Saturday, September 04, 2010

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss: Hidden Springsteen Gems To Be Released From 'Darkness'

It certainly is not unusual for talented musical artists to have recorded far more material than they put out on their principal albums. I have just as many CDs worth of fresh Jimi Hendrix studio recordings released 20-40 years past his death than came out during his all-too-brief lifetime. While not all of the long-hidden recordings are quite on par with what's on Jimi's monumental trio of main albums, a great number of songs are stellar enough to wonder why they were kept in the vaults for so long.

Along with substantial posthumously-released material from acts like Nirvana, Johnny Cash and Stevie Ray Vaughn--and look for Michael Jackson's vaults to be emptied regularly over the next several years--several of my favorite current artists (U2, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, The Killers, Maximo Park--have also put out at least one "rarities album" with plenty of tunes as good if not better than some of what's on their "official CDs." And starting in 1991, Bob Dylan has put out oodles of previously unreleased material through his "Bootleg Series."

Tracks, 1998 66-song rarities box set
But perhaps because I'm such a hardcore fan of Bruce Springsteen--my all-time favorite rock artist--and thus thoroughly know and like almost everything he put out on his primary albums over the years, it was something of a shock to the system back in late 1998 when, in anticipation of reuniting the decade-dormant E Street Band, he released his 4-CD Tracks box set full of good-to-great material that hadn't previously seen the light of day. It was somewhat off-putting to know that so much stellar "Boss" material had existed for so long without me or anyone but perhaps the most avid of Bruce archivists knowing about it.

It felt kind of like it might if we found out today that there were several hilarious Seinfeld episodes that were taped but never aired or that Spielberg or Scorsese made some first-rate movies that no one knew about because they were never released. 

And it turns out the 66 songs of Tracks were really only a drop in the bucket of what exists in the Springsteen vaults. In 2003, he added a third disc of rarities to the Essential Bruce Springsteen collection, talk of a Tracks 2 box set at some point has circulated for years and now this.

Recently it was announced that on November 16, Columbia Records will release "The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story." For a Springsteen fanatic like me, it will be like Christmas came early, as the 3-CD, 3-DVD (or Blu-Ray) set will center around a remastered version of Bruce's fantastic 1978 album (those who care about what remastering can do should also see this blog post), which includes classics like Badlands, The Promised Land, Racing in the Street, Candy's Room and Prove It All Night.

The collection will also feature:

- A new documentary about the making of the original album. Directed by the award-winning Thom Zimny, the doc will be soon shown at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival accompanied by a Springsteen appearance.

- A live performance of the album in its entirety, filmed in 2009 without an audience to simulate the stark atmosphere of the record. I had the pleasure of seeing Bruce/E Street play Darkness in full as part of a concert last October at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, and the band still brings tremendous power to the material.

- Video of a full Springsteen concert recorded in Houston in 1978. I have seen Bruce live 38 times since 1984 and have loved every show, but he was supposedly at his live peak on the 1978 tour, which has never before been officially documented. So this will be a real treat.

But even more than the other goodies, what most excites me--and I'd presume most devout Springsteen fanatics--is the inclusion of two CDs worth of previously unreleased material that Bruce and the band recorded during the Darkness sessions. Also to be available a la carte as simply The Promise, the discs will include 21 songs, a few of which are known through cover versions and/or concert performances over the years--Because The Night, Fire, Rendezvous--but at least 15 will be completely new to my ears. One song--Save My Love--can now be heard streaming at and though it seems to feature vocals that Bruce recorded rather recently, it sounds damn good.

According to this video, whereas the eight songs that made Springsteen's 1975 masterpiece Born To Run were culled from just nine that were recorded, the ten on Darkness On The Edge Of Town--whose creation and release was delayed because Bruce was embroiled in a lawsuit with his former manager--came from 70 put on tape.

All this unreleased material might make it seem like Bruce has been holding out on his fans, but his albums--including Darkness--have been so routinely excellent (AllMusic gives his first 8 albums a composite 39 stars out of a possible 40) that Bruce has obviously known what he was doing. He's explained repeatedly that his goal has always been to put out cohesive albums that kept with what he wanted to say at the time, and as quoted in the video above, "Ideas that I was interested in concentrating on would have been diluted at that moment if I'd made more of a miscellaneous grab bag of music, no matter how entertaining it was at the time."

So I'm looking forward to November 16 unreservedly, with no complaints about what I've been previously deprived of hearing.

But given that about his latest, soon-to-be-unveiled treasure trove, Bruce offers, "'Darkness' was my 'samurai' record, stripped to the frame and ready to rumble...But the music that got left behind was substantial [and] perhaps could have/should have been released after 'Born To Run' and before the collection of songs that 'Darkness on the Edge of Town' became." and that I've long felt that from Tracks and other officially released rarities, I could make up at least one "missing Bruce album" that less deeply knowledgeable Bruce fans would have no problem believing, I've decided to do so.

Not that I can really give it to anyone, as I certainly don't have the rights to distribute Bruce's music or even really use the Eric Meola photographs that I employed for my imaginary missing Springsteen album mockup.

But just for fun, here is my fantasy album that I just never knew Bruce released, probably around 1979--don't get too parochial, as a few of my inclusions were likely written a good bit later--titled, Wide Awake Dreams (from a line in the song Restless Nights).

Rather than simply a compilation of some his finest non-album cuts--as the second disc of Tracks could be considered such by itself--I've tried my best to select and sequence an album (though at 53 minutes, it's more the length of a modern one) as Bruce might have 30+ years ago. 

Wide Awake Dreams is intended as a cohesive statement, with songs that work together sonically, thematically and for the most part were chronologically close in their creation. I think many of these songs were written & recorded after the Darkness sessions, perhaps for The River, which came out in October 1980, so 1979 seems about right for where this album would've fallen.

The tracklist is as follows, with links that allow you to purchase MP3's of most songs through (although they have the full MP3 set of Tracks specially priced at $19.99 so you may wish to go that route instead, though a few of the songs are from other sources). You can also hear samples through Amazon.

1. Roulette
2. Don't Look Back
3. Janey Don't You Lose Heart
4. Murder Incorporated (from Greatest Hits)
5. Bring On The Night
6. Iceman
7. Frankie
8. Dollhouse
9. Be True
10. Restless Nights
11. Loose Ends
12. None But the Brave (not available for individual download; on the Essential Bruce Springsteen album)
13. The Promise (released in 1999 as a special inclusion on 18 Tracks, an abridging of the box set, but the new Darkness box will include a "fully orchestrated" version.)

For the few fellow Bruce diehards who happen to still be reading and would be happy to play along, I'd love to see what your "great lost Springsteen album" would include.

After all, at least in a fantasy world, you're the Boss.


Anonymous said...

With the much-anticipated release of the commemorative box set for Darkness on the Edge of Town slated for this November, Bruce Springsteen's classic record is getting renewed attention in the music world. Fans are surely hungry for all the historic material they can get from the 1978 recording sessions and subsequent tour. For our own preview of what's to come, we contacted Dick Wingate, who was intimately involved in the launch and marketing of the album and tour. He offers an insider's view of what the Darkness era meant to Bruce and the band, while painting an often-humorous behind-the-scenes account of some of the tour's highlights. Enjoy, and be certain to check out the book The Light in Darkness, which one fan said, "… would make a great companion piece to the commemorative Darkness box set

Seth Arkin said...

Wow, thanks for commenting so quickly. The book you cite looks cool; I have For You that came out a few years ago and this looks like it could be a great companion to that and the Darkness box.

The cost is a bit steep at the moment, but will put it on my birthday/holiday wish list. Should stock exist through Christmas?

Anonymous said...

When wondering why "lucky touch" was released like it did, this puts it in an understandable perspective. Didn't know he was so prolific at production and somehow has the golden touch of making quality music. tg

Seth Arkin said...

Actually, the Human Touch/Lucky Town double dip is a case where Bruce should have pared down official releases but didn't. If the best of the two discs were combined--with the larger portion of cuts coming from Lucky Town--it would have made one pretty darn good album, if still not among his very best. But Human Touch on its own is probably the worst album of his career.