Discussing my favorite all-time album is pure self-indulgence, but that is why we blog, right? I am using my late night burst of energy to write my thoughts from the perspective of a songwriter and also from someone who was coming of age just as this album was being released. There is a wikipedia page on the album here which lists its release as September 11, 1973 but there is a mild controversy about this as the more official release month, acknowledged on Bruce's Facebook page, is generally recognized as November, 1973. The album was produced by Bruce's former manager Mike Appel and his partner, Jim Cretecos and recorded at the 914 Sound Studios in Blauvelt, NY over the six month period between March and September, 1973. Bruce's performing band was ever to be known as the E Street Band after this album, as his first album Greetings was really a solo songwriter album. As the page acknowledges, the name E Street came from the family home of David Sancious in Belmar, NJ, something I discovered by accident when I was living in New Jersey between 1978-1980.
In 1973, Bruce traveled to Southern California to visit his parents, Douglas and Adele who had relocated from Freehold, NJ to California. He went there during the initial recording period for Wild and Innocent and while there, managed to catch a couple Van Morrison concerts. Van Morrison, while an enduring figure in popular music to this day, was at his creative peak in the early 70's and his concerts were a fusion of rock and R&B elements layered over Morrison's singer-songwriter style. Bruce returned to New Jersey with the idea to create a similar sound for himself and so he created this style and sound using cohorts from his rock and roll bands and musicians who played the Jersey Shore as part of cover bands. With Wild and Innocent, Bruce created something that was not there before. This history is detailed nicely in a BBC documentary on Bruce not widely seen in the US but available on You Tube. Until recently, this was something I did not know. My thought had always been that Bruce melded himself into an established R&B scene in Asbury Park and came out with this album.
So from the start, this album was an extraordinary creative effort and the groundwork for Born To Run which followed this record could not have been created without it. Wild and Innocent and Born to Run are Bruce's two fusion albums. The sound that most people associate with Bruce started taking shape with Darkness On The Edge of Town and has continued to the present day (although Wrecking Ball has some really remarkable fusion elements, as does The Rising). I remain a Bruce fan to this day because of his lyrical power and his ability to every so often do the unexpected (Streets of Philadelphia) that prevents his music from turning into a cliche.
The fusion thing started with Wild and Innocent. Bruce himself describes the album as the place where he started to consciously establish his own identity as an artist. He was under some pressure at the time to prove himself worthy to John Hammond and Columbia Records, although not nearly as much as he would experience prior to the release of Born To Run. Combining the character sketches he started with Greetings, Bruce decided upon seven songs which would be distinctive and recorded these very consciously in a Side One-Side Two fashion that is not possible with CD or digital releases. Five of the seven songs are mini-operas, complex in narrative and musical execution. Only E Street Shuffle and Wild Billy's Circus Story are straightforward point A to point B songs told in third person.
As a songwriter, probably the most structured of all of these songs is Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy). Three verses with repeating choruses. It's my favorite Bruce song to this day because of the way Bruce addresses Sandy in this musical poem that sounds like a letter written and perhaps never delivered. I have no idea how true the details are to Bruce's life at the time, but the portrait painted of Asbury Park at this time and place is unforgettable: Madam Marie, The Casino, The Tilt-A-Whirl, The Boardwalk, Little Eden, The Pinball Parlors. A lot of it is still there in Asbury Park, enduring tourist attractions. With the advent of Hurricane Sandy (how's that for irony!) things have changed and the Stone Pony, despite mulitple efforts to save it, could not be saved. The song is now a requiem for a time and place which inspired my own song, Once There Was Paragon.
Side Two was a conscious creation for sure and not just a happy accident. Reading recent tributes to the album, it is really remarkable to see the high regard in which these three songs are held for a lot of people and not just me. Some people call this and Side Two of Abbey Road the greatest album sides in modern rock history and I wouldn't argue too much with them. David Sancious had a great deal to do with the way Incident on Fifty Seventh Street flowed into Rosalita which then flowed into the remarkable New York City Serenade. Roughly twenty minutes of continuous, beautiful, energetic, thoughtful and fun music. Bruce gets credit for the songs. Appel and Cretecos had the good sense to stay out of the way. The sax solo in Rosalita stamps Clarence Clemons's passport into musical history. I can only imagine what the folks at Columbia thought when they got the pressings of the album prior to its release. In those days, they didn't change much of what an artist put on record but having the protection of John Hammond, which was so essential to Bob Dylan's recordings, counted for a lot, I think.
I haven't mentioned Kitty's Back, which is somewhat similar and interchangable with Rosalita. I think it could have been the filling in the Side Two sandwich, but Bruce had the sense to let it be the song which carried forward the energy of the opening E Street Shuttle song. Side one goes fast, slower, fast, then slower again and Side Two goes slow/mid-tempo, fast, then slow. Kitty's Back, fun and energetic as it may be, is not the breakthrough song that Rosalita is, the song which, as one Facebook poster put it, defibrilated the early 1970's when popular music was flatlining.
I hope there are albums these days which will provide the soul and inspiration that The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle gave me when I was 18 years old. I first heard this album and all of Bruce's songs during the summer of 1974, which I talk about in my Springsteen and I video not accepted for the movie (sigh) but viewed an astonishing 545 times on You Tube. It's my bestseller and you can see it here. I could see how listening to the first album by Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Eminem, Ani DiFranco, Dave Matthews Band or maybe even Alicia Keys could provide similar inspiration. For people older than myself, the first albums by Bob Dylan, Fairport Convention, Nick Drake, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, later Beatle albums after Revolver and maybe even Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys could have done the same thing. You gotta have that once in your life. Thank you, Bruce.