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Bruce Springsteen’s Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ: The Launchpad of a Lyrical Legacy and a Band Unlike Any Other

Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, released January 5, 1973

Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, released January 5, 1973

Fun Facts About Bruce Springsteen’s Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ

General Info

Bruce and the E-Street Band (L to R): Danny Frederici, Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez, Gary W. Tallent, Bruce Springsteen, David Sancious, Clarence Clemons

Bruce and the E Street Band (L to R): Danny Frederici, Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez, Gary W. Tallent, Bruce Springsteen, David Sancious, Clarence Clemons

Springsteen and his first manager Mike Appel decided to record the album at the low-priced, out-of-the-way 914 Sound Studios to save as much as possible of the Columbia Records advance and cut the record in a single week. Both “Blinded by the Light” and “Spirit in the Night” were released as singles by Columbia, but neither made a dent in the US charts. Ken Emerson wrote in Rolling Stone magazine, “Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ . . . was like “Subterranean Homesick Blues” played at 78 RPM, a typical five-minute track busting with more words than this review. . .” In 2003, the album was ranked number 379 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. On November 22nd, 2009, Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ was played in its entirety for the first time by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo, New York, to celebrate the last show of the Working on a Dream tour. This marked the E Street Band’s first-ever performance of “The Angel”. Professional wrestler Bam Bam Bigelow used a finisher called Greetings from Asbury Park during his spell in Extreme Championship Wrestling.

Track by Track

E-Street Band pictured on the back cover of the album

E Street Band pictured on the back cover of the album

Blinded by the Light

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band released a version of “Blinded by the Light” on their album The Roaring Silence. The song reached #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 on 19 February 1977 and #1 on the Canadian RPM chart the same day. The song is notable for lead vocalist Chris Thompson’s garbled enunciation, especially of the phrase “revved up like a deuce” which has led many fans to interpret it as “wrapped up like a douche”. The original Springsteen lyric is neither of the above, instead being “cut loose like a deuce”. Springsteen once attributed the popularity of the Manfred Mann version partially to Thompson’s enunciation. The Manfred Mann’s Earth Band recording of “Blinded by the Light” is Springsteen’s only Number 1 single as a songwriter on the Hot 100. In 2002, Danish act Funkstar Deluxe released its disco version of this song. In 2007, several remixes were released by the German DJ Michael Mind as Michael Mind featuring Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, adding electronic beats to the major hit of 1977and rising to number 12 of the German charts. A ska version can be found on Springsteen’s Live in Dublin album, recorded with the Sessions Band. Lil’ Wayne sampled this song on his song “Blinded” from a mixtape released by The Empire Entitled The Drought Is Over (The Reincarnation).

Growin’ Up

Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen

It is a moderately-paced tune, concerning an adolescence as a rebellious New Jersey teen, with lyrics written in the first-person. The lyrics feature a chorus that is progressively modified as the song continues, with the first chorus being “I hid in the clouded wrath of the crowd but when they said ‘Sit down,’ I stood up,” while the second chorus switches to “clouded warmth…’come down,’ I threw up” and the third finishes the song with “mother breast…’pull down,’ I pulled up.” The track soon became a live favorite for the Springsteen audiences and Springsteen often told a long history of his problems with his father as an intro to the song. A version of this history can be heard on the live album Live/1975-85. The song has been performed live about 270 times. An acoustic version of the song, part of Springsteen’s 1972 audition for CBS Records, appears on Tracks and 18 Tracks. The song was featured in the 1999 film Big Daddy and the 2007 film Gracie. David Bowie recorded a version of this song in the early stages of the Diamond Dogs sessions with Ronnie Wood on lead guitar. In 1990 this was released as a bonus track on the Rykodisc reissue of his Pin Ups album, and in 2004 it appeared on the bonus disc of the 30th anniversary edition of Diamond Dogs. The song has also been covered by Any Trouble, John Hammond, Jr., Portastic and Alvin Stardust

Mary Queen of Arkansas

Springsteen played “Mary Queen of Arkansas” at his audition for John Hammond at CBS Records, who signed him to his first record contract on May 2, 1972, although Hammond was less impressed with this song than with “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” or with “Growin’ Up”. The day after signing the contract, Springsteen recorded “Mary Queen of Arkansas” as part of a 12 song demo for Hammond. The demo version of the song was released onTracks in 1998. The song is one of the slower tracks on Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., played on acoustic guitar, and the lyrics of the song may be about a drag queen. The lyrics are dense and pretensious, and appear to be an attempt to imitate Bob Dylan. “Mary Queen Of Arkansas” is a slow, quiet acoustic song with a faint country feel to it. The lyrics contain repeated references to the circus (a theme explored in deeper depth on his The Wild, the Innocent & the E-Street Shuffle) as in “Well I’m just a lonely acrobat, this live wire, she’s my trade” and “The big top is for dreamers, we can take the circus all the way to the border.” It is a love song, devoted to “Mary.” Like most of Springsteen’s songs, particularly the first album, the lyrics are evocative though not detailed. The song appears to be sung in the first person, by a slave in the antebellum American south, to his white mistress, with whom he is having a clandestine affair.

Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?

The earliest known photo of Bruce with the entire Line-up #1 of The E Street Band, snapped in December, 1972, early in the Greetings Tour

The earliest known photo of Bruce with the entire Line-up of The E Street Band, snapped in December, 1972, early in the Greetings Tour

The song was part of the demo that Springsteen recorded for John Hammond of CBS Records in advance of getting his first recording contract. This demo version was released on Tracks in 1998. The song is loosely based on a bus ride Springsteen once took to visit a girlfriend in uptown Manhattan. As a result, the song is basically set in Spanish Harlem, although it contains some anomalous references, such as to actress Joan Fontaine. The characters are more thinly sketched than in other songs on Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., but the song does contain the incongruous rhyming of other Springsteen songs of the period and is full of good humor. Springsteen only rarely plays “Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?” in concert, but when he does it is usually enjoyed by the fans. “Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?” is a beat-style pastiche of a journey through city streets. It is fast-paced and has no chorus. One recognizable theme is a movement towards the sky, as in the lines “drink this and you’ll grow wings on your feet”, “interstellar mongrel nymphs” and “(Mary Lou) rides to heaven on a gyroscope.”

Lost in the Flood

A sparse, piano-driven song, seemingly about a Vietnam War veteran. This is the first of many epic Springsteen songs that elicit strong emotions, usually of despair, grief, and small glimpse of hope. The treatment of veterans in the United States has always been a sore spot for Springsteen. The lyrics tell a loose story, invoking a series of images that appear to somewhat tell a story or perhaps three different stories for each of the three verses The first verse is about “ragamuffin gunner” and has a recurring theme of religion, including references to the “hit-and-run” pleading for “sanctuary” and hiding beneath a “holy stone,” while “breakin’ beams and crosses with a spastic’s reeling perfection” and “nuns run bald through Vatican halls, pregnant, pleading Immaculate Conception.” Finally, “everybody’s wrecked on Main Street from drinking unholy blood.” The second verse is about a “pure American brother”, “Jimmy the Saint”, perhaps the same person as the “ragamuffin gunner” from the first verse. This is the beginning of Springsteen’s use of automobile themes (along with “The Angel”), as the pure American brother “races Sundays in Jersey in a Chevy stock Super Eight” and “leans on the hood telling racing stories.” Eventually, Jimmy the Saint gets into some sort of accident (described as running “headfirst into a hurricane”) and presumably dies since “there was nothing left but some blood where the body fell.” The third verse concerns a series of people on the streets of a city, presumably New York. They include “Eighth Avenue sailors in satin shirts,” “some storefront incarnation of Maria,” “Bronx’s best apostle,” “the cops,” “the whiz-bang gang” and “some kid” who gets shot in the ensuing gun fight and holds “his leg, screaming something in Spanish.”

The Angel

Bruce and "The Big Man" Clarence Clemons

Bruce and "The Big Man" Clarence Clemons

Released as the B-side to Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light” single. The song was part of the demo that Springsteen recorded for John Hammond of CBS Records in advance of getting his first recording contract. At the time Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. was released, Springsteen considered it his most sophisticated song. It has had virtually no live performances. The lyrics describe a man referred to as “the angel” and a woman who is “Madison Avenue’s claim to fame in a trainer bra with eyes like rain.” This song has a fully-developed automobile theme, including some lines such as “The interstate’s choked with nomadic hordes/in Volkswagen vans with full running boards dragging great anchors/Followin’ dead-end signs into the sores/The angel rides by humpin’ his hunk metal whore”. Another notable line is the historic “hubcap heaven.” Bruce took one of his early rare photos in front of this site in Monmouth New Jersey. The referenced “Hubcap Heaven” is now known as “The Hubcap Farm” and is still in business. Bruce once said he would never play this song live, and he went 23 years keeping that promise. In London in 1996, on his acoustic Ghost of Tom Joad Tour, Bruce played the song. Until later 2009, that had been its only live performance. However, on November 22, 2009, in Buffalo, New York, which was the final 2009 show of his scheduled Working On A Dream Tour, he and the E Street Band performed the song, along with the rest of the Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. album. It was the first performance of the song with the E Street Band Richard Davis, upright bass player on “The Angel” also played the bass on Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks.

For You

This song was later included on the compilation album The Essential Bruce Springsteen.

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It has also been covered by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and Greg Kihn. Like most of the songs on Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., “For You” was recorded at 914 Sound Studios in Blauvelt, New York between July and September, 1972. Musicians participating in these sessions included future E Street Band members David Sancious, Garry Tallent and Vini Lopez. It is a climactic, percussion-driven song. Unlike many other songs on Springsteen’s debut album, it takes the time to pace and build. The lyrics are about a woman who has attempted suicide. She does not need the singer’s “urgency” even though her life is “one long emergency” as Springsteen sings in the chorus (along with “and your cloud line urges me, and my electric surges free”). The singer is committed to doing anything to save her, and admires her ability to hang on. Once again, the lyrics are evocative of images and not details, and little can be said in description. Like “Blinded By The Light” and “Spirit in the Night” (on The Roaring Silence), this song was covered by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band for their album Chance. As with Manfred Mann Earth Band’s previous Springsteen covers, they used a more forceful, rockier sound for “For You” than Springsteen did. The Earth Band version built from a more temperate beginning to an explosion of sound in the bridge, and incorporates five guitars and an impressive keyboard solo by Manfred Mann 3/4 of the way into the song. The song was also included on the compilation albums The Best of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and Blinded by the Light & Other Hits. However, the single release did not achieve the success of their other Springsteen covers. The song was also covered by Greg Kihn on his 1977 album Greg Kihn Again. Kihn’s cover received favorable comments from Springsteen. It was also included on the compilation album Best of Kihn. This song was also covered by The Format on their “B-Sides and Rarities” album.

Spirit in the Night

The second single released from the album. A cover version performed by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band was released on the album Nightingales and Bombers and as a Top 40 single.It was one of the last songs to be written and recorded for Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. Springsteen had recorded 10 other tracks for the album, but Clive Davis, president of the record label that was releasing the album, was concerned that the recorded tracks did not have enough commercial appeal. As a result, Springsteen quickly wrote and recorded two additional songs: “Spirit in the Night” and “Blinded by the Light”. Because these songs were added so late in the recording process, several of Springsteen’s band members were unavailable to record these two songs. As a result, the recording lineup for “Spirit in the Night” was limited to Vini Lopez on drums, Clarence Clemons on saxophone, and Springsteen himself playing all other instruments. Although “Spirit in the Night” was one of the last songs written for the album, it did grow out of an earlier version of the song that Springsteen had played live prior to receiving his recording contract. Although most of the songs on Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. were packed with lyrics to the extent that sometimes they overwhelm the musical arrangements, “Spirit in the Night” has been described as the one song on the album on which the music and narrative fit together. Clemons’ sax playing and Lopez’ drumming match the freedom and ebullience described in the lyrics. The lyrics themselves describe a group of teenagers — Wild Billy, Hazy Davy, Crazy Janey, Killer Joe, and G-Man — going to a spot called “Greasy Lake” near “Route 88” for a night of freedom, sex, and drinking. But although their escape to the freedom of Greasy Lake is short lived, the emphasis is on the friends’ togetherness. Although the release of the song as a single was unsuccessful in the U.S., “Spirit in the Night” has remained a live favorite in Springsteen concerts. Live versions of the song have appeared on the live CD Live/1975–85 and on both the CD and video versions of Hammersmith Odeon London ’75. Bruce SpringsteenThe studio version of the song was released on the compilation album The Essential Bruce Springsteen.

Although Greasy Lake, where the action takes place, is a mythical place, drummer Vini Lopez has stated that it is actually a composite of two locations that band members used to visit. One was Lake Carasaljo, near the intersection of U.S. Route 9 and New Jersey Route 88 in Lakewood, New Jersey. The other was a swampy lake near Garden State Parkway exit 88.

The Greasy Lake in the song inspired a short story named “Greasy Lake” by T.C. Boyle. Like Springsteen’s characters, Boyle’s characters are restless and looking to party, although they have a more dangerous edge than Springsteen’s.

It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City

A live version is included on the DVD of the Hammersmith Odeon concert that is included in the Born to Run (30th Anniversary Edition) and the Hammersmith Odeon London ’75 CD.

The song has also been covered by David Bowie. John Sayles included this song in a high school lunchroom scene of his movie Baby, It’s You This is the song that impressed producer Mike Appel so much that he quit his job to become Springsteen’s manager, even though Springsteen did not have a record contract yet. This was also the first song Springsteen played at his audition for John Hammond at CBS Records, who eventually signed him to a record contract, on May 2, 1972. The following day, Springsteen recorded “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” as part of a 12 song demo for Hammond. The demo version of the song was released on Tracks in 1998. The version included on Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. was recorded during the summer of 1972 backed by future E-Street Band members David Sancious on piano, Vini Lopez on drums and Garry Tallent on bass. “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” is a fast paced song. It is a solid rock ‘n’ roll song when played in concert. Its tone is cocky and arrogant. The first person lyrics contain religious imagery and brag about the singer’s street credentials, in the tradition of Bo Diddley lyrics. The young singer is growing up on the streets of a city, and who is trying to stay “good” and do what he believes is right. Unfortunately, “those gasoline boys sure talk gritty” and he is inexorably dragged into some very unsaintly activities. One of the more quoted lines is “The devil appeared like Jesus through the steam in the street/Showin’ me a hand I knew even the cops couldn’t beat/I felt his hot breath on my neck as I dove into the heat/It’s so hard to be a saint when you’re just a boy out on the street.” VIDEO:  Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band – “Growin’ Up” VIDEO:  Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band – “Spirits in the Night” Special thanks to Wikipedia.com, About.com and RollingStone.com

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