one of Springsteen’s more famous 45’s.
After the release of the acoustic, E Street-less 1982 LP “Nebraska”, the full blown band sound was back on 1984’s “Born In The USA”, a huge seller which spawned singles left right and centre, but was possibly a bit too “over-produced” at times. It seems even Springsteen has a bit of a problem with it, often shying away from playing the title track in recent years in favour of more obscure album tracks, possibly due to it being misinterpreted as a pro-American Anthem, when it was actually written as an anti-war statement on the Vietnam War. In an attempt to make it a but more un-anthemic, Springsteen has in recent years sometimes performed the song in a reworked acoustic/slide guitar version, heavily slowed down, and almost unrecognisable from the original.
The accompanying tour still saw covers and new songs make the set, such as “Trapped” (later included on the 2003 “Essential” limited edition bonus disc), “I’m A Rocker”, and “Pink Cadillac”, which did later turn up as a b-side and then on 1998’s rarities set “Tracks”. A Toronto gig on 26th July 1984 concluded with covers of “Devil With The Blue Dress” and “Twist And Shout”. A cover of “Jersey Girl” was performed at a Philadelphia show on 17th September 1984, an official (live) version of which had surfaced a few months earlier as a B-side (taped in 1981, and the b-side of “Cover Me”). The following night saw an outing for “I Fought The Law”, plus the likes of “Jersey Girl” and co again. A 1985 show at Milan’s San Siro Stadium saw “Can’t Help Falling In Love” played towards the end, with covers of “Do You Love Me” and “Rocking All Over The World” closing the set.
1987’s “Tunnel Of Love” saw only selected involvement from the E Street Band, although the following tour was the full E Street experience, apart from "Born To Run" which was reduced to being performed solo, and acoustically. A bootleg I have of a show in Rotterdam, on 28th June 1988, plus some "unspecified location" bonus tracks at the end, includes performances of “Boom Boom Boom”, “I’m A Coward”, “Light Of Day”, “Have Love Will Travel”, “Sweet Soul Music” and “Part Man Part Monkey”. Other performances on that Boot, whilst not unreleased, are unusual - it includes a live version of “Chimes Of Freedom”, originally only released on an EP, and the likes of “War”, “Raise Your Hand” and “Seeds” that also make the set had only first been released on the “Live 1975-85” box set in 1986.
Springsteen’s first “electric” E Street-less albums appeared simultaneously in 1992, when “Lucky Town” and “Human Touch” were issued on the same day. I had always thought of these albums getting rather poor reviews when they came out, and I always regard them as being a bit patchy, but according to Wikipedia, the critics love them. Not so the 1993 not-unplugged unplugged album “MTV Plugged”, which nobody ever talks about with much excitement. It does, however, include “new” material in the form of “Red Headed Woman” and the first official outing for “Light Of Day”.
Other 1993 shows threw up “rare” material - a New York show on 26th June saw outings for “Lonesome Valley” and “Many Rivers To Cross”, with a show two days earlier in East Rutherford throwing up “I Ain’t Got No Home”, “This Hard Land”, “Satan’s Jewel Crown”, “Who’ll Stop The Rain”, “Settle For Love”, “Been A Long Time”, “Dusty Old Road” and “Having A Party”.
For the rest of the decade, there would only be one more “proper” album (1995’s ‘Nebraska’-esque “The Ghost Of Tom Joad”), but plenty of other odds and sods. Springsteen landed himself a hit single with the un-Springsteen like “Streets Of Philadelphia” in 1994, and got back with The E Street Band in 1995 to record a number of new songs for the “Greatest Hits” album, with the likes of “Secret Garden” getting a single release at the same time, and an official outing for “This Hard Land“ on the LP. As mentioned before, 1998’s “Tracks” was a 4-CD trawl through the archives, which gave an official release to numbers that had been available on live bootlegs (such as “Don’t Look Back” and “Part Man Part Monkey”) but the decision to also include alternate versions of album tracks, and technically already available B-sides, was the subject of much muttering - especially when there were stacks of “completely” unreleased songs in the vaults, such as the outtakes from the “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” sessions. 1999’s “18 Tracks” was a bit of a con-job - 15 songs from the box, plus three “new” outtakes. It was sold at full price, but a tenner for a maxi-single’s worth of new songs was a bit of a downer. “Fever” made it’s official debut, whilst “The Promise”, one of those “Darkness” outtakes which was performed at least once on the 2002 tour, appeared here but in the form of a brand new recording. (As a brief aside, “My Love Will Not Let You Down”, off “Tracks” and “18 Tracks”, was also performed on the “Rising” tour, including that 2003 Crystal Palace show.)
In 1999, Bruce decided to reunite with the E Street Band permanently for a tour that would stretch into 2000, including UK dates. Although the tour coincided with the release of “18 Tracks”, it was not particularly timed to plug the album, although the likes of “My Love Will Not Let You Down” made it straight into the set most nights. The first show took place in Bruce’s hometown, at the Asbury Park Convention Hall in March, and included a performance of a new song, “Land Of Hope And Dreams”.
The first recorded release by the reformed band was 2001’s “Live In New York City”, from a pair of summer 2000 shows at Madison Square Gardens. The show had originally been broadcast on US TV, with the 2001 release being issued on both DVD and Double-CD. This release saw the first official outing on a Springsteen record of “Land Of Hope And Dreams” (strangely, a studio version is due to be included on next month's new LP, "Wrecking Ball"), along with another new song, “American Skin (41 Shots)”. Although the latter was the subject of much media interest at the time (it was based on a true story of an innocent civilian being shot dead in New York in 1999), and both this and “Land Of Hope And Dreams” made it into the first show of the 2002 “Rising” tour (East Rutherford, 7th August), “American Skin” has been a relative rarity in Springsteen shows since, whilst “Land” became installed as the regular set closer for the rest of the 2002 shows, and remained in the encores of the 2003 gigs.
Work on “The Rising” had provisionally begun during the reunion tour. “Further On” was played at at least one of the two shows filmed for the “New York City” release, but it wasn’t until after the September 11th attacks that work began in earnest. Springsteen later recalled a story about an event that took place after the attacks - whilst out walking one afternoon, he noticed a car pull up alongside him. The window was wound down, and the person in the seat nearest to him simply said “We Need You Now”. It inspired Springsteen to try and document the event, and much of the album, being written after 9/11, was therefore influenced by the attacks.
In a 1994 interview with MTV, The Jesus And Mary Chain said they did not like to explain their lyrics, in case they contradicted with what the listener thought their songs were about. So, at the risk of interpreting the album wrongly, as far as I am concerned, then “The Rising” is as near to a concept album as Springsteen has ever got. “Lonesome Day” seems to reflect the day after September 11th. “The Rising” and “Into The Fire” seem to be about the actual tragedy itself (Wikipedia states that the former was written from the perspective of a firefighter, the latter seems similar in style). “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day” and “Mary‘s Place”, joyous bouts of classic E Street-ness, seem to be documents of an attempt by somebody affected by the tragedy to try and recover and move on. “Empty Sky” feels like a simple reference to the absence of the Twin Towers on the 12th. “Countin’ On A Miracle“ is surely the story of somebody trying to recover from the horror, having witnessed the incident first hand, and been personally involved - perhaps through the loss of a loved one. “You’re Missing” and “My City Of Ruins“, I would argue, are self-explanatory.
The 2002 shows seemed, for the most part, to follow a set procedure - the opening, powerful double header of “The Rising” and “Lonesome Day” kicked things off in magnificent style, with most shows consisting of material easily available on record, but with set lists being rejigged night after night. However, some of the 2003 shows saw a return to the world of the obscurities, with covers of the likes of “Seven Nights To Rock” at the first Crystal Palace gig, and some shows opening with an acoustic “Born In The USA”. The bootlegs I have of these shows are probably my favourite of all Springsteen Boots, as some of the choice of "album tracks" were simply inspired. The fact also that Springsteen chose to play the likes of "Thunder Road", "Dancing In The Dark" and - of course - "Born To Run" every night, to name but three, was the sign of a man knowing what his best material was, and was happy in showing it off in front of an audience.
Since 2004, Springsteen has gone back and forth between various projects. There was 2005’s acoustic “Devils And Dust”, 2006’s folk covers album “We Shall Overcome” and another “Greatest Hits” in 2009, this time credited to Springsteen & The E Street Band, but differing from the 1995 version by offering no new material and coming in a new cover with a revamped track listing. Even the 'new' material from the 95 release is missing from this version, which seems a bit pointless. The E Street Band are present and correct on 2007’s “Magic” and 2009’s “Working On A Dream”.
I am no expert, but Bruce does seem to have moved away from doing new songs on stage since “The Rising”, although covers still turn up in the setlist (2010’s “London Calling” DVD includes covers of “Good Lovin’”, “Hard Times” and - yep - “London Calling”). Deluxe reissues of “Born To Run” and “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” have seen “official” releases, on the DVD’s included in each pack, of songs that have been ‘bootleg only’ for years - “Born To Run” includes versions of “Devil With The Blue Dress” (as part of the “Detroit Medley”) and “Quarter To Three”, from a show filmed at the Hammersmith Odeon on 18th November 1975, whilst the “Houston 78 Bootleg House Cut” DVD in the “Darkness” package includes all of these plus “You Can’t Sit Down”.
My wife and I are due to see Bruce and the band in Hyde Park this summer. Whilst it is difficult to figure out how an E Street Show without Clarence Clemons is going to work, I sincerely hope that some of the material that has been heavily featuring in the set lists since day 1 still have a chance of appearing. Especially “Racing In The Street”, "Night", "Hungry Heart", "Rosalita", and "I'm On Fire" if you’re reading this Bruce. In fact, just play all the albums in full, one after the other, and we'll be happy.
I have listed below, in the order in which they were released, the original Springsteen albums. Studio, Live, Best-of’s and Rarities sets are all shown. DVD or DVD+CD releases are excluded, as these would be worthy of an article in their own right (hence the absence of 2007‘s “Live In Dublin“ release in the list). The formats listed are mostly CD, based as it is on the format in which I own them, but selected vinyl pressings are shown, especially where the packaging is superior to the CD edition. Some CD’s have been reissued in recent years, which explains why the catalogue numbering system differs in style from album to album. The copy of “The River” that is in our house is my wife’s, she always claims I only married her so I could get ownership of the first half of the album! Where an album was issued/reissued in a limited edition format, this is detailed where necessary.
I have also listed, in the interest of completeness, the deluxe reissues as detailed above. It is worth mentioning that if you do buy the 30th Anniversary version of “Born To Run”, and “The Promise: The Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story” box, that it negates the need to buy the normal versions of “Born To Run”, “Darkness” and “The Promise”.
In the nineties, six of these albums were also issued in “Three In One” box sets (“Nebraska”, “Tom Joad” and “Tunnel Of Love” in one, “Darkness”, “Asbury Park” and “The E Street Shuffle” in the other), but are hard to find now. The most recent box set, “The Collection”, houses “Asbury Park”, “The E Street Shuffle”, “Born To Run”, “Darkness”, “Nebraska”, “Born In The USA” and “The River”.
The “semi official” albums are not listed in detail here, but it’s worth noting many of them are in existence. They have made available the likes of “Tokyo” and “Mountain Of Love”, and seem to have flooded out en masse, so any article looking at them would need to go into greater depth than I can achieve here at the moment. Suffice to say, Columbia have had no involvement in the releases, and the indepenedent labels who have released them seem to have got round the “official” route by only releasing gigs that were originally broadcast on radio, thus meaning that neither the record company nor Bruce himself seem to own the copyright to these recordings - hence their existence. I also hope to do a Springsteen singles blog at a later date.
Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. (CD, Columbia CD 32210)
The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle (CD, Columbia CD 32363)
Born To Run (LP in gatefold sleeve, CBS 69170)
Darkness On The Edge Of Town (CD, Columbia CD 86061)
The River (2xLP, with inner sleeves and lyric insert, CBS 88510)
Nebraska (CD, Columbia 463360 2)
Born In The USA (CD, Columbia 511256 2, later pressing)
Live/1975-85 (5xLP Box Set, with booklet, CBS 450227 1)
Tunnel Of Love (CD, Columbia 460270 2)
Human Touch (CD, Columbia COL 471423 3)
Lucky Town (CD, Columbia COL 471424 2)
In Concert - MTV Unplugged (CD, Columbia COL 473860 2)
Greatest Hits (CD, Columbia COL 478555 2, later reissued in new sleeve with new tracklisting)
The Ghost Of Tom Joad (CD, Columbia 481650 2)
Tracks (4xCD, Columbia COL 492605 2)
18 Tracks (CD, Columbia COL 494200 2)
Live In New York City (2xCD, Columbia COL 500000 2, reissue with wrong track listing on rear)
The Rising (CD, Limited Edition in hardback book sleeve with slightly altered cover, Columbia COL 508 000 2, later reissued with bonus DVD in “normal” cover inside slipcase [Columbia COL 508002])
The Essential (Limited Edition 3xCD, Columbia COL 513700 9)
Devils And Dust (Limited Edition CD+DVD, Columbia 512000 2)
Born To Run (CD+2xDVD Box Set, Columbia 82876 755892, DVD later issued as stand alone CD as “Hammersmith Odeon London 1975”)
We Shall Overcome (“American Land” edition, issued some months after standard release, extra tracks, CD, Columbia 88697 009162)
Magic (CD, Columbia 88697 170602)
Working On A Dream (CD, Columbia 88697 41355 2)
The Promise: The Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story (3xCD+3xDVD Box Set, Columbia 88697 76525-2, includes reissues of “Darkness” and “The Promise”)