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The E Street Shuffle

Review The E Street Shuffle, Bruce Springsteen

Aggiornato il 28 Ago, 2023 | Words and Music |

The E Street Shuffle is the opening track from Bruce Springsteen‘s second album, The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle (1973). The song, while not completely the title track of the disc, composes part of the title, in a choice that witnesses the relevance that Springsteen attributed to it. The reason is not so much related to its potential as a launch single (CBS renounced this role due to its excessive length), but above all to Bruce‘s intention to give evidence to that street, the E Street, which in those situations he was suggesting the final name of the band, precisely the E Street Band. The E Street Shuffle has a very strong link with Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, a song Springsteen released on his next album, the legendary Born To Run. A bond not so much of musical genre, as of intentions and geographical references.


Springsteen and the members of the first nucleus of the E Street Band often stopped by Belmar, a coastal town in New Jersey, very close to Asbury Park, to pick up keyboardist David Sancious. The latter, however, accumulated such delays that Bruce one day observed that the band could only be called with the name of that road: E Street. From those circumstances was born the name of one of the most important bands in rock history. But the geographical references are not finished: E Street in Belmar intersects with Tenth Avenue, the street to which Bruce referred for the title of another of his songs: Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. So the latter and The E Street Shuffle have clear common references. But the ties don’t end there. Both songs are in a sense the celebration of the newborn band. In the E Street Shuffle its musicians are disguised as the kids of the gangs that dance the shuffle in the street. In Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out the band “busts this city in half”, thanks to the meeting of Bad Scooter and Big Man, namely Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons.


The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle marked a decisive stylistic shift in Springsteen‘s music. If the first album, Greetings From Asbury Park, New Jersey, was born from the idea of ​​launching Bruce as the New Dylan and only in its final evolution had it received songs suitable for a rock bands (such as Blinded By The Light and Spirit In The Night), the second album marked a decisive musical change. Springsteen realized that he had a real band at his disposal, now more established, and he wanted to show his admirers and detractors, especially those who pressed him to use professional musicians, what his band could do. In this sense The E Street Shuffle, starting from its title, highlighted this new name, the E Street Band, which appeared almost suddenly in the American rock scene of those years. And it was certainly no coincidence that it was chosen as the opening track of the album.


The transition from songwriter to band leader was also witnessed by a narrative element that appeared in a group of songs composed by Springsteen between 1973 and 1974. Like in songs such as New York City Serenade, Jungleland and Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, also in The E Street Shuffle, we find the bands/gangs mixing music and the underworld of the alleys. Springsteen, fascinated by the literature and cinema of the time, wanted to paint that slum epic as a mix of petty crime (mixing poverty, stray dogs and violence) and expiation of guilt through music. As in Jungleland, gangs become bands that challenge each other with guitars and dance moves. The shuffle danced in the street, in this case, has a double role: it unites the kids of the miserable suburban reality and distracts them from violence and illegality. Or, in a different sense, it is an integral part of it.


They are not surrounded by the same aura of legend as other Springsteenian couples (Catlong and Kitty, Spanish Johnny and Puertorican Jane, Billy and Diamond Jackie), but in The E Street Shuffle we find two other figures that Bruce traces with the same mastery. Power Thirteen is a juvenile delinquent, prone to fights, who has even come to blows with the police. Little Angel is a wonderful female figure. She can be attractive, with her crazy moves while dancing the shuffle, and in this way she manages to attract the attention of the boys to herself and even make them dance, lining them all up and away from alley battles and dirty jobs. A story and a setting that lead to the West Side Story, but in this case we are in the province and not in the suburbs of the metropolis. In the end, while everyone is dancing, she runs away with Power Thirteen for a fleeting dream of love, even if only one night long. Tomorrow will be another day.


The E Street Shuffle owes its inspiration to several musical elements. First of all there is the reference to the jazz of the roots, the one from Memphis, New Orleans and Kansas City, in the musical introduction from a marching band, in which a wind section plays freely as if the musicians were warming up the reeds and mouthpieces of their instruments. Then the supporting structure of the song is based on a mix of black music, between soul and rhythm & blues, with a syncopated rhythm. It was Springsteen himself who recalled how he was inspired by Curtis Mayfield and his The Monkey Time, especially for the main guitar riff. Finally, the arrangements of wind instruments and keyboards, as well as the singing style, owe something to the quintessential white soulman, that Van Morrison who was a strong reference for Springsteen throughout his second album. Surprisingly, no horn musicians were recruited for the horn section. The song is played by the members of the E Street Band, reinvented on instruments other than theirs. Thus, together with Clarence Clemons‘ tenor sax, we find the cornet played by Vini Lopez, the tuba by Garry Tallent, the soprano sax by David Sancious and the baritone sax by Albee Tellone, an old Bruce‘s friend. Another friend of Bruce’s, Richard Blackwell, was hired to beat the percussions.


Talking of a collective street dance, The E Street Shuffle can only be a song with fast rhythms and an atmosphere of revelry. Paradoxically, however, Springsteen soon presented a live rearranged version. A slow soul based on a piano lap and a guitar riff, which lost the horn section but got considerably closer to the more canonical sound of the E Street Band, especially with the arrival of Max Weinberg on drums and Roy Bittan on piano. An execution that could last more than ten minutes, as evidenced by the recording of Springsteen‘s first famous concert outside America (London, 1975). The song then disappeared from the live setlists to be revived only in 2000, during the Reunion Tour.


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


Next Review: 4 september 2023 – 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)


Dario Migliorini


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