Synopsis of Pop Music
"Cause honey, tramps like us,
Baby we were born to run..."
A unique problem for many rock performers is that they often win critical fame or public popularity, but rarely get both at once. Bruce Springsteen beat those odds by wowing critics and fans alike with a string of hit albums that began in the mid-1970’s. Springsteen scored his dual-edged success by combining intelligent, heartfelt songwriting with rock and roll muscle on hit songs like “Born To Run” and “Hungry Heart.” In the process, he became one of the most important and influential rock performers to come out of the 1970’s.
Bruce Springsteen was born in New Jersey in 1949. He joined the rock and roll cause at age 9 after seeing Elvis, and started playing in local Jersey bands as a teen. The young guitar slinger quickly developed a reputation as the Hendrix of the New Jersey music scene through his work in bands like Steel Mill and Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom. As he worked with the musicians he would later use in the E Street Band, Springsteen also began penning his own songs. They tended to be epic narratives written in a Bob Dylan-esque style with lots of wordplay and unusual but poetic imagery. In 1972, these songs won Springsteen a record contract, and he released his first album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.
Asbury Park won a lot of praise from rock critics, as did its follow-up, The Wild, The Innocent, and the E-Street Shuffle. Just the same, the best was yet to come for Springsteen. His career moved to the next level when influential rock critic Jon Landau attended one of his concerts. Landau loved what he saw and wrote a rave review of the show that contained the oft-quoted line, “I saw rock and roll’s future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” Landau was also a record producer and Springsteen enlisted his skills on his next album, Born To Run. This classic album used a rich, almost cinematic wall-of-sound production that lived up to the epic style of songs like “Jungleland” and “Thunder Road.”
Born To Run became a massive, career-defining hit for the young Bruce Springsteen. Its combination of a huge rock and roll sound with vivid, ultra-romantic songs fulfilled many a pop music fan’s dream of what rock and roll should be. The finest example was the title track, a dramatic rocker that threw out all the stops sonically and lyrically as it brought its narrator’s plea for freedom from a boring, loveless life into sharp focus. This single became a Top-30 hit as its parent album became a #3 smash. By the end of the year, Springsteen had been on the covers of both Time and Newsweek.
Things weren’t entirely perfect for Bruce Springsteen, though. A conflict with his manager of the fairness of his contract kept Springsteen from releasing another album for two years. 'The Boss' kept his career alive by touring all over the country for the next few years as he penned new songs and tested them out on the road. His concerts were always sell-out affairs, thanks to the fact that he had one of the best rock and roll backup groups in the E Street Band. Springsteen also charmed audiences near and far with his habit of telling long and involved anecdotes to introduce his songs. These intimate stories both explained the origins of his music and helped make the audience feel like part of the show.
Despite the fact that Springsteen could not release any new songs until 1978, he managed to have chart hits until then through other artists. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band scored back-to-back hits in 1977 with their space-rock versions of “Blinded By The Light” and “Spirits In The Night.” Patti Smith and the Pointer Sisters enjoyed big hits in 1978 with their respective Springsteen covers, “Because The Night” and “Fire.” In the summer of 1978, Springsteen returned to the pop charts with Darkness on the Edge of Town. As the title indicated, this album reflected the tensions of his recent legal hassles and his struggle to come to grips with his newfound fame on songs like “Badlands” and “Adam Raised A Cain.”
After spending a good part of 1979 touring, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band returned to the studio. The end result was 1980’s impressive double album The River. This ambitious collection of songs found an effective middle ground between the passion of Born To Run and the brooding themes of Darkness on the Edge of Town. This effective sense of balance led to the album's becoming Springsteen’s first #1 LP. It also spawned a major hit single in “Hungry Heart,” an exploration of the need for love set to the throbbing beat of a big-production rock sound.
In 1982, Springsteen made a dramatic departure from the lush sound of The River with Nebraska, a set of songs performed by Springsteen alone on his acoustic guitar. In stark songs like “Atlantic City” and “Highway Patrolman,” Springsteen brought out the anger and loneliness that often lie beneath ‘the American dream.’ The album was too dark to become a hit on the level of The River, but it did do quite well and earned Springsteen some of the best reviews of his career. Two years later, Springsteen made a major commercial return to form with Born In The U.S.A. It brought back a radio-friendly production style to complement a slate of songs with anthem-like sound. The result was an even bigger hit that Born To Run.
Born In The U.S.A. also introduced Springsteen to the MTV generation through the exciting performance clip for “Dancing In The Dark” and the moody nighttime saga of “I’m On Fire.” Despite this aggressive promotion and the accessible sound of the music, the songs on Born In The U.S.A. were as challenging and complex as any of Springsteen’s past classics. Both “My Hometown” and “Glory Days” dealt with the pain of seeing dreams fade, while the title track was a gripping examination of the American dream gone wrong. Ironically, the latter song was often misinterpreted as a simplistic ode to patriotism. Just the same, it was a Top-10 hit, as were all the singles from this chart-topping album.
In 1987, Springsteen released his next album Tunnel Of Love. It was a very mature examination of romance and relationships, the best example being the hit single “Brilliant Disguise.” This hit also boasted a memorable video that started with a wide shot of Springsteen playing an acoustic guitar that gradually moved in until it was a tight close-up on his face. After this album and its attendant tour, Springsteen moved into a period of seclusion that lasted several years as he concentrated on his family life with wife Patti Scialfa. During this time, the E Street Band also dissolved as its members move on to other projects.
After a five-year hiatus, he returned in 1992 by releasing two albums, Lucky Town and Human Touch, at the same time. Both were surprisingly mellow affairs that focused on intimate concerns in songs like “Human Touch” and domestic life on songs like “57 Channels And Nothing On.” He scored a major critical hit in 1994 with “The Streets Of Philadelphia,” a moving song about a person suffering from AIDS that was used as the Oscar-winning theme song for the film Philadelphia. The next year, Springsteen memorialized his success with Greatest Hits, which collected all the major hit singles and also included a few new tracks that reunited Springsteen with the E Street Band.
Bruce Springsteen also released The Ghost Of Tom Joad in 1995. It had an all-acoustic sound like Nebraska, but its tone was lighter than that album and reflected the maturity that Springsteen found as a family man. He also recorded the title song for the Oscar-winning drama Dead Man Walking and it won him a Grammy award. Most recently, Springsteen has released Tracks, a box set of the many unreleased songs he has recorded over the years. It was released on November 10, 1998, the same day that Springsteen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The induction was a well-deserved accolade, but it was by no means the end of the road for Springsteen. A combination of intelligence, heart and good old-fashioned rock and roll firepower ensure that Bruce Springsteen will always be important to the world of popular music.
Artist Release History01/13/73 - Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.
09/11/73 - The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle
08/25/75 - Born To Run
06/02/78 - Darkness On The Edge Of Town
10/10/80 - The River
09/20/82 - Nebraska
06/01/84 - Born In The U.S.A.
11/10/86 - Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Live 1975-1985
10/06-87 - Tunnel Of Love
03/30/92 - Human Touch
03/30/92 - Lucky Town
04/13/92 - In Concert – MTV Plugged
02/28/95 - Greatest Hits
11/16/95 - The Ghost Of Tom Joad
11/10/98 - Tracks
04/20/99 - 18 Tracks
1999 - Greatest Hits
1999 - Before the Fame (compilation)
2001 - Live in New York City
Pop Sub Categoriesrock
Essential Music AlbumsBorn To Run (Columbia)
Born In The U.S.A. (Columbia)
Greatest Hits (Columbia)
Band MembersBruce Springsteen lead vocals, guitar
Steven Van Zandt guitar
Clarence Clemons saxophone
David Sancious keyboards
Danny Federici keyboards
Roy Bittan keyboards
Garry Tallent bass
Max Weinberg drums