June 2 – Bruce Was Running To The Musical Heartland

Whether it was “miserablist” (a term we’d only heard before in describing Morrissey’s music) or “perfecting the heartland rock genre,” – different critics have used both for it – by 1978 Bruce Springsteen was a big enough deal for an album of his to draw instant attention. And that’s what Darkness on the Edge of Town did when it came out 44 years ago today.

For “The Boss”, it was his fourth album, and came a full three years after his third, the revered Born to Run. In the ’70s, that was a long time to go between releases! Part of that was because he’d had disputes with his label, Columbia, and especially an old manager, but part was that Bruce was already getting to be a perfectionist. Perhaps not so much in the playing, but in getting the mood, the lyrics, the atmosphere just right. It’s said he wrote 70 songs for this one and recorded 52 in full. No wonder it took about nine months to bring to completion. He generally recorded them with the whole E Street Band playing rather than using a lot of different takes or overdubs. Of the 52, ten made the final cut; a few others like “Independence Day” would surface on later albums, and a couple got snagged to be hits for others – “Fire” by the Pointer Sisters and “Because the Night” by Patti Smith. Surprisingly, none of the ten songs became big hit singles, though several of them have since risen to the status of Classic Rock, well, classics – “Promised Land,’ “Badlands,” “Candy’s Room,” and the under-rated “Prove it All Night” (which was the only one to break into the U.S. top 40).

His focus on the album was “to write about the stress and tensions of my father’s and my mother’s life that came with the struggles of trying to make ends meet.” Or, as one of his several biographers put it, “Springsteen drives away from the beach and boardwalk into the ethos of the American heartland.” The result was an album less exuberant than Born to Run; one which set the template for his ascent to the Bard of the Blue Collar Worker. Even the cover photo was decidedly low-key, presenting Bruce as the Everyman. “That’s the guy in the songs,” Springsteen said of it. “Frank (the photographer) stripped away all (my) celebrity and left you with your essence.”

At the time it came out, Rolling Stone suggested he “fulfilled the hype that previously surrounded” him. They’d later grade it a perfect 5-stars and rank it as the 91st greatest album of all-time in their most recent ranking of such. The NME called it the “album of the year” in ’78 and would like Rolling Stone, put it high on their all-time list later; in their case #109. The Quietus suggest looking back, some of the album, especially “Candy’s Room” had a real punk rock ethos to them but The Boss delivered them “with a tenderness and adoration that punk would have struggled with.” Allmusic though give it 4.5-stars…seemingly a great score. However, it notably is the only Springsteen album before the ’90s they didn’t give a perfect score to and although they liked how the “tracks (were) paced by powerful drumming and soaring guitar solos” they seemed to not really like the songs themselves, and suggest it’s “no easy listen.”

With songs like those as well as the title track, “Racing in the Street” and “Adam Raised A Cane” it’s no surprise it stayed on the album charts for a full 97 weeks despite lacking a huge AM radio hit (that would come on his next album, with “Hungry Heart.”) It got to #5 at home – not quite as good as Born to Run – and #7 in Canada, #14 in the UK, #9 in Australia, his best showing to that point in those lands. Currently it’s triple-platinum in the U.S. , so while in terms of commercial showing, it is among the middle efforts of his catalog, few would disagree that it remains one of his best albums and the one which perhaps paved the way for his superstardom of the ’80s.

12 thoughts on “June 2 – Bruce Was Running To The Musical Heartland

  1. Badfinger (Max)

    I know many Springsteen fans that this is their favorite album. I love it…it didn’t need hit singles…Badlands is the song that hooked me to it. I’ll still take his debut album over anything else but from his debut to Tunnel of Love…he was unbeatable.

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    1. It was the first one of his I bought (though maybe two years after it came out) & I still think it ranks among his best…’Badlands’, ‘Prpve It..’, ‘Promised Land’, those are worth the price just by themselves…& there was more obviously.

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  2. 44 years, wow! While “Born to Run” is my favorite Springsteen album, “Darkness” doesn’t rank far behind. Between “Badlands”, “Adam Raised a Cane”, “Racing in the Street”, “The Promised Land”, “Prove It All Night” and the title track, you got plenty of classics. And that’s only talking about the songs that made the album!

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      1. I like Springsteen a lot, but I’m not as diehard as Max or some of the others here. Lots of good albums, but to me, overhyped or not, ‘Born in the USA’ is perhaps his best but this isn’t far down either. Add the River and you have his top 3 to me.

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      2. I listened to it entirely a few days ago… it stands up well though I now prefer the lesser-hits or album cuts like ‘My Hometown’ and ‘Bobby Jean’ to the radio biggies.

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  3. I have to say I don’t know much of Springsteen’s music.I think in the early days, he was bit more raucous? I liked that early upbeat stuff, but when I recently forced myself to buy a ‘best of’ CD, I just couldn’t get right into it. He has a fantastic voice; superb ethos; brilliant sentiment; terrific backing band; plays stupendous, long live sets; makes good scrambled eggs (probably)…. but I wish he’s just crank it up to 11 a bit more.

    (I know – I’m weird. I don’t ‘get’ either the Beatles or Springsteen. I’ll just have to live with that. ) 😉 😀

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    1. I’m somewhere in between with Bruce; I don’t revere him like many fans do but I certainly like his stuff and respect him, and consider him ONE of the greats of the era (but not THE great as in ‘undeniable top dog’). Love the Beatles too, more so now than when I was a kid and they were more recent history. But to each his own- I know what you mean because I somehow have never warmed up to Bob Dylan… a good songwriter beyond question, and a few songs he recorded I think are very good but I can’t help but ask “what’s all the fuss about?”

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