Whenever an act gets the Full Treatment, whether it be the Beatles or Gerald Ford, we tend to resist, and that’s healthy. The arms of the publicity monster are continually engulfing us, trying to sell us mouthwash or tires or a new rock star. We rejected the Edsel and we rejected the Dave Clark Five and, ultimately, T Rex, so it’s a matter of record that eternal vigilance can pay off.
On the other hand, my reaction to the original Beatles’ hype was so strong that it took a good solid year of Beatlemusic to win me over. I’m sure that many people are now resisting Bruce Springsteen in much the same way, but they should be aware that this situation is somewhat different. Springsteen’s legend has been fostered not by the publicity department of Columbia but by the rock press -- and not by the gossip mongers and glitter sniffers (among pop scribes), but by some distinguished and generally reserved writers. Ken Emerson, at that time living in Bruce’s beloved New Jersey, wrote a rave about The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle for Rolling Stone. Soon a barrage of ecstatic reviews pummeled us and culminated in Jon Landau’s now-famous “I have seen the future of rock ’n’ roll” line. What’s interesting is that until this final salve [sic] Columbia was not too hot on Bruce. The man who signed him, John Hammond, had had a stroke and was no longer able to represent Bruce within the company; and the man who had nurtured Springsteen, the notorious Clive Davis, had been unceremoniously deposed as president of Columbia records.
Once they realized they had a hot property on their hands, though, Columbia began to respond. They re-promoted The E Street Shuffle, which had been around for quite some time, using Landau’s emotional, forceful review as ammunition. And for the new Born To Run they used the excitement that had built up in order to encourage “advance” stories, leaking test pressings to writers to get the bandwagon rolling early. Columbia has been so successful that, no matter what Born To Run sounds like, Bruce Springsteen is in all probability going to be rock’s next superstar. In fact, if one can judge from the crazed crowds outside New York’s Bottom Line, he already is. All of this renders fairly inconsequential any effort to analyze the new album; but since analysis is our defense against fraud, against Edsels and Fabians, we would be remiss in our moral duty were we not to attempt it.
So, in the face of all the hype, here goes: Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run, despite any number of minor flaws, seems to me the most exciting album to come out this year. And precisely because he’s been able to rise above these flaws, Springsteen has proven himself an extraordinarily powerful artist.
The album’s problems are not haphazard; not the result of sloppiness or random misconceptions. Bruce and co-producers Jon Landau and Mike Appel seem to have decided upon a streamlined Springsteen, bereft of many of the eccentricities that made The E Street Shuffle so gloriously variegated (and occasionally too rich). There are no more tubas (as in “Wild Billy’s Circus Story”); the amateurish but endearing horn section of Vini Lopez, David Sancious and Clarence