A lean twenty-three year old Bruce Springsteen is deep in thought on yet another long bus ride between destinations for his tour in support of his 1973 debut album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.
Far from being Springsteen’s first tour the singer-songwriter had cut his teeth playing in Steel Mill and the Bruce Springsteen Band across Jersey Shore and other parts of the country. But neither of those bands had any recorded material to their name.
His debut album, released through Columbia Records, had received rave reviews although the musician lamented a few too many comparisons with Bob Dylan. However that did not translate to sales for the man who was still yet to be known as The Boss.
Barely months after the release of his opening statement as a signed solo artist, with The E Street Band yet to coin their own name, Springsteen was already hard at work on the follow-up.
As he passed through towns on route to the next destination the young musician would scribble songs on pages. Songs that would reflect his image of America and how he perceived his own life within it.
Like much of Springsteen’s early work, his now 40-year-old sophomore release, The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle, was inspired by the big screen.
A 1959 Audie Murphey western, which details the journey of two teenagers to the corrupting influence of a major city, provided the songwriter with a conceptual influence for the album.
“I was drawing a lot from where I came from,” says Springsteen in Peter Ames Carlin’s biographical work Bruce (a must read for fans of The Boss).
“I’m going to make this gumbo, and what’s my life?
“Well, New Jersey. New Jersey is interesting,” he answers.“He was catching up, he had his thesaurus and rhyming dictionary with him and he’d find words and asked if they worked in this or that context.”
“I thought that my little town was interesting, the people in it were interesting. And everyone was involved in the E Street Shuffle: the dance you do every day to stay alive. That’s a pretty interesting dance, I think. So how do I write about that? I found it very compelling, and I also wanted to tell my story, not somebody else’s story.”
During mid-May Springsteen and E Street personnel, comprised of saxophonist Clarence Clemons, keyboardist David Sancious, accordionist Danny Federici, bass player Garry Tallent and drummer Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez, began recording in the 914 Sound Studios in Blauvelt, New York.
Given that his debut was released in early January and the necessity of touring to each band members financial survival the recording sessions were crammed into days long increments.
Keeping in with their efficiency the musicians were also cost effective. Aside from some members sleeping in a tent outside the studio the band recorded post-midnight to ensure that their sessions would be free while studio owner Brooks Arthur was sleeping at home. Their scheme worked up until Arthur arrived unexpectedly one night.
At this point in their careers both Springsteen and his E Street soldiers were still honing their craft. This is no more obvious than when Albany Tellone, a saxophonist who toured with the band, remarks to Ames Carlin about Springsteen’s writing process.
“He was catching up, he had his thesaurus and rhyming dictionary with him and he’d find words and asked if they worked in this or that context.”
While Springsteen’s lyrics at this stage were far from the level he achieved on Nebraska or The Ghost Of Tom Joad, they demonstrates the songwriter’s habit for perfectionism in the same way that his ruthless cutting of tracks in the studio do.
While dozens of songs were brought into the studio, such as live favourite ‘Thundercrack’ and others like ‘Zero And Blind Terry’, ‘Seaside Bar Song’, ‘Santa Ana’ and ‘The Fever’, many were scrapped as Springsteen used his artistic scope to create an album that fitted the vision that he had dreamt up on the road.
On September 11th 1973 The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle was born. The two side seven track LP arrived with more rave reviews for Springsteen.
Chiefly from Rolling Stone who wrote at the time that the album “works spectacularly” (although it’s important to note that this publication has barely ever said a bad word about any of Springsteen’s releases).
Much to the musician’s delight the reviews also distanced him from Bob Dylan. Sputnikmusic declared that the album was a “grand fusion of nostalgic Rock ‘n’ Roll and soulful RnB” while also attaching a 4.5 rating to the review.
Clemons’ horns usher in the record on ‘The E Street Shuffle’ with characters Little Angel and Power 13 escaping from a nightclub into the mythical E Street. The stretch of road’s title was taken from the quiet residential Belmar Street where Sancious lived with his mother.
‘4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)’ details the taboo love of his boss’ daughter, while ‘Kitty’s Back’ – written after their tour bus passed a roadside strip club- is home to an epic guitar solo you won’t see on any other Springsteen track.
But it’s not until you flip over to the album’s second side that you hear exactly what the critics were salivating over.
‘Incident On 57th Street’ has Romeo And Juliet style characters finding love amidst a heatwave, gang warfare and meddlesome police. The upbeat and jazzed up seven minute opus of ‘Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)’ kicks things into overdrive. So much so that the song became the most used set closer for the next ten years of the musician’s career.
‘4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)’
‘Incident On 57th Street’
The nearly ten minute ballad of ‘New York City Serenade’ is the perfect comedown from its predecessor and it’s the album’s standout moment. The closer is dramatic, beautiful and sets a scene unlike any other track for Springsteen’s characters to come to life.
The musician’s sophomore release had slow sales and along with his debut neither would chart until the Born To Run breakthrough in 1975, but in the scheme of his career its worth is undeniably critical.
After the album’s release Springsteen’s label career was at a crossroads. Columbia was focusing its efforts on Billy Joel into the lead up of the November release of Piano Man, which would ultimately become wildly popular, when The Boss was yet to have a hit.
“They want to stick their fingers in my pie,” he remarked to J. Garret Andrews of Brown University’s Daily Herald in 1974.
“I don’t need it. Just let me make my music and leave me alone. They’re bugging me for a single. I don’t know, maybe they mean well, but I doubt it.”
While the singer-songwriter was less than happy with his label he would need Columbia to fulfill the ambitions he would later achieve.
The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle’s defining moment would arrive via a live show in Boston in 1974. In the audience of this performance stood a captivated Jon Landau, a music critic who was there writing for Real Paper.
“On a night when I needed to feel young (Springsteen) made me feel like I was listening to music for the first time,” wrote Landau.
However perhaps more crucial in acquiring back Columbia’s gaze from the Piano Man was the review’s final line:
“I saw my rock and roll past flash before my eyes. And I saw something else. I saw rock and rolls’ future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”
The label quickly shipped stocks of Springsteen records back into stores while a promotional campaign based off of Landau’s review was initiated.
However it’s not Columbia’s renewed interest in the singer-songwriter that demonstrates the true value of the record.
The music critic, who met the musician after the show, was called in on the crafting of Born To Run when Springsteen needed help overcoming a few hurdles.
Without Landau witnessing one of his hair-raising performances The Boss’ breakthrough may never have happened. That’s not to mention that Landau also worked on every Springsteen record from Born To Run up until the 1992 dual release of Human Touch and Lucky Town.”“They were just doing the dance they had to in order to survive. Little did he know at the time that there was far more in those E Street moves than just surviving.
40 Years on and Bruce Springsteen is still enchanting with the same riveting and seemingly unflappable onstage energy as a 63-year-old as he was in his early twenties.
Australians witnessed the power of The Boss most recently in March of 2013 on his Wrecking Ball tour (which grossed over 25 million), in support of his seventeenth studio album (and he’ll be back in 2014 for those who missed him).
While it is a rare sight to see an act play for three to four hours, in 1973 and 1974 when Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band played two hour shows with multiple encores it was an anomaly.
Few acts with just two albums to their name stray far from your typical forty-five minute set. But for these musicians their careers were made in playing live shows.
The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle as an LP is a strong album, but without the blistering intensity of its live interpretation Landau would have never written that review and the rest wouldn’t have been the history we now admire those musicians for.
Listed in 2012 as Rolling Stone’s 133rd favourite album of all time from 500 and voted by their readers as their fourth most favourite Springsteen album, his sophomore release is one the few records made with The E Street Band that doesn’t come with a hit song or two.
‘New York City Serenade’
‘Willy Billy’s Circus Story (Live)’
Regardless of where you place Springsteen and The E Street Band’s sophomore release on your list of their favourite records its importance and connection to the rest of their careers cannot be understated.
The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle may not be his biggest sales success, but it arrived at an almost long forgotten time when Bruce Springsteen was still underground and relatively undiscovered.
Nonetheless like the releases that would follow it in Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge Of The Town his second record would leave an indelible mark on the rock landscape.
It would also pave the way for Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band to take the world via a rock n roll storm. Clearly the impact that shuffling down E Street would have on these musicians was far from miniscule.
As Springsteen noted, they were just doing the dance they had to in order to survive. Little did he know at the time that there was far more in those E Street moves than just surviving.
Bruce Springsteen Australian Tour 2014
Fri 7 Feb – Perth | Perth Arena (All Ages) – SOLD OUT
Sat 8 Feb – Perth | Perth Arena (All Ages) – SOLD OUT
Ticketek.com.au | Ph: 132 849
Tue 11 Feb – Adelaide | Entertainment Centre (All Ages) – SOLD OUT
Ticketek.com.au | Ph: 132 849
Sat 15 Feb – Melbourne | AAMI Park (All Ages) – SOLD OUT
Sun 16 Feb – Melbourne | AAMI Park (All Ages)
with special guests Hunters & Collectors and Dan Sultan
Ticketek.com.au | Ph: 132 849
Wed 19 Feb – Sydney | Allphones Arena(All Ages)
Ticketek.com.au | Ph: 132 849
Sat 22 Feb – Hunter Valley | Hope Estate (All Ages) – SOLD OUT
with special guests The Rubens and Dan Sultan
Ticketmaster.com.au | Ph: 136 100
Wed 26 Feb – Brisbane | Entertainment Centre (All Ages) – SOLD OUT
Ticketek.com.au | Ph: 132 849
Sat 1 Mar – Auckland | Mt Smart Stadium (All Ages) – SOLD OUT
Sun 2 Mar – Auckland | Mt Smart Stadium (All Ages) – NEW SHOW!
with special guest Jimmy Barnes
Ticketmaster.co.nz | Ph: 0800 111 999
Frontier Members pre-sale via www.frontiertouring.com/brucespringsteen
2pm NZST Thursday 5 September – 2pm NZST Friday 6 September
(or until pre-sale allocation is exhausted). Visit the website for more details
General public on sale from 9am NZST Monday 9th September