Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. is the first album by Bruce Springsteen, released in January 1973. In May 1972 the young Springsteen, at the age of only 22, had held an audition in front of the guru of the CBS talent scouts, John Hammond, who years before had discovered none other than Bob Dylan. It was precisely Dylan that Hammond was referring to, seeing Springsteen as the heir to the great songwriter from Duluth, Minnesota. It is no coincidence that Bruce brought to the audition songs performed only with an acoustic guitar: Growin’ Up, It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City, Mary Queen Of Arkansas and Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street? These songs will enter Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., forming its first heart.
THE NEW DYLAN
The idea of the New Dylan prompted CBS to ask Springsteen to record Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. as an acoustic folk album, but Springsteen objected and requested that some of the musicians he was playing with participate in the recordings. They were also the friends with whom he spent the days and nights in Asbury Park, N.J.. The Springsteen family had moved to California and sold their home in their native Freehold. Bruce had decided to stay in New Jersey, however, but at that point he did not have a domicile. For a while, he had even stayed overnight in his friend and first manager’s surfboard cabin. The first core of the future E Street Band consisted of Vini Mad Dog Lopez on drums, Garry Tallent on bass and David Sancious on piano and organ. Thus, while Mary Queen Of Arkansas remained in the one man band format with the addition of an overdubbed harmonica part, the other three songs auditioned on CBS became full band, albeit always in an acoustic guise.
GREETINGS FROM ASBURY PARK, N.J. IS COMPLETE
In the summer of 1972, more songs were recorded for Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.: Lost In The Flood and For You, both full band, and The Angel, written as early as 1971 and played only by David Sancious on piano and the guest musician Richard Davis on double bass (the same who had played in Van Morrison‘s Astral Weeks). At Lost In The Flood also collaborated, but with a very marginal role, a new Springsteen’s friend, Steve Van Zandt, who paid for the need to reduce the band, imposed by CBS, and thus did not take part in the recordings of the album. The only contribution of the future Little Steven was a distorted amplifier sound that is heard at the beginning of Lost In The Flood, to simulate a war noise.
HITS ARE NEEDED
At that point, convinced to abandon the idea of the New Dylan, the president of CBS, Clive Davis, asked Springsteen to write and record two pop-rock songs, suitable for climbing the sales charts as singles. Thus Blinded By The Light and Spirit In The Night were born, with another fundamental novelty: the saxophonist Clarence “Big Man” Clemons joined the band, destined to become a myth in the collective imaginary of Springsteenian fans. In the first song Clemons participated with a role of musical backing, while in the second one he performed the first of an endless series of sax solos that will accompany Springsteen‘s discography in the following decades. Consequently, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. became an album with three souls: the one that emerged from the idea of the New Dylan, that of a first band awareness (recordings of the summer of 1972), the more pop one coinciding with the entry of Clarence Clemons into the band.
GREETINGS FROM ASBURY PARK, N.J. DOES NOT BREAK THROUGH
However, Blinded By The Light and Spirit In The Night failed to achieve the desired effect by CBS and by Springsteen himself. The singles reached disappointing heights in the charts and, once released, the record turned out to be a half flop from a commercial point of view. While the young Bruce continued to write songs in order to offer new material in the concerts, CBS was already starting to doubt the choice made. Better to keep the Dylan-like acoustic folk or to insist on the rock vein? Better to turn to professional musicians or to go ahead with those guys, coming from nowhere? For someone in the CBS, the Springsteen‘s bet was already to be abandoned. But other material was ready to be recorded.
Thus, with the inclusion of Blinded By The Light and Spirit In The Night on the album, the collaboration between Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons began. Springsteen, skillfully fictionalizing the story, has often told the moment he met his giant saxophonist. He was playing in a club when, suddenly, the club door opened and a huge man appeared, so tall and thick that his sax looked like a toy for children. That evening, after the performance, Bruce and Clarence had a long talk and played something together. It was love at first sight. In the subsequent tours, the two also created skits, especially during the interlude of Growin’ Up, in which the touch of their hands triggered the spark of rock’n’roll. Their professional union and friendship were also a symbol of rock music marrying soul music and, in a broader perspective, of white marrying black. In that way they tried to overcome the racial barriers, still very high in America, primarily in a New Jersey battered by clashes between whites and blacks (as Springsteen will later mention in My Hometown).
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