The Unbroken Promise: Lighting Up The Darkness Sessions (Godfatherecords G.R. BOX 01)
On 28 May 1977, Bruce Springsteen’s long drawn out litigation with former manager Mike Appel was eventually settled, finally allowing him to enter a recording studio with new manager and producer Jon Landau and therefore to record his fourth album and masterpiece, Darkness On The Edge Of Town. Recording sessions began early in June at New York’s Atlantic Studios but problems swiftly emerged. As Christopher Sandford writes in Springsteen: Point Blank, “no one was happy with the drum sound, and the studio wasn’t terribly liveable, the latter an important consideration since the recording would inevitably drag on for several months.” Consequently, the decision was taken to move operations to another studio, The Record Plant, which, as Sandford points out, had the advantages of, “state-of-the-art ADT and EQ-ing boxes, as well as a kitchen, bedrooms and an exercise area.” Recording therefore continued solely at The Record Plant from September 1977.
Subsequent events are described by Brucebase as follows:
“The actual recording sessions for Darkness On The Edge Of Town were completed by early January 1978. The mixing sessions began in early January 1978 and dragged on until late March – there were a tremendous amount of different mixes considered, with Springsteen changing his mind on the mix of one song (“The Promised Land”) as late as early April…According to comments by Darkness sessions recording engineer Jimmy Iovine about 30 songs were recorded to a completed state and available for inclusion on the Darkness album. There were an unknown number of additional songs not fully completed. What “not fully completed” means is uncertain. At this stage 33 songs have been officially released (the 10 on the original album, 5 on Tracks and 18 on The Promise) but several of these have modern vocal takes.”
As I am aware from my own collecting experience, outtakes from the Darkness sessions emerged quite quickly. My first acquisition was the EP Outside The Seven-Eleven Store (WNYC Radio) which contained The Promise, Racing In The Street and two versions of Because The Night (one by Springsteen and one by Patti Smith). These three songs, and several others from the Darkness sessions, appeared on an LP in my collection, Do I Have To Say His Name? (Devil Record Company) and I also possessed an album with Darkness and River outtakes entitled Son You May Kiss The Bride (Basil Records). Two further releases, the single LP Electric Collection (Rough Stuff Records) and Castaway (Hoss For Boss), a double album additionally containing live and studio material up to 1984, eluded me. Brucebase points out that these vinyl releases tended to disappoint in terms of sound quality, stating that, “the audio from the Darkness sessions that has surfaced unofficially over the years has been of rather disappointing quality. During the late 1970s and 1980s most of it was of very weak quality.”
Brucebase goes on to say that, “over the past 15 years lower generation audio specimens have emerged and the CD-era boots of this audio have been a noticeable improvement over their vinyl era counterparts,” though this does not seem to apply to very early CD releases (which, of course, appeared more than fifteen years ago). Lynn Elder’s bootleg guide Bruce Springsteen: You Better Not Touch awards the prosaically-named 2-CD set Darkness/River Outtakes (Tunnel Records ) 5 out of 10 for sound quality, while the CD version of Son You May Kiss The Bride (no label) merits a lowly 4. Perhaps this is unsurprising, given its origins. As Clinton Heylin points out in The Great White Wonders: A History Of Rock Bootlegs, this “particularly shoddy” product which “arrived in Europe…was a…copy of a vinyl bootleg, complete with serious sound faults, manufactured to see if a particular conduit worked.” Castaway also received a CD release on the Classics Limited label, squeezed onto a single disc through the omission of the whole of side 2 of the original LP. Another early release, At The Edge Of Darkness (Musique Sabot), is rated 3 for sound by Elder and runs for an incredibly ungenerous thirty-seven minutes.
My own early-90s acquaintance with the Darkness sessions came in the form of three volumes of outtakes entitled The Iceman, The Way and The Promise (no label evident on my copies but attributed to Scorpio by the Killing Floor Database). These releases represent at least some improvement in sound quality and Killing Floor describes them as, “not superb quality, but anyway the best possible at the time this serie[s] was put out.” E Street Records weighed in with a 2-CD set called The Definitive Darkness Outtakes Collection, the second pressing of which was rated in the third volume of Elder’s guide as 6-8 for sound quality (the first pressing had been given the mark of 5-8). The label had previously issued The Original Darkness Mixes, described on the rear insert as, “original mixes for the ‘Darkness’ album recorded from original acetates.” Two CDs of Darkness outtakes were issued in 1996 by the Labour Of Love label as part of its monumental nineteen disc series The Lost Masters. The two CDs appeared as the second and third volumes in the series, subtitled One Way Street (Darkness Masters Volume I) and Rattling The Chains (Darkness Masters Volume II), and they represent a clear improvement in sound quality. Elder awards them both 8, stating of the first volume that, “the quality here is better than previously circulated,” and of the second volume, “the sound quality is excellent.” A single disc collection also appeared on Scorpio, entitled Loose Ends. In 2003, Godfather issued its first two-disc Darkness outtakes compilation, with the title The Definitive Remastered Darkness Outtakes. This reproduced the exact track listing of the earlier E Street release, with two extra songs added at the end. A handful of tracks also turned up on more wide-ranging compilations such as Mosquito Records’ Ultra Rare Tracks Vol.1 and E Street’s excellent 3-CD collection, Deep Down In The Vaults.
There has, of course also been the official release, the handsomely packaged but long-delayed 3-CD/3-DVD set The Promise: The Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story, which finally emerged late in 2010 (together with a more modest 2-CD set containing only the outtakes), despite the fact that the intention had been to issue it as a thirtieth-anniversary commemorative edition. This, in turn, delayed Godfather’s release, as the label was keen to avoid any unnecessary overlap in material, thereby producing a collection designed to effectively complement the official set. By issuing The Unbroken Promise: Lighting Up The Darkness Sessions, Godfather has also produced (along with the Pink Floyd title The Complete Rainbow Tapes) one of its first two boxed sets.
Still In The Vaults (G.R. BOX 01 A/B)
Disc 1: Break Out – Version 1, Break Out – Version 2, Don’t Say No – Version 1, Don’t Say No – Version 2, Say Sons, I Wanna Be With You, I’m Goin’ Back, Frankie, Janey Needs A Shooter, Sherry Darling – Version 1, Sherry Darling – Version 2, Bring On The Night
Disc 2: Drive All Night – Version 1, Drive All Night – Version 2, Drive All Night – Version 3, Preacher’s Daughter, Crazy Rocker, What’s The Matter Darling – Version 1, What’s The Matter Darling – Version 2, Independence Day, Ramrod, Castaway
The six discs which make up The Unbroken Promise are presented as three 2-CD sets. The first is described as, “featuring all songs from the ‘Darkness Sessions’ still in the vaults, never selected for a possible inclusion neither in ‘Tracks’ box set, nor in ‘The Promise’ double CD.”
Disc one opens with two versions of Breakout, described by Godfather’s booklet as “quick and easy Rock’n’Roll,” and as a precurser to rockers such as Ramrod and Crush On You from The River. Version 1, recorded at Atlantic Studios in September 1977, is described by Brucebase as, “a rough workout with lyrics very bluffed,” and Springsteen’s attempts to insert vocals where there are no lyrics come across as not a million miles removed from scat singing. Version 1 is driven by Danny Federici’s organ, together with Roy Bittan’s piano, underpinned by Max Weinbergs’s muscular drumming. By the time version 2 was recorded, a little later and probably at the Record Plant, the lyrics were virtually complete. In this version Bittan’s piano has disappeared and Garry Tallent’s bass is more prominent. The song has circulated under the title All Night Long, and, indeed there are working titles or alternative titles for several of the Darkness sessions songs. The next song, Don’t Say No, also appears in two versions, both probably from The Record Plant. The booklet describes it as, “a Rock’n’Roll song with a drum intro which will be later used in ‘Roulette’ [and] Shadows-style guitars.” Lyrically incomplete, and clearly not a finished recording, it may well be, as the booklet contends, “a kind of live in the studio rehearsal of a new song idea.” In version 1 Springsteen’s vocals are rather muffled, so that it is sometimes difficult to discern whether he is articulating actual lyrics or merely singing wordlessly. Brucebase contends that version 2 is “in very weak sound quality.” Here, however, the instruments sound just fine; the vocals, by contrast, are extremely recessed. Again there is an alternative title, in this case I Wanna Be Wild, and Brucebase states that, “a take of this song with the virtually identical title ‘I Want To Be Wild’ was recorded at the Record Plant on November 11, 1977.
Next up is the “short rocker” recorded at The Record Plant in October-November 1977 that Brucebase maintains is called Down By The River, though the website notes that, “the very strange working title for this was Say Sons.'” Godfather uses the latter title for, “this rousing number [which] spotlights the Big Man in particular,” with a prominent sax part at the start and a solo later on. Although the vocals might well have been rather more up-front in a finished version, here they are not, as Brucebase states, “buried in the mix.”
I Wanna Be With You is more medium-paced, rather in the manner of Don’t Look Back. Described in the booklet as “a rollicking love song,” this was recorded at Atlantic Studios early on in the sessions, in June 1977. A later version, recorded during the River sessions eventually ended up on Tracks. Godfather argues that the Tracks version “lost something.” and notably, “lacks the pleasant piano phrase (beginning before the entrance of the voice) and the devastating central solo guitar,” a description which makes the song sound more emotionally charged than it actually is. Brucebase states that, “this is a complete take but it’s clearly not a final take.” The next song is another raucous number, I’m Goin’ Back. The “fully finished take,” as Brucebase says, recorded at The Record Plant in October-November 1977, bore the working title of Bo Diddley Rocker. This hugely enjoyable performance features some wonderfully rasping sax from Clemons and demonic harmonica from Springsteen, who ends the song with a wicked laugh. Again, on this release, there is no sense that, as Brucebase says, the vocal is “buried in the mix.”
The next song, the gently-paced Frankie, is one of the highlights among the outtakes presented here. Frankie is the “little angel” whom the song’s protagonist hopes will, “walk with me tonight…to the shadows where the lovers go,” where she will “whisper you secrtes soft and low.” Godfather’s booklet rightly describes the number as, “a wonderful song, full of evocative images and a truly beautiful melody.” The Lebanese Tribute To Bruce Springsteen website refers to the song as,”probably the clearest bridge between the fanciful urban lyricism of Born To Run and the edgy Americana of Darkness On The Edge Of Town.” The version here, with a fine sax part from Clemons, dates from June-July 1977, but the song is believed to have been written in early 1976, and it was performed numerous times during April of that year, beginning with the show of 4 April at the Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI. The second known performance, from 7 April in Cleveland, which appeared on Scorpio’s Live At The Allen Theatre, is described by Elder as “perhaps the definitive version.” A later recording of Frankie, dating from the Born In The U.S.A. sessions is included on Tracks.
The next song is the slow-paced Janey Needs A Shooter. This song had a lengthy history. Brucebase notes that it was recorded in January-February 1973 at 914 Sound Studios in Blauvely, NY, and the Lebanese tribute website cites the extence of, and quotes the lyrics from, an earlier solo piano version dating from 1972. The song was also considered for Born To Run and Brucebase states that “a Spanish-flavored, full band arrangement of this song was recorded at some point during the BTR sessions.” Springsteen also included the song among the solo recordings he made in 1979 in preparation for The River. By this time it was called Jeannie Needs A Shooter, and a version using this title but with very different lyrics was recorded by Warren Zevon. Curiously. Brucebase makes no mention of the song being recorded during the Darkness sessions. The full-band version found here, was recorded, according to the booklet notes, at The Record Plant in 1977, and Godfather considers it “a lost masterpiece.” This is the first song on this set where the recording is quite rough, and the sound has a distinctly harsh edge.
Things move up-tempo again with two versions of Sherry Darling, a song familiar from its later appearance on The River, and both versions eincluded here are substantially similar to the officially-released recording. Version 1, dating from August 1977 at Atlantic Studios, opens with the band making appropiate “party noises.” The band members are clearly having fun, and at one point Springsteen nearly bursts out laughing. Version 2, probably dating from around the same time, fades in at the beginning. Disc 1 ends with Bring On The Night, described by the booklet as a “furious R’n’R” song. This is another unfinished take with “bluffed lyrics.” Once again a later River sessions version appeared on Tracks.
Disc 2 begins with three versions of Drive All Night, another song which, like Sherry Darling, later featured on The River. Versions 1 and 2 are from June 1977 at Atlantic studios and version 3 from shortly afterwards. The first version is relatively short at just under five minutes. As the booklet points out, this is “because it lacks the rhythmic and the long Clemons sax solo.” It also has a strikingly different opening, without percussion and with Federici’s organ sounding like a church instrument. Bittan’s piano is also prominent. The other two versions are akin to the River version. Of the two, version 2 is superior both in execution and sound. The booklet describes Springsteen’s singing as “inspired” and “affected” [presumably emotionally affecting], and notes that he is, “accompanied by a simple and steady rhythm section, some nice guitar riffs (Miami Steve) and a searing sax.” The song was listed on some vinyl bootlegs as Sad Eyes, due to its origins in the spoken”Sad Eyes” interlude included in live performances of Backstreets. Together with the live version played during the complete River performance at Madison Square Garden in 2009, these versions have done much to persuade me that it is a much better song than I had previously thought.
Preacher’s Daughter, which Godfather’s booklet describes as, “on a slow time, which hides the Bo Diddley beat,” is, as Brucebase puts it, “a completed take and one of the few that has surfaced from the sessions with the vocals mixed correctly.” There is, however, some noticeable hiss. Recorded at The Record Plant in October-November 1977, it was also performed as part of the prelude to She’s The One on the latter stages of the Darkness Tour and can be heard in this capacity, along with Bo Diddley’s own Mona, on Crystal Cat’s Winterland Night. The next song is Crazy Rocker, recorded some time between October and December 1977. The booklet draws our attention to the song’s twangy guitar and the echo on the drums, which it says gives it the atmosphere of a Link Wray record. The song’s obviously working title seems never to have been superseded, despite this being, as Brucebase states, “a near finished take.” Brucebase also states that, “the circulating audio quality is not great.” We then get two versions of the song which Brucebase lists as Ain’t Good Enough For You, but which the booklet calls What’s The Matter Darling. The song, recorded during September-December 1977, has also been bootlegged under the slightly different title What’s The Matter Little Darling. The booklet refers to the “festive atmosphere,” of a number which bears a resemblance to This Little Girl, a Springsteen song later recorded by Gary US Bonds. It does appear on The Promise, so Godfather transgresses its self-imposed rule quoted above, presumably due to the confusion over the title.
Next we have two songs familiar from The River. Independence Day, which just failed to make the cut for Darkness, receives a six-and-a half minute rendition in sound which Brucebase describes as “weak,” a description which seems rather harsh when listening to the version heard on this release. Ramrod, recorded at The Record Plant September-December 1977, is substantially similar to its officially released conterpart. The first 2-CD set comcludes with Castaway, a song with, as Brucebase states, a “lovely melody,” rather reminiscent of another Darkness outtake, The Way. The song was recorded at Atlantic Studios in June 1977 and appeared on bootlegs under its working title of The Ballad. Brucebase describes it as, “an embyonic take with very unfinished lyrics.”
A Masterpiece In The Making (G.R. BOX 01 C/D)
Disc 1: Badlands – Version 1A, Badlands – Version 1B, Badlands – Version 1C, Badlands – Version 2, Something In The Night – Version 1, Something In The Night – Version 2A, Something In The Night – Version 2B, Racing In The Street – Version 1, Racing In The Street – Version 2, Racing In The Street – Version 3, Racing In The Street – Version 4, Streets Of Fire – Version 1, Streets Of Fire – Version 2
Disc 2: Prove It All Night – Version 1, Prove It All Night – Version 2A, Prove It All Night – Version 2B, Factory – Version 1, Factory – Version 2A, Factory – Version 2B, Adam Raised A Cain – Version 1, Candy’s Room (The Fast Song) – Version 1 instrumental, Candy’s Room (The Fast Song) Version 2, Candy’s Room (The Fast Song) – Version 3, Candy’s Room (The Fast Song) – Version 4A, Candy’s Room (The Fast Song) – Version 4B, The Promised Land – Version 1A, Darkness On The Edge Of Town – Version 1, Darkness On The Edge Of Town – Version 2.
The sleeve describes this second 2-CD set as “featuring the alternate versions of the songs that make the final selection going to create the definitive ‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town’ album.” The booklet notes go on to say that the presentation of multiple versions, “allows us to appreciate the construction of a song and its evolution.”
Disc 1 opens with three versions of Badlands from Atlantic Studios, with version 1a being an instrumental version. Versions 1a and 1b have different and unfamiliar lyrics and are also noteworthy for having no sax solo. Version 2a, recorded later at The Record Plant, sounds much more familiar, and is, as the booklet points out, “from the acetate of the original mixes of the album.” Something In The Night also appears in three versions, Version 1 being recorded in June-July 1077 at Atlantic Studios and versions 2a and 2b during September-October 1977. All are substantially similar to the Darkness version. There is some hiss on version 2a and a change in volume near the beginning.
Four versions of Racing In The Street are included. Version 1 is described by the booklet as, “a nice solo piano take from early in the sessions. Only Bittan is there to accompany Springsteen[‘s] performance. The song is complete and significant differences in the lyrics.” One lyrical difference is the striking lines, “I got tired of waking up/In a world somebody else owns,” and at the end Springsteen sings “dying in the street,” rather than “racing in the street.” The sound is rather muffled, though it seems to improve a little as the song progresses, and there is some hiss. Version 2 is described as “essentially the same take presented as V1 in better quality.” Unfortunately, this version cuts off after three-and-a-half minutes. The remaining two versions are very similar indeed to the Darkness version. The second has the restrained, ethereal backgound vocals; the first does not
The first disc ends with two versions of Streets Of Fire, another song recorded both at Atlantic Studios and The Record Plant. The two versions included here are substantially similar to the Darkness version, though there is a different guitar solo and some lyrical differences.
The second disc opens with three versions of Prove It All Night. Version 1 is from August at Atlantic Studios and, as lyrics had not yet been written, Springsteen substitutes the lyrics of Something In The Night, “thus making for fascinating listening” as Brucebase rightly contends. Despite this, Version 1 is musically very similar to the Darkness version. Versions 2a and 2b were recorded at The Record Plant during September and October 1977, and the booklet states that both “are from the acetate of the original mixes of the album.”
Godfather’s Versions 1, 2a and 2b of Factory are Brucebase’s versions 3, 4a and 4b, as the latter counts the proto-version, entitled Come On (Let’s Go Tonight) as Versions 1 and 2. The first version here, from August 1977 at Atlantic Studios is very mach the same as the Darkness version with minimal lyrical differences. The other two versions were recorded at The Record Plant during October- November, and the second of them, from the acetate, has the same lyrics as the Darkness version. The first of these two versions includes a violin overdub played by David Lindley (from Jackson Browne’s band) which fails to enhance the song in any way. (Lindley’s violin part also appears on the recording of Come On (Let’s Go Tonight) released on The Promise.)
Adam Raised A Cain was recorded at Atlantic Studios in August 1977 and the song’s working title was the punning Daddy Raised A Cain. This version is not too different from the Darkness version, though the guitar solo is different and there are small lyrical differences, principally the line, “Now he walks these empty rooms/Rattling his chains.” Next we have Candy’s Room, which began life as an instrumental known simply as The Fast Song. It later gained some lyrics from Candy’s Boy. Bruce base considers Candy’s Boy and Candy’s Room as one song, so, as with Factory, Godfather’s numbering of the versions is different. Versions of the song were recorded at Atlantic Studios in August 1977 and The Record Plant in October- November 1977. The first is an instrumental, while the second, as Brucebase states, “features non-descript, bluffed lyrics.” The third version features fuller, but different lyrics. The fourth version has better sound and finished lyrics. Curiously the last version closely resembles the third version. Here, in particular, as the booklet claims, the different versions, “provide a good insight into how Springsteen develops some songs through the course of numerous sessions.” There are a few clicks at the start of the penultimate version.
The Promised Land was, as Brucebase states, “one of the last songs written and recorded for the album.” Brucebase also states that both this and the Darkness version, “are the same performance, recorded at Record Plant in November-December 1977. V1a is a slightly different mix (no lead guitar) that was only dumped from the album in favor of V1b at the very last moment.” The second 2-CD set concludes with Darkness On The Edge Of Town. Completed late on, during November-December 1977, this song, initially entitled The Racer was only included on the album (hitherto entiled Badlands) at the last moment. Version 1 comes in what Brucebase “rockabilly arrangement” (not a term I would have used), described by Godfather’s booklet as, ” very crude in its execution even if the structure is already clear.” The sound is rather lacking in clarity. Version 2 is a different mix of the Darkness Version. (Brucebase lists this version as 2a and the Darkness version as 2b.)
The Alternate Versions (G.R. BOX 01 E/F)
Disc 1: Racing In The Street, Candy’s Boy, Come On (Let’s Go Tonight), Don’t Look Back – Version 1, Don’t Look Back – Version 2, Don’t Look Back – Version 3, Hearts Of Stone, The Promise – Version 1, The Promise – Version 2, The Promise – Version 3, Spanish Eyes – Version 1, Spanish Eyes – Version 2
Disc 2: Because The Night – Version 1, Because The Night – Version 2, Gonna Get That Feeling – Version 1, Gonna get That Feeling – Version 2, Talk To Me – instrumental, Someday (We’ll Be Together) – instrumental, Rendezvous, Fire, One Way Street, Outside Lookin’ In, Wrong Side Of The Street, The Way
The final 2-CD set is described as, “featuring the alternate versions of the songs that didn’t make the final tracklist of ‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town’ album, but were included later on ‘Tracks’ box set or ‘The Promise’ double CD.”
Disc 1 kicks off with a tremendous version of Racing In The Street. This is the version listed as Version 3a by Brucebase, “a stunning alternate band performance with wailing harmonica and tremendous vocal by Bruce.” Godfather reckons this as “the definitive version.” Candy’s Boy, as stated above, contributed lyrics to Candy’s Room. This version is from June 1977 at Atlantic Studios. It is a gentle, mid-paced, keybord-led number, which the booklet refers to as “a soft ballad.” Also as stated above, Come On (Lets Go Tonight), is an early version of Factory. Brucebase describes it as, “a rough workout in June 1977 at Atlantic Studios, with the melody complete but with embryonic, different lyrics.” The sound is lacking a little in clarity.
There are three versions of Don’t Look Back, which only narrowly missed out on inclusion on Darkness. All three were recorded at Atlantic Studios (the Tracks version comes from The Record Plant). Versions 1 and 2 are two different instrumental backing tracks, while Version 3 has a rather rough vocal. Version 3 has prominent hiss. This is followed by Hearts Of Stone. This and the Tracks version (which additionally has a horn section added in 1998), are different mixes of the same recording, and it was also used as a base recording for Southside Johnny’s version, whose vocal style better suits the song.
The Promise, another song which nearly made it on to Darkness, and which had been played live on several occasions beginning in August 1976, is included in three versions. Writing for Rolling Stone in July 1978, Paul Nelson calls it, “one of [Springsteen’s] best new songs,” a considerable understatement in the view of this reviewer. The first two were recorded at Atlantic Studios, Version 1 in June or July 1977 and Version 2 in August 1977. Version 2 is the one I first encountered all those years ago on the Outside The Seven-Eleven Store EP and it is still my preferred version. The longer third version, from The Record Plant during September-October 1977, is the completed recording, which failed to make it on to Tracks, the version later included as one of the extra songs on the 1-CD distillation 18 Tracks being a new recording. Version 1 has some hiss and a change in the sound. Two versions of Spanish Eyes complete disc 1. Version 1 dates from August 1977 at Atlantic Studios, and likely Version 2 does too. Version 2 is clearly more developed, but still has some “bluffed lyrics.” Chris Hunt, in Springsteen:Blinded By The Light, likens it to Them’s Here Comes the Night.
The final disc begins with two versions of Because The Night. Version 1 was recorded during August-September 1977 at Atlantic Studios and version 2 at around the same time, probably at The Record Plant. Both have some “bluffed lyrics,” though Version 2 is somewhat more complete. Version 1 cuts in at the start, but is in somewhat better sound quality, Version 2 being rather muffled. The version on The Promise has newly recorded vocals. We then get two versions of the infectiously jaunty but essentially insubstantial Gonna Get That Feeling, which Brucebase calls an “up-tempo, pop-flavored” song. Version 1 was recorded at Atlantic Studios in August 1977, with Version 2 probably emanating from The Record Plant in September-October. As with Because The Night, the version to be found on The Promise has modern vocals.
The instrumental version of Talk To Me is also from August 1977 at Atlantic Studios. The song was later recorded by Southside Johnny for Hearts Of Stone. It is followed by another instrumental, Someday We’ll Be Together, recorded at The Record Plant in September 1977. It appears, complete with vocals, on The Promise. Rendezvous, another song performed live during 1976-77, comes from June 1977 at Atlantic Studios. As Brucebase states, “this is a good take but the circulating audio is marred by vocal drop-out during the first verse.” Fire was written in May 1977, shortly after Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt had attended an Elvis Presley concert, and recorded in June at Atlantic Studios. The Backstreets books states that a demo tape was sent to Presley in the hope that he would record the song, though Brucebase contends that this may be a myth. This version has a distinct rockabilly feel and Springsteen’s vocals are somewhat in the style of Presley.
This version of the slow-paced One Way Street, which highlights Fedrici’s organ, was recorded at Atlantic studios in June 1977. “This is a complete take,” states Brucebase, “but it’s clearly not a final take.” The short Outside Lookin’ In, which has echoes of Buddy Holly, comes from the same month. “This is a very rough early take,” says Brucebase, “with an uneven mix and some seriously off-key harmony vocals by Van Zandt,” near the end. This version of Wrong Side Of The Street, also known as Endless Night or English Sons, was recorded at The Record Plant during October-November 1977. It is clearly a fully finished take and is another song which is stated stated by Brucebase to have the vocals “buried in the mix,” though there is no sign of that here. This set concludes with The Way, also from October-November. “This is a nice ballad,” states the booklet, “excellent sound and a finished song.” Hunt refers to the, “rich deep vocal from Bruce and nice sax solo in the middle break courtesy of ‘The Big Man.'” It makes a fine conclusion to this set.
Many of the songs here are in excellent sound quality, close to and at times equal to that of official releases. The sound of some is not quite up to that standard, though nonetheless very good. I have attempted to indicate above instances where sound quality is somewhat problematic. Occasional deficiencies in sound in no way reflect on Godfather; these are, after all, outtakes. As Brucebase reminds us,” it has become apparent that there were flaws in the way the original source individuals taped these studio sessions. There certainly appears [sic] to have been some hidden “fly-on-the-wall” type tapings. The other problem is that much of the leaked audio is of early studio workouts of these songs, rather than later, fully realized renditions.” Godfather’s sound is far better than that to be found on releases such as The Way, The Iceman and The Promise, and also has the edge on the substantially improved sound to be found on The Lost Masters, with to my ears, a little more depth and presence.
The packaging of this release is gorgeous. The three 2-CD sets are housed in a box measuring 165cmx165cm featuring a photograph of Springsteen from the Darkness cover shoot. The rear of the box, against a background of the wallpaper behind Springsteen in that shoot, reproduces the front covers of the three sets with the track listings underneath. Inside the box there is a deep black tray which holds the CDs and inserts. A white ribbon allows the CDs to be lifted from the tray easily and without damage. Each 2-CD set, as can be seen above, also shows a Darkness cover shoot photo on the front, the first of which will be familiar to many collectors from Godfather’s older release. The sleeves also feature further shots, mostly of Springsteen alone (some from the Darkness cover shoot and others from the era); a couple, however, depict band members and one shows Springsteen with Landau, Jimmy Iovine and Chuck Plotkin. There is also a 48-page booklet, bearing the same photo as the box lid on its front cover, with extensive notes, which are heavily indebted to the invaluable Brucebase website (as, indeed, is this review), and numerous additional photographs. Lastly, there is a mini-poster, with a photo of Springsteen on one side and a list of Darkness sessions songs, also in the style of Brucebase, on the other. The CDs themselves are picture discs, and bear the same photo found on the box lid and booklet front cover. The overall effect is stunning.
This purpose of this boxed set is not to present the collector with a large quantity of new material; indeed, as detailed above, much of it has been circulating for many years. Godfather’s achievement has been to compile the most extensive collection of Darkness sessions material, arrange it in a logical and thematically satisfying manner, present it in the best possible sound and package it beautifully. The Unbroken Promise is an essential supplement to the official boxed set, a splendid release in its own right and an aesthetically pleasing artefact. It deserves to be a cornerstone of any serious Springsteen collection.