BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – ” Darkness on the Edge of Town ” Released On June 2nd 1978

Posted: June 5, 2018 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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Bruce Springsteen's 'Darkness on the Edge of Town': 10 Things You Didn't Know

On June 2nd, 1978, Bruce Springsteen released the album Darkness on the Edge of Town his first since 1975’s Born to Run had made him a big draw, it arrived after a lengthy lawsuit with his former manager Mike Appel where he was unable to enter a recording studio.

With three years on the sidelines because of the lawsuit with Appel an eternity at that time for a musician – Springsteen has said that he felt he needed to reintroduce himself. To make another dense record rooted in rock’s past,  In the three years between Born to Run and Darkness, he’d simply learned a lot and during this time he played some of the best live shows of his career. He spent a great deal of time in court, for one thing; he began listening to Hank Williams and old-time, class-conscious country music. He’d seen the films of John Ford and Howard Hawks and John Huston, and read the novels of John Steinbeck and John Dos Passos that Jon Landau had given him. The concerns of the lower-middle class became the concerns about which he began feeling most passionate, and those things are reflected in his writing, and his writing became more compact and direct as a result.

Although the lyrics didn’t directly reference the suit, his bitterness showed in the songwriting. Gone was the cinematic romanticism of his first three albums, replaced by stark portraits of blue-collar American life that would form the basis of Springsteen’s writing for the next decade.

Darkness On The Edge reached No. 5 on the Billboard albums chart, and the tour, where he and the E Street Band made their first ventures into headlining arenas, The tour solidified his reputation as one of the most exciting live acts in rock n’ roll. Many of its tracks, including “Badlands,” “The Promised Land” and “Prove It All Night” as well as the outtake “Because the Night” have still to this day continued to play an important role in his concerts to this day.

But the 10 songs released on Darkness represented a fraction of the music recorded for the album, with 57 song known titles recorded during the sessions, . Is “Darkness on the Edge of Town” Bruce Springsteen’s best album?.

Several other artists wound up benefiting from his surplus; Southside Johnny, Robert Gordon, Greg Kihn and Gary U.S. Bonds all recorded songs from this period that Springsteen felt didn’t jibe with the album’s bleak mood. But while “Prove It All Night” was the only single , two artists enjoyed massive hit smashes with his Darkness castoffs: The Pointer Sisters went all the way to Number Two with their recording of “Fire” – a song Springsteen claimed to have originally written in 1977 for Elvis Presley and Patti Smith scored the biggest hit single of her career with “Because the Night,” which reached  Number Five in the U.K charts.

Smith, who was recording her album Easter with Jimmy Iovine at the same time the latter was working on Darkness, took the unfinished “Because the Night” and added a verse inspired by her long-distance relationship with future husband Fred “Sonic” Smith. “I knew that I wasn’t going to finish the song, because it was a love song, and I really felt like I didn’t know how to write them at the time,” Springsteen recalled in The Promise, explaining his decision to give the song to Smith. “A real love song like ‘Because the Night,’ I was reticent to write; I think I was too cowardly to write at the time. But she was very brave. She had the courage.”

Darkness is the first Springsteen album where he sounds like the Springsteen whose legend was secured around this time. Springsteen finally found a way to match the yearning of youth with a grounded sense of adult experience, and it happened toward the end of a period of broad excess when the genre so badly needed it. The production is a wonder of amalgamation, too: He melded the West Coast’s spacious, very polished style with the power and force of Middle American and punk rock.

By the summer of 1977, the E Street Band – then consisting of guitarist Miami Steve Van Zandt, saxophonist Clarence Clemons, pianist Roy Bittan, organist Danny Federici, bassist Garry Tallent and drummer Max Weinberg  had become a road-hardened unit capable of bending almost telepathically to any of Springsteen’s musical whims, so it made perfect sense for Springsteen to record the songs for Darkness live in the studio with his band. Unfortunately, Springsteen’s endless search for the ultimate sound completely counteracted any efficiency that might have otherwise resulted from such an arrangement. Unhappy with the sounds they were getting at New York’s Atlantic Studios, Springsteen moved the recording sessions to the Record Plant, where he, co-producer Jon Landau and engineer Jimmy Iovine spent interminable weeks trying to capture the perfect drum sound.

Every song on the first side has a corresponding track on the second in the same sequence. “Badlands” and “The Promised Land” are about America, “Adam Raised a Cain” and “Factory” are about father-son relationships and so on.

Darkness on the Edge of Town is consistently among my top album from Springsteen’s catalog. I think the excruciating editing process he went through with this album speaks volumes about the focus and quality of the story he was telling at that time. What is the best song on the record?

As the opening song, “Badlands” not only sets the tone for everything that follows, it’s also a hell of an introduction to the album with those massive drums barreling into the picture. Every song on the album, more or less, stems from “Badlands.”

 “Racing in the Street,” because it turns the bombast of what came before completely inside out. If Born to Run was about the desperate desire to be free of your old life, your hometown and every preconceived notion, this album – and, my goodness, this song – was about what happens to those who were left behind. Even the expected early-career “car songs” tend to feature people lost in a cul-de-sac of regret. “Racing in the Street” is my favorite song by anybody. it was the perfect anthem  cruising around town, only realizing later that it had this other meaning. How anyone can comprehend how Springsteen wrote that last verse, given that he hadn’t yet been in a serious relationship. “Racing in the Street” and “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” The story he tells in the former is so specific and evocative that it really haunts the listener. That’s why it’s not even surprising when the couple from “Racing” ages a decade or two, and reappears, as I see it, in “Darkness.” Springsteen couldn’t get them out of his head any more than I could, and the stunning outro gives the listener time to contemplate their fate. It also remains phenomenal to me that early versions of the song didn’t even include the little girl he drove away.

“Racing in the Street” is a great narrative and a great song. The lyrics speak of desolation, lost chances and the things the desperate do just to live, both in the world and with themselves. Springsteen gives those words life and breath, and puts his voice in the middle of it all; there’s no separating it from either the story or the telling of it. The music is stark and brooding — it’s a keyboard song on a guitar album, and Roy Bittan and Danny Federici refuse to leaven the mood as they might on other songs. Bittan’s piano figure that runs through the song is every bit the match for the lyrics, and then Federici wraps an organ countermelody around the piano. … God, it gives me chills to this day.

The outtakes found on Tracks and The Promise show him writing very different material than what was released on the final album, the best tracks, sound like more chapters to the Darkness story. While the outtakes were informative, in particular for completists, they only confirmed Bruce Springsteen’s brilliance as an editor Darkness on the Edge of Town still sounds perfectly balanced. He was writing all these great songs rooted in ’60s pop and R&B like “Talk to Me,” “Save My Love” and “Ain’t Good Enough for You.” The finished product only reflected one side of him. And I like the idea of Jon Landau whispering in one ear about the art of the rock album and Steven Van Zandt in the other about more hit singles.  It gave me an even greater appreciation for his creative vision. He went through an agonizing period of writing and editing to arrive at the final product that was true to the feelings he wanted to evoke. He writes fantastic songs, and there are quite a few in those outtakes, but they didn’t fit the theme. When you have so many songs, and great ones at that, those are tough decisions to make. Dilute the album’s message or let the songs languish in the vault? But I’ve always felt that one of Springsteen’s gifts to his fans is that he has allowed us to look back at his editing process. I’ve always appreciated a peak at his rewriting, and how he’s not afraid to hold onto a a piece of music or lyric when he doesn’t think he’s done justice to it yet.

I’d read interviews with him in the past talking about how he’d write something like “Fire” or “Rendezvous” or “Bring on the Night” and have to set them aside, because they didn’t fit the tone of the work he was recording. To hear some of those songs on Tracks and The Promise was great, The overarching thing I take away from them (and from the outtakes from The River) was just how mind-blowingly prolific a songwriter he was at the time. Like, two-albums-a-year prolific.

Almost every other song on Darkness sounds epic, both in the lyrics and the music. “Factory” is a quiet, personal ode to his father that scales down the album’s bigger themes. If replaced with “The Promise” which is way closer to what Darkness is all about. Plus, they’re both slower cuts, so it would fit into that missing slot perfectly.

The other songs tend to feel like they were left off for a reason because of differences in production values, because they are clearly unfinished or (quite often, actually) because upbeat tracks like “Save My Love” and “Gotta Get That Feeling” just don’t fit thematically. That said, the brilliantly ambiguous “Breakaway” might just have made the cut.

“The Promise” belongs on there, but you couldn’t find anything better that’s thematically similar to go in its place (“The Brokenhearted,” “City of Night”?). It could have another kinda love song, “Don’t Look Back.”

I do think “The Promise” would have made a great addition. It’s among his most heartbreaking, and fits well with the tone of the record. In addition “Racing in the Street” I’d surely go with the one he chose for Darkness, but the sped up recording on The Promise really hits the spot sometimes.

“Hearts of Stone,” is another great song which Springsteen gave to Southside Johnny, but which also was a standout cut on the Tracks box.

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