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40 Years Ago: Bruce Springsteen Releases ‘The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle’

Bruce Springsteen
Columbia Records

It didn’t sell particularly well when it first came out, but it has since become a favorite among his fans. On Sept. 11, 1973, Bruce Springsteen released his second album, ‘The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle.’

“It was an interesting record,” Springsteen said before a one-off full-album performance of it at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 7, 2009. “Half the songs are kind of set in New Jersey and around our little street corner … and the other half are sort of my romantic fantasies of New York City.”

That split personality means that the ‘The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle’ lacks the musical focus of, say, ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ or ‘Nebraska.’ But that’s also a large part of its appeal. In its seven songs, Springsteen touches on rock, soul, folk, funk, jazz (with swing and Gershwinesque piano interludes) and fairground music. Think of it as if Van Morrison relocated to the boardwalks of the Jersey Shore.

It’s also where Springsteen’s songwriting grew in leaps and bounds. The attention to lyrical detail hinted at on his debut, ‘Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.,’ released earlier that year, would be out in greater force — from the boardwalk fortune tellers and petty thugs to a street musician and a trash collector on a city street.

The opening one-two punch of ‘The E Street Shuffle’ and ’4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)’ is a perfect example of his cinematic approach. If the former is the typical scene in a teenage movie where the dance at the high-school gym takes place, the latter is where the hero walks out and tells his girlfriend he needs to leave town and find something better.

The raucous, jazzy ‘Kitty’s Back’ — complete with a full horn section, call-and-response vocals and extended solos by Springsteen and keyboardist David Sancious — is next, followed by the musical 180-degree turn of ‘Wild Billy’s Circus Story,’ which closes out the first side. A surreal portrait of a traveling carnival, the song features Springsteen accompanying himself on acoustic guitar as an accordion, tuba, mandolin and percussion fly in and out of the mix.

Side two is a three-song suite bookended by two of those “New York” songs. With their depiction of young romance set amid a gritty urban backdrop, ‘Incident on 57th Street’ and ‘New York City Serenade’ can be seen as precursor to ‘Born to Run’s’ ‘Jungleland.’ In between is the epic ‘Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),’ which would close out the main set of nearly every Springsteen and the E Street Band show until 1988, practically taking on a life of its own in the process.

Musically, Springsteen would never be so eclectic again. The main reason for this is that this incarnation of the E Street Band didn’t last much longer. A few months after the album’s release, drummer Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez was fired after a fight with manager Mike Appel’s brother. He was replaced by Ernest “Boom” Carter.

After recording the song ‘Born to Run’ in the summer of 1974, Carter and Sancious left to form a jazz fusion group called Tone, which released four albums on Epic and Arista. The duo was replaced by “Mighty” Max Weinberg and “Professor” Roy Bittan. The new lineup helped facilitate Springsteen’s move to a more straightforward rock approach on subsequent albums.

Next: Top 10 Bruce Springsteen Songs

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