One of the musical legends of the 20th century makes his debut today, as we listen to “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.”, the debut album from the one and only Bruce Springsteen. The album was moderately successful commercially, although it was positively received by most critics. Without much cache as a performer or recording artist, Bruce was only able to use his collection of band members on some of the album. For me, the album is clearly divided along these lines, and I tend to greatly prefer the up-tempo tracks with his backing band, including saxophone giant Clarence Clemons.
I have always thought Bruce is at his best with what became the “E Street Band” behind him, and that is one of the key separating factors between his music and dozens of Bob Dylan wanna-be’s. The album opens with “Blinded By the Light”, which as we all know, was subsequently turned into something weird and annoying, yet much more commercially viable by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. I really like Bruce’s version, which he wrote at the end of the album recording to appease Clive Davis of Columbia Records, who was looking for more commercial appeal. It leads right in to “Growin’ Up”, another great, fully backed song that is definitely my favorite on the album. Next comes “Mary Queen of Arkansas”, the first stripped-down song on the album. It isn’t my favorite, and I just don’t enjoy it like I do when he is playing with even an early version of his band. This same rationale applies to much of the mid-section of the record. The album ultimately ends on a strong note, and with“Spirit in the Night”, the second single that was also written to appease Davis, and “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City”, we end with two more up-tempo songs with his band, that are among the best on the album.
Like many artists, I think the best is yet to come with Bruce, and we will see another album later in 1973 that builds on the success of this debut. Like some performers, the legend of Bruce Springsteen is carried mainly on the strength of his live performances, but the albums have to lay that foundation for him to build his live set. A mostly entertaining debut, I look forward to hearing more of his catalog.