October 17 – Must’ve Been The Mississippi…This River Was Big

Perhaps Bruce Springsteen proved he really was “The Boss” at Columbia Records about four decades back. He had an album, entitled The Ties that Bind sent to them for final mixing, with an eye to it being on the shelves for Christmas 1979 shoppers. Then he pulled the plug on it. “The songs lacked that kind of unity and conceptual intensity I like,” he explained. So he and his E Street Band went back to the New York City studios again for much of the first half of the next year, recording 50 tunes in total, including some from that ’79 recording and some which had been outtakes from the Darkness on the Edge of Town sessions in ’78. They whittled that down to the best 20 tracks and 83 minutes, and the result was his double-album The River, which came out this day in 1980.

Twenty songs gives a lot of space to work with, and Springsteen made a conscious decision to try and not get stuck in a rut on the album, mixing tempos and tones well to reflect “life had paradoxes – a lot of them. You’ve got to live with them.” The songs varied in sound but were pretty consistent in quality, and many came to be staples of his catalog in later years : “Hungry Heart”, the title track, “Fade Away”, “Indpendence Day”, “Cadillac Ranch” . He says the title track, “The River” was written for his brother-in-law who’d just lost his construction job and was going through tough times. Not only did it work as “a record that was a sort of gateway to my future writing,” it also set him on the direct path to his next album, Nebraska. Curiously, the big hit on the album, “Hungry Heart”, was one he wrote with an eye on passing it along to the Ramones to record. His manager Jon Landau wisely suggested he keep it and record it himself.

Critics loved it then, and now, for the most part. At the time it was released, New York’s Village Voice rated it “A-” and weeks later picked it as the second-best record of ’80. Rolling Stone graded it 5-stars, saying it was “a rock & roll milestone…filled with an uncommon common sense and intelligence that could only have come from an exceptionally warm-hearted graduate of the Street of Hard Knocks.” About two decades later, the same magazine would pick it as the 250th greatest album of all-time (though only sixth best of his albums), saying he and the E Street Band “tear up bar band R&B rockabilly, country and their own brand of epic rock on it.” Even Britain’s Q gave it a 5-star grade in a country which isn’t as fawning over Bruce as we tend to be here.

The wait was worthwhile for Columbia. The double album was his biggest to that point, hitting #1 in the U.S. and Canada, and #2 in the UK. In France, it ended up being the fourth biggest seller of the year. And while “The River” gave him his first top 40 single in Britain, “Hungry Heart” made it higher than any of his previous singles had over here – #5 in both the States and Canada.

Needless to say, the success of this album helped him have the clout to put out the less-commercial and more downbeat Nebraska two years later, which in turn led to the counter-balancing effect of the multi-million selling Born in the U.S.A. which established him as the public’s choice as their favorite American rock singer, as well as the critics.

8 thoughts on “October 17 – Must’ve Been The Mississippi…This River Was Big

  1. badfinger20 (Max)

    I like this album…I know some Bruce fans who don’t like it as much. Double albums sometimes have this affect. I like the variety of it…The title track is one of his all time best.

    The only thing I don’t like as much is the production. Sometimes it sounds a little muddy…All and all…it’s a good album.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haven’t had the album (I did have the ‘Hungry Heart’ single back then), but there are a lot of good tracks on it… you’re right, “The River” itself is a great track! It’s hard for me to tell, now listening to the songs thru youtube , mostly on very ordinary computer speakers, but from that, yes, the sound does sound a little muddy compared t o many.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. He must have been well respected by his record company- or have enough personal clout- to start again and not put out a Christmas ‘gravy train’ record. It takes a lot of guts. Usually the record company is putting the squeeze on for a return on their investment ASAP, and the hell with an artists creative foibles!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. exactly, my point exactly saying that’s when he became ‘The Boss’… takes a lot of clout to tell a major label like Columbia to trash an album that is all but packaged and going to the stores for Christmas because you are having second thoughts. But it worked out well for Bruce and for CBS

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: November 22 – Little Steven, Big Talent, Turns 70 – A Sound Day

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