Bruce Springsteen – Growing Young With Rock And Roll (Godfatherecords G. R. 1016)

Gr1016Growing Young With Rock And Roll (Godfatherecords G. R. 1016)

Harvard Square Theater, Cambridge, MA, USA – 9 May, 1974

Introductions, New York City Serenade, Spirit In The Night, I Sold My Heart To The Junkman, Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?, It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City, The E Street Shuffle, Kitty’s Back[/Bright Lights, Big City], Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), The E Street Shuffle

Although it was probably not immediately apparent, the period of Springsteen’s career from which this show is taken proved to be momentous.  One reason for this is that it was at this time that Springsteen first met future manager and producer Jon Landau.  The initial encounter came during a four night, eight show stand at another venue in Cambridge, Charlie’s Bar.  These shows were played as a benefit for Joe Spadafora, whose club Joe’s Place (where Springsteen had originally been booked to play) had burned down.  (An earlier show played at Joe’s Place is available on Godfather’s Live At Joe’s Place, already reviewed.)  Landau attended one of the shows at Charlie’s Bar in the company of Dave Marsh, who writes in Born To Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story, that, “Jon Landau dragged me away from a TV set in Cambridge one night in 1974, and changed both our lives…what I remember about the show…is…the two of us looking at each other from time to time to make sure what we were seeing was real.”  In addition to his position at Rolling Stone, Landau wrote for publications local to the Boston Metropolitan area such as The Real Paper, in which he had just published a review of The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle, a copy of which was displayed in the front window of the venue and which was being read by Springsteen as the two men encountered each other for the fist time.  Unaware of Landau’s identity, Springsteen, according to Marsh, responded to the question of how he liked the review by saying, “It’s good,” but adding, “I’ve read better, you know.”

Landau had written in that review that Springsteen’s second LP was, “the most under-rated album so far this year, an impassioned and inspired street fantasy that’s as much fun as it is deep,” adding that, “the album is not as well-produced as it ought to have been…the recording is still a mite thin or trebly-sounding, especially when the band moves into the breaks.”  This opinion was repeated to Springsteen personally: “Loved the album,” Landau is reported to have said, “not the production.”  Landau also met Springsteen’s then-current manager and producer, Mike Appel, inside Charlie’s, and a clearly irritated Appel is reported by Marsh to have immediately asked, “So you don’t like the album’s production, huh?”  Landau had taken a brief foray into record production himself, most notably as the producer of the MC5’s second album Back In The USA and Clinton Heylin, writing in E Street Shuffle: The Glory Days Of Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, points out what he considers to be the irony of Landau’s comments: “Coming from the man who had gutted the most abrasive band to ever come out of Detroit’s Grade Ballroom…Landau’s comments suggested an expertise he simply did not have.”  Landau clearly loved the show.  Additionally to Marsh’s comment quoted above, Christopher Sandford writes in Springsteen: Point Blank: “Two hours later, Landau left the club glazed-eyed and grinning, ‘a stone fan’ he told friends around town.”  Perhaps significant to Springsteen’s and Landau’s future relationship, the latter, during the pre-show conversation, was, according to Heylin, “saying the things [Springsteen] wanted to hear.”

Landau witnessed another show a month later, the second of two shows at the Harvard Theater on 9 May, with Springsteen supporting Bonnie Raitt.  This was the show which led Landau to write the notorious article in The Real Paper in which he is sometimes alleged to have referred to Springsteen as “the future of rock and roll.”  He did not write exactly those words (though UK music journalist Richard Williams had done so more than a year before), but his account, entitled Growing Young With Rock And Roll, was nonetheless hyperbolic:

“Last Thursday, at the Harvard Square theatre, I saw my rock’n’roll past flash before my eyes.  And I saw something else: I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.  And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time.

When his two-hour set ended I could only think, can anyone really be this good; can anyone say this much to me, can rock’n’roll still speak with this kind of power and glory?  And then I felt the sores on my thighs where I had been pounding my hands in time for the entire concert and knew that the answer was yes.

Springsteen does it all. He is a rock’n’roll punk, a Latin street poet, a ballet dancer, an actor, a joker, bar band leader, hot-shit rhythm guitar player, extraordinary singer, and a truly great rock’n’roll composer.  He leads a band like he has been doing it forever.  I racked my brains but simply can’t think of a white artist who does so many things so superbly…

Bruce Springsteen is a wonder to look at.  Skinny, dressed like a reject from Sha Na Na, he parades in front of his all-star rhythm band like a cross between Chuck Berry, early Bob Dylan, and Marlon Brando.  Every gesture, every syllable adds something to his ultimate goal – to liberate our spirit while he liberates his by baring his soul through his music.  Many try, few succeed, none more than he today.”

This was not, as sometimes portrayed, Landau’s epiphany.  There had, of course, been the earlier show at Charlie’s and the album review.  A poster on DIME, ther19, also suggests that Landau had written previous pieces about Springsteen:

“But, I’m not totally sure that this is the show that got Landau’s attention to the extent that has been documented in the info file & in a couple of other places I’ve seen over the years.  I had just left Boston for the Bay Area a few months before, but, whether or not Jon wrote a great review of this show, (and I have NO doubt that he did…), it was not his first such review of The Boss.  There were 2 alternative weeklies in Beantown at the time, The Phoenix…and The Real Paper, which was started in ’72 by a bunch of Phoenix writers who were dissatisfied with management and spun off around ’72 so it is conceivable that he started at the Phoenix and moved on to TRP either with the original group or shortly after, but I clearly remember more than one glowing Landau review of Springsteen’s work both live and on LPs that could’ve been in either paper.  I recall it so clearly  both because I’d met Landau (and didn’t like him much on first blush), and because neither I nor anyone I knew could believe that a bar band from the Jersey Shore, (which had been a haunt of mine on college breaks), could be as good as those reviews seemed to indicate and we were proven wrong.  Very wrong.  But since I was gone by 5/74, and I’d read Landau reviews while I was still living in town, there must have been others and it was clear that Landau thought Bruce was the second coming…I’m not sure what it was about this Harvard review that is so different but the story persists that it made some kind of crucial difference that, I guess, the others hadn’t.”

Clearly, ther19 seems entirely unaware of the significance of Landau’s Harvard Theater review, and is put in the picture by butterking, who posts:

“Well, there’s no getting around that The Real Paper review of the late show included the sentence ‘I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.’ The quote became the center of a promotional campaign mounted by Columbia and essentially boiled the critical conventional wisdom about Bruce down to a single tagline.

What happened with that line is why this has become legend. That isn’t to say Landau didn’t right [sic] about Bruce at other times. But that single quote changed the way Columbia marketed Bruce going forward.”

Columbia took out full page advertisements in the music press featuring part of Landau’s piece under the heading “I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen” and the level of hype clearly brought pressure to bear on Springsteen in the form of increased expectations and potential critical backlash, as Patrick Humphries relates in Springsteen: Blinded By The Light:

“Within months Springsteen was being hailed as America’s rocking Salvationist.  While the fame was most welcome, to an extent the massive media coverage rebounded on him.  Many people felt is was simply an opportunistic method of inflating a minor talent into a major one, with little real proof of talent or real durability.  While it undoubtedly helped bring him to the attention of a vast new audience, and was essential in ensuring his position at CBS, the whole exercise smacked of ‘hype.'”

Marsh effectively sums up how this pressure manifested itself:

“There is a certain kind of very partisan criticism that, when written by a highly regarded critic, can raise the level of rhetoric about an artist’s work…When such reviews appear, they force other critics into a reactive position.  Since such an esteemed colleague has called the work a masterpiece those are the grounds on which it must be judged,  rather than the usual terms of good/bad/indifferent/interesting…Moreover, Landau was not writing about a single work – he was making a claim for the artist himself.  For the rest of his career, Bruce Springsteen will be judged not on whether he is good, but whether he is great.”

Pressure was also emanating from Columbia at this time.  As I related in an earlier review, the company was considering dropping Springsteen after the modest sales of his first two albums, so the opportunity to record a third was a make-or-break event.  Two days after the Harvard Theater shows Springsteen and the E Street Band entered 914 Sound Studios in Blauvelt, NY to undertake the first, eleven-day recording session for Born To Run, the first Springsteen album to feature Landau as co-producer.  Indeed, three of Springsteen’s next four concerts were cancelled in order to allow this session to take place.  Marsh was responsible for editing Landau’s Harvard Theater show review, and, if he is to be believed, the two of them effectively, and quite deliberately, saved Springsteen’s career by persuading Columbia to allow him to record a third LP through what Heylin calls, “a conscious act of hyperbole.”  Marsh states:

“However you wish to view the pros and cons of that whole ‘hype’ issue, the fact remains that Columbia was on the point of dropping Bruce from the label straight after E Street Shuffle had initially bombed.  Jon and I knowingly interceded with that article.  Clive Davis had been ousted [as Columbia president] and only the press department really believed in Bruce’s work.  You could say that we were aware of our intentions.”

One author who clearly gives some credence to Marsh’s contention is Craig Statham, author of the excellent account of Springsteen’s early career Springsteen: Saint In The City: 1949-1974, who writes that, “it was Landau’s article that saw the company once again lend its support.  It brought on board those who doubted his ability to sell records.”  However, Statham also points out that Springsteen had the support of another crucially important figure, new company president Bruce Lundvall.  He notes that:

“In the summer of 1974, Springsteen and Appel invited Bruce Lundvall to 914 Studios to listen to the first recording for the next album.  Had he not liked what he heard, Springsteen’s career, at least with Columbia, would probably have been finished.  As it was, he had created a four and a half minute masterpiece – ‘Born To Run.’  Lundvall sent him away to finish the job.”

It is perhaps unsurprising that Lundvall was inclined to give Springsteen his backing due to the fact that, as Statham also reports, he, “was hugely impressed with Springsteen’s live shows.”  It can therefore be seen that Springsteen’s ability as a live performer, as displayed in shows like the one under review here, was crucial in the furtherance of his career.

Springsteen played two shows, scheduled for 7pm and 10pm, at the Harvard Theater on 9 May (his only appearances at the venue) and for a long while the concert we hear on Growing Young With Rock And Roll was thought to be the late show witnessed by Landau.  As Brucebase states, “this is one of most famous Springsteen gigs yet, ironically, one of the most inaccurately reported – the key point of confusion being that there were two separate admission shows on the night and the long-circulating audio has been long-attributed to the wrong show.”  What we hear is, in fact, the 7pm show.  Another longstanding misconception is that this is not the complete show, perhaps also attributable to the fact that it was thought to be the late show.  Marsh, also present, as we have seen, only at the late show, states that Raitt consented to Springsteen performing “his full two-hour show,” and may be he did so, though Brucebase contends that the second show was only 20-30 minutes longer than the first (there is no known audio of the late show to confirm its duration), but the timings noted above obviously demonstrate that this was impossible in the case of the early show.  The show has only appeared on disc once before, on the E St. label’s CD Rock And Roll Punk, which appeared in 1999.

The first thing we hear on Growing Young With Rock And Roll is Springsteen and the band being introduced, and the band is specifically referred to as the E Street Band and mentioned as coming, “direct from Asbury Park.”  According to Brucebase, “the MC’s use of the name ‘The E Street Band’ in his introduction is the earliest appearance of that name on any show audio or promotional material yet unearthed.”

The show then opens with New York City Serenade, one of the highlights of Springsteen’s then-latest album The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle, which, in live performance, became something of a vehicle for the talents of keyboard player David Sancious.  Statham notes that, “both Springsteen and Sancious were supremely impressed by the other’s ability,” and Springsteen said of Sancious that, “it always seemed like he might be the next Jimi Hendrix.  He had the potential to be that.”  Sancious clearly had a great deal of creative input into the second album and this is perhaps most clearly heard in the introduction to New York City Serenade.  Referring to the song’s earliest live performances during a six-night stand at Max’s Kansas City in July 1973 Heylin refers to it, “acquiring a West Side Story-esque piano introduction as Sancious began to encourage a more grandiose Bruce to emerge from his chrysalis,” and in other shows the introduction would be expanded with classical or jazz references.  Marsh writes that the “introspective” Sancious, “had studied classical music and jazz as well.  His playing added an exotic dimension to the band: He would drop in quotes from Monk during his breaks, or open a set with a selection from Mozart,” and states that at the Charlie’s Bar show witnessed by Landau he, “added snatches of Mozart to [New York City Serenade’s] lush introduction,” which served to announce that Springsteen, “was bound by no one’s preconceptions.”  Sancious’ display of virtuosity at the song’s opening is not the only factor which makes this rendition so enjoyable – his delicate piano playing throughout the song meshes beautifully with Clarence Clemons’ atmospheric sax and Springsteen’s soft, seductive vocals to create a marvellous performance.  Notes on DIME accompanying the latest (2013) torrent of the show and written by “BK for JEMS” consider this to be one of three “particularly strong” songs in this show.

Next up is a vivacious Spirit In The Night, simultaneously boisterous and sleazy, propelled by Clemons’ sax and featuring a fine vocal performance from Springsteen.  It is followed by Springsteen’s only known performance of I Sold My Heart To The Junkman, described by BK as a “wonderful cover.”  The song was originally recorded in 1946 by The Basin Street Boys featuring Ormonde Wilson and covered a year later by Etta James with J.C. Heard and his Orchestra, and a year after that by Dinah Washington.  According to Brucebase the song is, “performed by Bruce in the ‘comedy mode’ as recorded by The Starlets in 1961, the likely inspiration.”

This version’s “interesting backstory” (with its echoes of Phil Spector’s earlier crediting of The Blossoms’ He’s A Rebel to The Crystals) is related by Jason A. Wendelton on the Pig River records website as follows:

“The song was re-recorded by the girl-group The Starlets with the help of their used-car salesman-turned producer Harold Robinson. When the song was released a year later in 1962, however, Robinson gave the credit to Patti LaBelle & The Bluebelles (a new group his label had just acquired). After getting caught lip-synching on American Bandstand, Patti LaBelle & The Bluebelles were sued by The Starlets.

The Starlets won the battle but lost the war – each member of The Starlets received $5,000 in damages…but to this day their version of ‘I sold my heart to the junkman’ is credited to Patti LaBelle and The Bluebelles.”

I confess that I did not get any feeling that the song, played in a tempo between the Etta James/Dinah Washington versions and the much faster Starlets recording, was being performed in “comedy mode,” though Springsteen provokes much laughter among the audience with his spoken introduction:

“This is a song, this is a very sad song this next song we’re gonna do.  This song is so sad that sometimes I have to leave the stage and cry in the backstage a little bit while I’m singing this song.  The reason this song is so sad is because this story happened to me just a little while ago.  Ain’t it true? (Clemons: ‘True’).  And it was, it was a thing where I met this, this beautiful girl, was she a beautiful girl ?  She was, she was nice,and, and I gave up my whole heart, every, every bit and she gave it back to me a month later all beat up so bad and so terrible looking.that I sold my heart to the junkman.  Now I can never fall in love again.”

Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street? is played with a brash exuberance that easily places it in the category of, as Heylin puts it, “one of the gung-ho versions which would prove such a highlight at the 1973-74 shows,” and the song finds a perfect partner in the “blast of bravado” (Heylin’s words again) that is It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City. BK states that, “what I took special note of is ‘Saint in the City,’ which features a kind of spoken-word rap at the end that echoes the one on the circulating alternate take of the track from the Greetings sessions.”

Next comes The E Street Shuffle, the up tempo album version of which Landau refers to as Springsteen’s “fabulous party record.”  In his account of the late show Landau notes that Springsteen, “slowed it down so graphically that it seemed a new song and it worked as well as the old,” and, unsurprisingly, that is how it is performed here, though shorn of the spoken intro detailing Springsteen’s mythologized first encounter with Clemons which is most familiar from the legendary Main Point show of 5 February 1975 (available on Crystal Cat’s Main Point Night, already reviewed). Interestingly, Marsh states (this time writing in Bruce Springsteen: On Tour 1968-2005) that the spoken ‘rap’ was included in the late show where the song served, uniquely, as the show opener.  The Lebanese Tribute To Bruce Springsteen website contends that, “between 1973 and 1975, small snippets of HAVING A PARTY were used at the end of THE E STREET SHUFFLE,”  and Brucebase cites “THE E STREET SHUFFLE – HAVING A PARTY” in the setlist for this and some other shows (including the Main Point one).  However, as this simply consists of the repetition of the words “we’re having a party” towards the end of the song, I find this argument unconvincing.

The E Street Shuffle is followed by the second of BK’s “particularly strong” songs, Kitty’s Back.  Before the song, Springsteen gets more laughs from the audience by relating some of the tribulations involved in getting to the show.  Firstly, a careless petrol station attendant causes a delay by mistakenly filling up the car with diesel, then it takes an hours’ driving around to find the hotel and finally Springsteen discovers that whereas “this cat, the bass player” has, “the biggest room I ever seen in a place like that,” with, “shag carpet on the floor…he’s got a big kingsize bed, he’s got wall mirrors and sink,” his own room is “messed up” and has “mud on the floor” and “blood on the sheets.”  The song takes the usual live format of a long, loose jam with plenty of assorted soloing and it includes a snippet of Jimmy Reed’s 1961 blues number Bright Lights, Big City, also recorded in a country version by Sonny James a decade later.  The concert concludes with Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), the third of BK’s “particularly strong” performances, in a splendidly ebullient performance containing the band introductions and a drum solo from Ernest “Boom” Carter.

Bonnie Raitt became the first person to publicly recognize the quality of Springsteen’s performance, telling the audience before her first song that, “he’s got the most incredible band and he’s one of the most amazing people I’ve ever heard. I just had to say that. He’s a real hard act to follow.”  Being a hard act to follow may in part be due to the fact that Springsteen did not play what might be thought of as a typical set for an opening act.  As BK writes, “it’s hard to imagine an opening act whose set includes two 13-minute songs and another that’s nearly 10 minutes long.”  BK further states that the show “feels like a major Bruce Springsteen moment.” Brucebase calls the concert “an excellent show” and notes by dave on Jungleland call it “a great classic.”  Posters on DIME agree, with richardq contending that it is, “truly wonderful” and koffiedik referring to it as an, “awesome show!”  Backbeat, also on DIME, contends that the show constitutes, “history in the making,” a contention that one might be more inclined to concur with if this really had been the late show.  It is hard to disagree with ther19, who posts that, “[I] sure wish [the taper, Steve] Hopkins had found his way into the late show instead but I’m glad he got to this one at all” – and Springsteen collectors should also be grateful for the opportunity to acquire a terrific and most enjoyable early Springsteen performance.

This release is supplemented by one bonus track taken from the soundcheck, a rendition of The E Street Shuffle which ends rather abruptly after three and a half minutes.  The old E St. CD additionally contains a second soundcheck performance in the shape of Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?  Godfather has pointed out that its inclusion there was possible due to the tape running fast; speed correction means that there is no room for it on this new release.  Although completists might rue its omission, it is no great loss, essentially consisting of Clemons playing over his sax part – it is not the complete song and there are no vocals.

Brucebase’s comment on the sound of this performance is that, “the first show’s audio is a quality audience recording made by a taper who had good equipment and an ideal recording spot.”  The high quality is unsurprising, as the taper, as ther19 reveals, was Steve Hopkins, whose superb work Godfather has already utilized for the essential boxed set The Boston Godfather: The Definitive Boston March 1977 Tapes (already reviewed).

Commenting on the 2008 torrented version of the master tape, described on Jungleland as “audience mono,” Hopkins himself writes:

“this is a new transfer of a recording that has been in circulation for many years…my first springsteen show, i got in early with a friend who had a press pass.  it was a general admission show and the first few rows were roped off for the press, so i sat down front and center and stayed there for the entire early show…this is the complete early show and rosalita was the final song of the set.  unfortunately, they cleared the house after the early show, the crowd was lined up around the block for the late show and i was unable to get back in.”

The sound was further improved in 2013 via a DIME torrent described as, “Steve Hopkins master via JEMS (Fresh 2013 transfer),” of which BK writes:

“Steve first torrented both sets from his master cassettes five years ago, but that lineage went from cassette to DAT to CD-R then ripped back into FLAC. This is the first time Steve’s master tapes have been digitized directly.

Arguably, this is one of the best audience recordings of the Boom Carter era of the E Street Band, not up to Hopkins’ later standard when his gear improved, but still a wonderful snapshot of an under-documented era just the same…Hopkins points out a ‘loud electrical buzz emanating from the stage throughout the show, mostly noticeable during quieter segments.’  It is worse in Bonnie’s set than Bruce’s, and you can tune it out, but it is annoying at times..”

It is the “fresh 2013 transfer” which Godfather uses here and it represents a clear upgrade to the E St. release.  The ambiance of the show is effectively conveyed, with a pleasing sense of hearing the show from within the audience, and I did not find the “electrical buzz” overly intrusive.

Growing Young With Rock And Roll comes with Godfather’s trademark tri-fold sleeve bearing some atmospheric black-and-white onstage shots taken at the Harvard Square Theater by photographer Barry Schneier, who witnessed both shows.  On his website Schneier writes:

“The Bruce Springsteen photos are from a very memorable night that showcased an incredible young artist who was performing that night with a clear sense of purpose.  No one knew then that, nor suspected, that that evening would end up having the stuff legends are made of. But I knew we were witnessing something remarkable in the making.  I remember when the doors opened for the second show that night I had set aside a row of seats down front for my closest friends.  I couldn’t wait for them to experience what I already had.”

There are also very brief sleeve notes credited, as usual, to “Joe Roberts” and a four-page foldover booklet with a photo of Springsteen and Landau on the front and with the remaining three pages reproducing Landau’s article, from which, of course, Godfather takes the title for this release.

Overall, the high quality of the performance, the upgraded sound and the attractive packaging make Growing Young With Rock And Roll another very desirable Springsteen release from the Godfather label.

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