Lined with the Light of the Living: Born to Run (1975)

Tonight's entry:

"Born to Run established a sound and identity powerful enough to permanently alter the perceptions of those who heard it, whether they liked what they heard or not." - Peter Ames Carlin, Bruce

Bryan: Variations of "Here is the album that finally justified all the hype about Bruce Springsteen" appear in practically every review of Born to Run. (Many by critics who had added considerably to said hype in the first place.) It's difficult to disagree. The album is self-conscious attempt to establish a dividing line for his career and evolution as an artist. Here's another quote from the Carlin book: "Whenever Bruce listened to the first two albums, all he heard were things he wished he'd done differently. The overstuffed lyrics, the stilted sound, the distance between what he needed to say and what came out of the speakers. In a country awash in irony and disbelief, he needed to create a work that reestablished rock'n'roll as a cultural force with the power to inspire and even create change in your life, in your town, in the world around you."

As always, I’m joined by Bryant, who appears as a hologram that only I can see or hear.

Bryant:  My advice as a hologram is that, if my mobile emitter gives out, just paste of photos of a double-thumbs-up, and that’ll adequately represent my stance for this album.

Bryan: Mine too. Why bury the lede? This album's awesome, and every song pretty much rocks. 

Taking a slightly different approach here, as we kinda reviewed these two at a time in our original back-and-forth, so that's how we'll divy them up here. Also, previously I'd been providing a link for each song, but I got to thinking - if we go through the whole catalog, and that's the plan, that's an awful lot of links to videos that will undoubtedly "die" sooner or later. Such is the nature of youtube. I like the idea of saving any interested parties a step and I'd be glad to if I could be assured the link would always be there. Since I cannot, I'll save the links for alternate versions or live performances that come up in the discussion. 
One! Two! Three! Four!

"Thunder Road"
"Tenth Avenue Freeze Out"

Bryan: 4/5 and 4.5/5 Both tunes are faves from the '75 to '85 Live, so it's always been a little disorienting hearing the studio versions. To this day, actually, which is kind of funny - I must have listened to that Live set everyday for months after getting it for Christmas in 1986, so it got good imprinting time on the young McBrains.

Bryant:  "Thunder Road" - 4.5/5  "It's a town fulla losers ... I'm pullin' outta here to win"  I mean, that kinda sums up this entire era, doesn't it? Not solely; it's got plenty of help from other songs in Bruce’s songbook. Obviously, I think "Thunder Road" is great stuff. The only thing that keep me from scoring it higher is that I wish Bruce's vocals were a little more full-throated. But that's okay. He's saving 'em up. We'll get there. "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" - 4.75/5 Tempted to go the full 5 here; not gonna, but tempted. This is the sound of a whole bunch of people having fun together in a big room, flying birds at all the people they got away from in order to be there. So, obviously, it's a metaphor for the pilgrims sailing to the New World. Or something like that. Either way, great - GREAT - playing from the band, and I love Bruce's vocals here.

Bryan: Everytime I hear the "Tenth Avenue" horns now, I think of the Van Zandt anecdote from Bruce and elsewhere, where Steve dropped in the studio to say hi to his old pals and they couldn’t get the horns right, so, after offering his blunt opinion to an already-exasperated Bruce, who admonished him to "fix it, then!" he re-arranged them on the spot and got it right.

Welcome back, Miami Steve.

Bryant:  I always forget that Steve was sort of unceremoniously shown the door right at the beginning of the E Street Band. No fault of Bruce’s apart from not putting his foot down, but he wasn’t the first young artist to get pushed around in that way, and wouldn’t be the last, either. I can’t help but wonder what Van Zandt might have added to those first two albums. That’s life for you, though; what-ifs rattling around in a dusty sack.


Bryan: 4.75/5 and 4.75/5 Love these. The only thing that prevents me from giving them scores of 5 apiece is because like you, I’m saving ‘em up. But let's not kid ourselves - this is vital stuff from the band. I can see some of Bruce's grumpiness re: the mix in "Backstreets," but it has a lot of parts to juggle. Great live version here.

Bryant: "Night" - 4.25/5 I love this one, but it has no personal connection for me, which is why I'm scoring it a little bit lower than some of the others. But can I imagine a person loving it so much that it damn near makes 'em lose their mind when it begins?  I sure can. "Backstreets" - 5/5 Boy, it really is a muddy mix, isn't it?  (Or if not the mix, per se, something in the recording.) Doesn't matter a bit to me. This is about as good as music gets.  Hey, remember when I hinted that Bruce was saving his most full-throated vocals? Well, they show up toward the end of this. And how. I should probably have something else to say, but I'm inferior to the task; this song is too good for me to explain.

Bryan: My sister and her husband used to have a beagle who would howl along with any ambulance or police siren that went by their house – actually, not just those, he’d join in with any full-throated howling in general. I imagine more than a few beagles out there join in with Bruce when this stuff at the end is cranking on the stereo.

"Born to Run"

Bryan: 5/5 "The highway's jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive." At some point during the writing of The Stand, King had this album cranked. Probably at all points. That line always makes me think of it, though. Has anyone ever mashed up images from The Stand mini-series to this tune? I wish I was in junior high with such time / energy on my hands.

Bryan: I deduct a minor point for the "Together, Wendy, we can..." only because I always think it sounds, I don't know, Meatloaf-ish/ too-close-to-musical-theater to explicitly name the girl addressed by these universally-accessible lyrics, but then I happily give it back because I'm not some kind of oblivious jerk. Usually.

Bryant: 5/5 Is this the greatest end-of-side-1 to beginning-of-side-2 combination in recording history? "Backstreets" followed by "Born to Run." Damn; for the win, as they say.  If it isn't THE best, it's got to be on the shortlist. It's one of those songs that has earned - and will likely permanently retain - true-classic status. And sometimes, when they get canonized like that, you wonder if a song is really that good. In this case, it's absolutely that good. It's the sound of moving into the future, but with an eye toward bringing all the good things about the past along with you; it's not an abandonment of the past, it's a rescuing of it. Evolution through nostalgia. Genius.

Bryan: I dated a girl my senior year in high school who hated Springsteen so much (specifically this song, whose lyrics she always mocked) that I downplayed how huge a fan I was to the point where I pretended to agree with her. This was a horrible betrayal of The Boss, and at the time I felt kind of terrible about it. Later, in the 90s and 00s when I wasn't listening to Bruce so much, I didn't feel terrible about it. I wondered if perhaps she'd been right and I was just young and dumb. Now that I'm older and wiser, though, I'm back to feeling terrible.

Bryant: I would imagine that a great many breakups with favorite bands/musicians has been prompted by romance (would-be or otherwise). Probably also a lot of music has been discovered in that process. And we know how much music has been GENERATED by that process. Bottom line: I think Bruce would forgive you.

"She's the One"

Bryan: 5/5 I love "On the Dark Side" by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band as much as the next guy, but it's obvious in retrospect how much of a general lift of the mood/ riff of "She's the One" it is. Growing up in RI the Beaver Brown Band were hometown heroes and there was always talk of how they'd have made it big if it weren't for the perception of being Springsteen and the E Street Band, Jr. I get it, but then there's the fact that their signature tune apparently is just "She's the One" jr. I don't say this to be cruel, only sheesh, people. Anyway, just amazing. One of my favorite tracks.

Bryant: 4.25/5 Here's another one that I just don't have the personal connection with, for whatever reason. It's never occurred to me before that "On the Dark Side" is a bit of a lift of this one, but yeah, for sure.

"Meeting Across the River"

Bryan: 2.25/5 I see what he's chasing, but I don't think this one really goes anywhere. It's more about fitting this mood onto the record / taking a musical and emotional breath between "She's the One" and "Jungleland."

Bryant: 2.25/5 I'm gonna just copy your score on this one. I thought about deviating by a quarter in either direction and couldn't decide which direction to go, which tells me to just stay right here. Anyways, yeah, it's fine. Good song, evocative and well-played. Only on an album like this would it feel like a loser. Not even then, really.


Bryan: 5/5 Like I said up there, it's rare when someone can earn the rapturous praise Spingsteen earned with every show and every record and then self-consciously sit down to live up to it and not just do so, but instantly surpass and forever encapsulate the image going forward. And the trick was - it wasn't image, it was just his getting clearer and clearer on mission statement. As perfect a side closer as the title track is a side opener. We talked about the Bruce movie - they should just make a movie based on this song. (I bet that's what The Heavenly Kid set out to be, then they got sidetracked.)

Bryant: 5/5 If Clarence had never done a thing else in his life, he'd have ascended into the pantheon just for the mid-song sax solo in this one, which is rapturous. I can't imagine what it must have been like to be in the room when that happened. Amazingly, the rest of the song is almost as good. So yeah, 5/5 for sure. Oh, and a line from this song actually appears as an epigraph in The Stand (the first one in the book, in fact), so the loose King connection rolls on!

Bryan: What is this riff anyway – "Sweet Jane?" It comes in most prominently around the 2 minute mark. How does he get away with this stuff? I’m thinking of the Peter Gunn riff for "Pink Cadillac" and a couple of other high-profile-swipes-in-plain-sight. I shouldn't say swipes, more like strong nods.

Bryant: I don’t fully hear that as a lift of "Sweet Jane." I do hear a similarity, but I also hear differences. I don’t have the musical vocabulary to describe what I mean, alas! But hey, if you steal, steal from the best.


Bryan: Total 35.25 Avg 4.41 Best album in the discography?Not for me, but had the band broken up after the first three albums, this would be one epic curtain call.

Bryant: Total 35 Avg 4.35 I'm surprised to find that I'm ever so slightly lower than you on this one, but it's pretty close. Bottom line for me, it’s one of THE all-time great rock albums.


"The stories Springsteen is telling are nothing new, though no one has ever told them better or made them matter more. Their familiar romance is half their power: The promise and the threat of the night; the lure of the road; the quest for a chance worth taking and the lust to pay its price; girls glimpsed once at 80 miles an hour and never forgotten; the city streets as the last, permanent American frontier. We know the story: one thousand and one American nights, one long night of fear and love.

What is new is the majesty Springsteen and his band have brought to this story. Springsteen's singing, his words and the band's music have turned the dreams and failures two generations have dropped along the road into an epic — an epic that began when that car went over the cliff in Rebel Without a Cause. One feels that all it ever meant, all it ever had to say, is on this album, brought forth with a determination one would have thought was burnt out years ago. One feels that the music Springsteen has made from this long story has outstripped the story; that it is, in all its fire, a demand for something new." 
– Griel Marcus, Rolling Stone


Bruce Springsteen – lead vocals, producer, lead and rhythm guitars, harmonica, percussion
Roy Bittan – piano, Fender Rhodes, organ, harpsichord, glockenspiel, background vocals on all tracks except "Born to Run"
Big Man – saxophones, tambourine, background vocals
Danny Federici – organ and glockenspiel on "Born to Run"
Garry W. Tallent – bass guitar
The Incomparable Max Weinberg – drums on all tracks except "Born to Run"

Ernest "Boom" Carter – drums on "Born to Run"
David Sancious – piano, organ on "Born to Run"
Little Steven – guitar, background vocals, horn arrangements, alto horn


Robert DeNiro was a big fan of Bruce and the E Street Band and has seen them live innumerable times since the early 70s. On the Born to Run tour, Bruce began the encore portion of the show by asking the crowd "Are you talkin'... to me?" several times.

See you next Saturday for Darkness on the Edge of Town.


Walk Tall or Don't Walk at All: The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle (1973)

Today's selection:

"All the romance and heartbreak, the veil of spotlights, and the windblown highway. A nomadic existence held together by music, camaraderie, and duct tape. And also an image evolved to fit the dreamy-urban-poet persona that inhabited so many songs on The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle. In the thrall of (it) Bruce's entire personality seemed to have shifted." – Peter Ames Carlin

Bryan: I’m here once again with the Artist Formerly Known as the Honk Mahfah, Bryant Burnette, continuing our trek through the Boss' catalog. Before I bring him in, though: the below is the result of multiple back-and-forths over the past few months, at least a dozen spins of the record, googling, book-reading, you name it, as topped off with my sending Bryant the rough draft and some final editions and moving stuff around, etc. and then some final editing. You'd think after all that my scores would more or less settled. And yet as I listen to the album typing this up right now, I want to bump up all of my scores at least a quarter-point. It goes to show you how different speakers for analog-age albums, even digitally remastered ones, can often mean a whole different listening experience. I'm in my home office, writing this, and these cheap Dell speakers suit The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle quite well, I guess. Maybe I should have done all my original scoring at this computer!

Anyway! Bryant, welcome back. Peter Ames Carlin mentions in his book that Bruce had a "renewed passion for full-band rock 'n' roll" when he was recording this one. What’s your take on Bruce and the Boys’ 2nd affair?

Bryant:  I think that Carlin’s assertion makes sense. It sounds like a more fully-engaged piece of work across the board. Asbury Park is the work of a songwriter/bandleader/performer with gobs of innate talent, but without the wisdom and experience to know precisely how to put it to use. That was coming, and quick, but it wasn’t there. I think it mostly is there for the second album.  It hadn’t been perfected yet, but perfection isn’t to be expected in a second album.

Bryan: Let’s line ‘em up and knock ‘em down.

Bryan: Wow, this is quite a different tune for these guys. I like it, though. I like the stuff in the middle of the song the best, and the overdubbed solo. The first one, that is. The fade-out works for me. 3.5/5 

Bryant: 2.5/5  I got nothin' against this one, and it's beautifully played. But it's a little too laid-back, or something. Maybe this is my anti-jam-band tendency coming out, because that's what they're veering toward at times here. The production definitely is vastly better than on the previous album. 

Bryan: Definite jam band terrain. As is: 

Bryan: Or at least the Grateful Dead, in some ways. I like the feel and mood and everything, pretty much, about this song, it just doesn't inspire quite the same passion in me as it seems to in others. Or I don't respond to the mythology of the song the same way Bruce himself does in interviews, maybe. Makes sense, though - this is his boardwalk tune, where I'll only ever be a tourist but he's an insider with miles of stories and observations.

The accordion on this one is great, and anyone who clicks through will hear Danny Federici's last performance with Bruce before shuffling off this mortal coil, as well as a moving little montage at performance's end. 3.5/5

Bryant: I love this one. Boy, Bruce sure did seem to be obsessed with drag queens during these first few years, didn't he? But they're just an accepted part of the landscape, which makes these songs kind of admirable from a modern-day perspective. 3.5/5 

Bryan: I wish he’d found a way to get this one to the Beach Boys. They've have done a nice job with it, with a nice Mike Love or Bruce Johnston lead vocal and the others harmonizing, preferably while Carl was still kicking.

Bryan: Fun guitar / very 70s sounding. (I thought of Wings a few times. Until Bruce started singing. Bruce and Paul share some vocal traits, to be sure, but not here.) Kind of a prog/trippy number for the E Street fellas, eh? I approve. 4/5 

Bryant: 3.5/5 This is deeply good stuff, here. Part of me wishes that the band HAD been able to do more jam-type stuff. I know, I was dissing that a few sentences ago. Not really, though, because this particular band is so good that I'd like to think I'd follow them anywhere. So maybe in some vault -- guarded like it was placed there by Gandalf himself -- there's hours and hours of tapes of them just riffing endlessly. If so and it ever gets released, I'm all over it.   

Bryan: More songs should have lines like "God save the human cannonball," in any context. This one's not bad and some of the vocals are funny or sound like fun, but not a fave. 2.5/5
Bryant: We're pretty much in agreement on this one. It's a song I always want to like; every time I give this album a spin, I'm like, 'maybe this'll be the time the circus song catches fire for me.' It never does. But I don't dislike it. It's a vastly-more-agreeable version of the sort of thing he was doing on the first album with "The Angel" and "Mary, Queen of Arkansas." And I kind of like the very last line, where somebody asks Billy if he wants "to join the big top." I'd have no issue with any Boss fan loving this one to pieces; I hope I can join 'em someday.  2.25/5   

Bryan: Here's another good scoring example. I think there's really no difference in quality or performance between this and "Kitty's Back," but I like this one slightly more, so I add an arbitrary hundredth to my score. 4.1/5 Tough to make out some of the words for this sort of fairy tale. Big epic arrangement fits it well enough.  

Bryant: I love your explanations of the scoring process you're using. It all makes sense to me, but I'm stuck in remedial-score-assessment, so I'm reluctant to step beyond the quarter-point system. Even that is taking some adjustment! I see the appeal, though. With that in mind, I'm trying to be stingy with mine. I'm determined not to award a 4 or above to anything that I don't feel is basically a perfect song, and then use the quarters to illustrate the proximity to actual perfection (5). With that in mind, this song gets a 4.25/5 from me. I'm tempted to go slightly higher, though. I find this to be a deeply sad song; I assume ol' Spanish Johnny fails to ever come back from that meeting on the street. Toetags and metal tables for him after that, in my mind. But here he is, somehow frozen in time, making love to Puerto Rican Jane for all of eternity. I guess you could do worse.

Bryan: While we’re here, “Making Love to Puerto Rican Jane For All Eternity” is a criminally never-used title for a novel or movie. 

Bryant:  $40 million opening weekend, guaranteed.

Bryan: "Toetags and Metal Tables," too. 

Bryan: No complaints just not a fave. 3.25/5  I've seen this referred to as "the greatest rock and roll track of all time.” Sometimes the critical acclaim afforded to Springsteen borders on insane. It's a good tune but… I don’t know. I know I'm like the only Springsteen fan on the planet to feel this way, but to me, it’s borderline generic. 

Bryant: 4.75/5 You can probably tell from that score that I'm a huge fan of this one. And boy, I sure am. This is the sound of a guy who knows he's on the cusp of living exactly the life he wants to live. He wants to do it with this specific girl, but if she can't make it...? Well, that car is leaving with her or without her. I love the production, and the performance: the song constantly sounds like it's on the verge of falling apart, like everyone playing it is just barely managing to keep the energy flowing. They do, but only by the skin of their teeth.  Something hugely poetic in that for me, and prototypically Springsteenian.  

Bryan: Your enthusiasm for it is catchy. I give the early albums a lot of flak for their production sound, but I’ll definitely agree they got the right mix with this one. I guess people bugged him to play this live so much that he got an attitude about it and didn’t for years, or only rarely. 

He probably got tired of the girls running on stage to try and accosting him while trying to sing it. You'd think "nah" but everyone was a potential Squeaky Fromme!

Bryant: I’m not quite an expert enough to say, but my impression is that he’s grown comfortable with the fact that people love and revere him. That’d be a thing that would be difficult – to say the least – to cope with for anyone, so if he had trouble with it for a long time, who could blame him? It does as if he’s finally come around to thinking, "Hey, I guess this is just a big party, and it’s metaphorically being held in my house, so I gotta make sure all my guests have beer and pretzels."

Bryan: True. I can only assume celebrity - especially in the glare of the"face-searing spotlight" (as Ken Kesey put it somewhere, I think in Demon Box, good book - at least I used to like it back in the day) of mega-stardom - is, no matter how much anyone craves or pursues it, as disorienting as deep sea diving while on mescaline.

"Fish la-ady! Fish la-ady!"

Bryan: I feel kind of similarly to this as I do to “Rosalita.” Cool lyrics and all, no complaints just not a fave. I always expect it to go into “Aqualung” at the very beginning, similar kind of piano intro. 3.25/5 

Bryant: 5/5 To be honest, I want to give this a 4/5, just to prove I can restrain myself. Plus, I've never been 100% sure the song actually makes any sense. I think it does; I think it probably makes all the sense in the world to Bruce, who just didn't necessarily feel like he needed to spell out exactly what it was that it meant. 

Bryant: I can remember the first time I ever heard the song, it was like time stood still. It was one of those moments where I couldn't believe what I was hearing, that was how utterly it captured something about my own emotional makeup. And I have no clear idea why that is! I'm not sure I ever want to unpack it, either, because the bottom line is, this song wrecks me. If I'm in the right mood, I'll cry the whole damn way through it, like the old wussy I am. It's by no means the only song that exists that has that sort of effect on me -- it's not even the only one by Springsteen -- but it's certainly among them, and that being the case, I can't be objective about it. It's a 5/5er for me all the way. Here's a great live version I'd never heard until just in the last few minutes: 

Bryan: I had no idea you liked it so much! More than me but hear, hear. That is indeed a kick-ass live version. I'm almost with you on a 5 for that performance.

Bryant: I remain slightly befuddled by some of the lyrics, but two bits always stand out strongly for me: "Save your notes; don't spend 'em on the blues, boy." Disrespectful to an entire genre, but beautifully said. And "It's a mad-dog's promenade, so walk tall; or, baby, don't walk at all." If I had ever pulled the trigger on writing a Springsteen overview for The Truth Inside The Lie, I might have considered calling it "Walk Tall Or Don't Walk At All."  It seems like kind of a perfect summation of Springsteen's attitude, particularly in these early days. 

Bryan: It's a great line. Totally. Just as a motto or as some kind of E Street Gang slogan. I wonder if this had some kind of influence on The Gunslinger? I think of this mainly for attitude, but also because of King’s introduction to the revised edition where he talks about storing up a reservoir of arrogance as a teen because once life gets done knocking you around as an adult, you’ll appreciate having had the extra pounds to lose, so to speak. It's not much of an overlap, but he was a huge Bruce fan (as well as highly impressionable.)

Bryant: It’s entirely possible. We know that King was(/is?) a Springsteen fan specifically, and that he’s a music fan generally. So I’m sure that some of the mood and attitude of Springsteen’s music filtered down into King’s work somehow. "New York City Serenade" doesn’t seem to me like it’d be King’s kind of jam, but I am basing that on very little. Anyways, for my part, I love this song every bit as much as "Born to Run" and "I'm on Fire."  Maybe even more, believe it or not!


Bryan: Total 24 Avg 3.43 Much crisper production, and the band's matured into the studio for this 2nd effort. A good follow-up and great collection of tunes. There's a whole prog rock demographic of Bruce fans who graduated high school in 1973 who wax poetic about side 2 of this album, I bet.

Bryant: Total 25.75 total Average 3.68 It's such a short album that I got through the whole thing driving around doing pre-work errands this afternoon. A big leap over Welcome  to Asbury Park, but that seems sensible. Gonna be another big leap for next time, I expect. 

Bryan: These early years of the band would make a great movie. Very Americana. This is one of those Captain Obvious statements, but still.

Bryant: I feel certain that movie is going to happen one of these days.  How could it not?


"Folkie trappings behind him, Springsteen has created a funky, vivacious rock and roll that's too eager and zany ever to be labeled tight, suggesting jazz heard through an open window or Latin music out in the street with zero conga drums. He celebrates youth in all its irresponsible compassion and doomed arrogance. This guy may not be God yet, but he has his sleeveless undershirt in the ring. A-” – Robert Chrisgau


Released: 1975 (Germany only)

The Boss – guitars, harmonica, mandolin, recorder, maracas, lead vocals
Big Man – saxophones, backing vocals
David Sancious – piano, organ (including solo on "Kitty's Back"), electric piano, clavinet, soprano saxophone on "The E Street Shuffle", backing vocals, string arrangement on "New York City Serenade"
Danny Federici – accordion, backing vocals, 2nd piano on "Incident on 57th Street", organ on "Kitty's Back"
Garry Tallent – bass, tuba, backing vocals
Mad Dog – drums, backing vocals, cornet on "The E Street Shuffle"
Richard Blackwell – conga, percussion