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2023/4 Albums Thing 327 - Bruce Springsteen “Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.”

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Right then, if you’re not a fan of New Jersey’s finest export since Taylor Ham (or is it Pork Roll ? answers on a postcard please), and if you’re not then shame on you, you may wish to go do something else for however long it takes me to make the next 27 blog posts. And as we’re going to see The Boss and the E Street Band on Sunday it’s appropriate that this is how we begin the week.

Bruce Springsteen had been playing bars along the (New) Jersey shore since the 1960’s with bands like The Castilles, Child, Steel Mill, Dr. Zoom & the Sonic Boom and the Bruce Springsteen Band. Gig after endless gig sometimes for 4 or 5 hours a night, paying his dues, learning his chops. But he wrote his own songs and dreamed of crossing the river to New York City and making records of his own music.

In June 1972 his managers secured him an audition with legendary Columbia Records talent scout John Hammond (who was instrumental in the careers of Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday, Pete Seeger, Aretha Franklin, Leonard Cohen and many others) which resulted in a record contract and Springsteen being in 914 Sound Studios in NYC by October to record his debut album, “Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.”. He gathered a band around him, some of whom were starting on a very long journey with their new boss. Clarence Clemons on saxophone would remain with Springsteen until his passing in 2011 and bass player Gary W Tallent is a member of the E Street Band to this day. These were supplemented  by musicians Springsteen had played with for years including pianist David Sancious and drummer Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez. 

The album was originally set to feature 5 songs with a band and 5 with Springsteen alone (management and Hammond preferred the solo tracks, Springsteen preferred those with the band) but when Columbia President Clive Davis heard the record he rejected it saying he didn’t hear a single. Springsteen quickly wrote “Blinded By The Light” (with the help of a rhyming dictionary he later admitted) and “Spirit In The Night” and the revised track listing (2 solo and 7 band songs which makes me think to find out what happened to the 3 solo performances that went missing) was accepted.

There are songs here that Springsteen still performs live now. When we saw him in 2016 he opened the show with “For You”. He also started to become more widely known as a go to songwriter and songs from this album were recorded by others. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band had a hit in 1976 with a cover of “Blinded By The Light” (probably the first time I heard a Springsteen song, I just didn’t know it at the time) and David Bowie recorded versions of “Growin’ Up” and “It’s Hard To Be Saint In The City” during the sessions for “Young Americans”, sessions to which the songwriter was invited and reportedly found strange and didn’t really like Bowie’s versions of his songs when he finally heard them as it’s said Bowie wouldn’t play them in front of Springsteen.

It’s a somewhat different Bruce Springsteen from the one we’ve came to know. The solo songs are very Dylan-esque and wordy, one of Columbia’s publicity campaigns proclaimed he had "more words in some individual songs than other artists had in whole albums", not sure if that’s a compliment or not. But the roots of what he was to become are there if you pay close attention. Also, and somewhat surprisingly, apart from on first song “Blinded By The Light” there are no electric guitars to be heard on this album, it’s a very different sound to the Bruce Springsteen of just 2 or 3 years later. 

“Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.” was released on January 5th 1973, on that day Springsteen and his band were in the middle of a 4 night stand at the Main Point in Bryn Mawr Pennsylvania (the site of a legendary bootleg recording in 1975). They would stay on the road right up until October 1973, somehow fitting in the recording of their next album which was released in November. As he says between songs on “Live 1975/85”…”it was goodbye New Jersey, we were airborne”.

It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City - https://youtu.be/B2Rju9FVE2M?si=ioGG5fCeH6ARgPds

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