So back to the blogging world I go, and this time I’ve added some other people to help me and add more to this thing. But for tonight, it’s just me…
The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle is the second studio album released by Bruce Springsteen under Columbia Records. The album was recorded by Bruce Springsteen with the E Street Band at 914 Sound Studios in Blauvelt, New York. It made its debut to the world on September 11, 1973. I found the release date extremely interesting because little did Bruce know that in 28 years, the events occurring in New York City on the release anniversary of his second album would come to greatly influence his music and his twelfth studio album.
It might come as a surprise to the casual Bruce fans out there today to know that just as with his first album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., Bruce’s new album did not have much commercial success after its release. It was not until the Boss found later success with his third album Born to Run (1975) that Bruce fans came back to this album to find the gems hidden in plain view on the track list.
The album did, however, find immediate success with critics. Ken Emerson of Rolling Stone writes in early 1974:
The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle takes itself more seriously. The songs are longer, more ambitious and more romantic; and yet, wonderfully, they lose little of Greetings’ rollicking rush. Having released two fine albums in less than a year, Springsteen is obviously a considerable new talent.
In a retrospective “Rolling Stone Album Guide” (1992), Rolling Stone called the album a “masterpiece”, “cinematic in its sweep” and densely poetic with “vignettes of urban dreams and adolescent restlessness”.
The fact that this album did not find commercial success until after Springsteen exploded onto the world stage with 1975’s Born to Run is a testament to how truly difficult it is and always has been to break into the mainstream of music. It is hard to imagine an album of this magnitude going unnoticed by the general public at the time, but that was indeed the case.
Starting with “The E Street Shuffle”, we as the listeners are immediately thrust into the center of the massive sound of the E Street Band. I can only imagine how the first time listener felt when hearing the opening 0:12 of the song. The horns during this opening are reminiscent of a terrible high school marching band, but this is, as we come to find out momentarily, used as a humorous effect. This short intro is also as if we actually hear the band coming together to find their sound and become what we know them as today. This “shaky” opening gives way to the next four minutes of absolute jamming. In general, this is a very “busy” song, as there are a lot of sounds going on in the background and a lot of different instruments being utilized. It ends with the band coming back together in a very rhtyhmic, tight-sounding outro. I think the line that everyone remembers from this song has to be “Everybody form a line”, as Springsteen has used that same line in many different live versions of other songs.
We do get to relax a little bit when “4th of July, Asbury Park” starts to take us to the Jersey shore. For some reason, the accordion accompaniment in the background adds a very summer-on-the-boardwalk feel to the song. At once the listener is transported with Bruce and Sandy to see the sights and sounds of Bruce’s hometown.
Next, the slow-starting “Kitty’s Back” turns into another heavy jam session for the E Street Band. The musicians absolutely shine on this track. I once saw a live version of this song that turned into a fifteen minute pass-the-solo-around-the-band extravaganza. If you get to see the band perform this song live, you know you are at a show for the ages.
As with most albums, I almost always have to have a “least favorite”track, and on this album, “Wild Billy’s Circus Story” takes home that accolade. Long have I tried to pinpoint what exactly it is about this song that I don’t really like. I think I’ve finally narrowed it down to it being just plain weird. From Gary Tallent playing the tuba to the extra country-sounding twang in Bruce’s voice, I am just not a huge fan of this one.
Fianlly, we get to the absolute pinnacle of the album with the last three songs “Incident on 57th Street”, “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” and “New York City Serenade”. All three are top-notch tracks and showcase just what this group of musicians are able to do with their instruments. For the first ten years it toured, the E Street Band used “Rosalita” as its show-closer, which tells you all you really need to know about the song. Bruce tries to coax Rosalita out of the comfort of her parents’ home and into the fast-paced life of a rock artist against her parents’ wishes when he sings “I’m coming to liberate you, confiscate you, I want to be your man. Someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny.” His plea to Rosie’s father is a line that every Bruce fan on the planet can sing at the top of their lungs to: “Well, tell him this is his last chance to get his daughter in a fine romance, because the record company, Rosie, just gave me a big advance.” This song is in my top thee favorite Bruce songs.
And so is “New York City Serenade”. This song became one of my top three favorite songs when I saw it played as the opener to Springsteen’s longest ever North American show in Philadelphia in September 2016. We get jazz, rock, classical, and R&B with this all-time great track. David Sancious absolutely dazzles in the intro where he fuses classical piano with jazz piano to lay the foundation for a heartfelt rock ballad. The entry of the acoustic guitar wakes us up from the trance we have been put in while listening to Sancious, as if we almost forgot we were listening to a Springsteen song in the first place. The string sectin adds so much life and vibrance to the song that it now feels as if an entire orchestra of a hundred people is performing the song. As I was researching the song, I found an excerpt from a Rolling Stone article that perfectly sums up its meaning:
Anyone that claims to fully understand the meaning of “New York City Serenade” is either lying or delusional. In the 1973 masterpiece, we meet Billy and Diamond Jackie, who “boogaloo down Broadway and come back home with the loot.” Along the way, they meet a jazz man who plays them a serenade. That thin story stretches to ten minutes, with the help of an extended piano intro by David Sancious and horn work by Clarence Clemons and Albee Tellone.
Interestingly enough, Springsteen did not play the song for a very long time during his live tours, but finally brought the song back in 1999. He plays it still today, but only does it if he has the accompanying and extrmely necessary string section.
If you’ve never listened to this album straight through, then go do yourself a favor and bask in its greatness. Just close your eyes, sit back, and go with Bruce on his next set of adventures.
Listen to your junk man.
- The E Street Shuffle (4:29)
- 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) (5:37)
- Kitty’s Back (7:09)
- Wild Billy’s Circus Story (4:47)
- Incident on 57th Street (7:44)
- Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) (7:04)
- New York City Serenade (9:56)
Bruce Springsteen – guitars, harmonica, mandolin, recorder, maracas, lead vocals
Clarence Clemons – saxophones, backing vocals
David Sancious – piano, organ (including solo on “Kitty’s Back”), electric piano, clavinet, soprano saxophone on “The E Street Shuffle”, backing vocals, string arrangement on “New York City Serenade”
Danny Federici – accordion, backing vocals, 2nd piano on “Incident on 57th Street”, organ on “Kitty’s Back”
Garry Tallent – bass, tuba, backing vocals
Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez – drums, backing vocals, cornet on “The E Street Shuffle”
Richard Blackwell – conga, percussion
Albany “Al” Tellone – baritone saxophone on “The E Street Shuffle”
Suki Lahav – choir vocals on “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” and “Incident on 57th Street” (uncredited)
Mike Appel & Jim Cretecos – record producers (for Laurel Canyon Ltd.)
Louis Lahav – engineer
Teresa Alfieri & John Berg – design
David Gahr – photography