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Review 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), Bruce Springsteen

Aggiornato il 5 Set, 2023 | Words and Music |

4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), known simply as Sandy, is the second track on Bruce Springsteen‘s second album The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle. In the Fifties and the Sixties Asbury Park, a coastal town in New Jersey, was a place with a high tourist flow, but also the cradle of a rich music scene, which found its outlet in the institutional Paramount Theater and Convention Hall and in some small venues that have become legendary, including the Upstage and the Student’s Prince (the Stone Pony will open in 1974). Then, between the Sixties and the Seventies, the economic crisis and racial riots set Asbury Park on fire and caused the end of its former glory. It was then that a young musician emerged from those streets. Bruce Springsteen, came from the hinterland, but chose Asbury Park as his musical hometown. He explicitly dedicated to that town the title of his first album (Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.) and this 4th Of July Asbury Park (Sandy).

THE DECADENCE OF ASBURY PARK

4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) is a very sweet ballad that, while singing the decadence of a town, paradoxically helped to restore an aura of magic to it, which has become one of the legendary places in rock history. It was Independence Day of one of those awful years and in Asbury Park the young people faced their nocturnal routine: the casino, the arcades, the amusement park, the girls to pick up. A land of toys that tried to hide the big problems that the town was experiencing. Springsteen, not surprisingly, sings about “stoned-out faces, left stranded on this 4th of July”. It’s a carnival life, in which everyone seems to be part of a show, each with their own role, each with their own marked destiny. And the Asbury Park pier light that boardwalk life, a life spent on the pedestrians promenade that runs along the beach. From all this the protagonist wants to escape, inviting his Sandy to follow him.

THE PAINTER SPRINGSTEEN DRAWS A BIG FRESCO

The thickness of 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) lies in many aspects. One of these is certainly the abundance of details in the description of the characters and places. There are casual lovers, so fast and bright and sharp, boys with pomade and open shirts, who hit on the silly little girls of New York or the factory worker-girls, but end their night sleeping on the beach. We find young people with high heels and white skin, who live by night and shun sunlight like vampires, and motorcycle gangs (The Angels) who come and go on their Harley Davidsons and manage to tow the girls, taking them to make love on the Kokomo. And finally there is Madame Marie, the old seer on the boardwalk, who is busted by the police because she knows how to tell people what awaits them better than the policemen.

THE PROLOGUE OF BORN TO RUN AND THUNDER ROAD

In this decadent situation the protagonist asks Sandy to celebrate Independence Day with him, leaving Asbury Park. He promises her the only things he can give her: love and a car to travel on. “Love me tonight and I promise I’ll love you forever”, the boy declares. He doesn’t know if he’ll keep that promise, but he wants to at least try. 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) is somehow the pioneer song of the escape theme, which will be treated in all its epicness in the following Born To Run and Thunder Road. But, while Born To Run is an escape from the road and suicide cars, Thunder Road seems to be the true sequel to Sandy. The latter shows us the background and closes with the proposal to the girl to leave; Thunder Road is the next moment Sandy, now Mary, is invited to get in the car because it’s time to leave that town of losers to win.

THE FOLKY SWEETNESS OF AN ACCORDION

One difference between 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) and the next two masterpieces lies in the music. While Born To Run and Thunder Road press the accelerator on faster rhythms and a decidedly rockier sound, Sandy is a little jewel between folk and rock. A ballad embellished by the strong folk element of Danny Federici‘s accordion, but also by eclectic cues such as the countermelody played by Springsteen on the electric guitar and the dreamlike score on high notes of the electric piano by David Sancious. Clarence Clemons‘ sax also appears in a supporting role, played on low notes as a rhythmic instrument. Garry Tallent on bass plays a part that’s anything but trivial. Although not credited, violinist Suki Lahav also participated in the recording of the backing vocals, whose voice Springsteen wanted to overdub several times to give the appearance of a multi-voiced female choir. Choirs that will disappear in Sandy‘s live versions, which instead have maintained the centrality of the accordion and piano. Roy Bittan will perform a different score, using the acoustic piano and insisting on the higher octaves of the keyboard

A SONG IN A POSTCARD

Anyone who has been to Asbury Park can testify that, as soon as they set foot on the boardwalk, 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) immediately comes to mind and the irrepressible desire to hear it again or even sing it. The town, fortunately, has been relaunched, but many of the places described, such as The Arcades, the Casino and Madame Marie‘s spot, are still there, albeit mostly in disuse (Madame Marie, her true name Marie Castello, died in 2008). On the side of the Sandy covers a version by The Hollies, an English band led by Allan Clarke, was recorded and published. This version, softer and more light-hearted than Springsteen‘s original, was included on their album Another Night (1975).

 

Read Also: It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City, Lost In The Flood

 

Next Review: 11 September 2023 – Kitty’s Back

 

Dario Migliorini

 

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