Throwback: Greetings From Asbury Park

Thirty-nine years ago on Jan. 5, Bruce Springsteen released his first studio album, Greetings From Asbury Park. It was the start of one of America’s greatest bands. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band have been an album making machine ever since and, over time, became famous for their stadium-exploding live performances.

With over 120 million records sold worldwide, saying they’ve had commercial success would be an understatement. They’ve manipulated their sound so many times, it’s hard to classify what it is they play, exactly. The only word to describe it is “epic.” And behind all the commercial success and “epic-ness” is “The Boss” himself, Bruce Springsteen, who’s been named the 23rd greatest artist of all time (according to Rolling Stone).

When Greetings came out in 1973 the critics were already calling Springsteen the next Bob Dylan. His saga-songwriting style jammed as many words into the music as possible. “Blinded by the Lights,” the opening track, explodes with words; one can only wonder how “The Boss” manages to get out every line without gasping for air. Most of the words don’t make any sense; take the line “and go-cart Mozart was checkin’ out the weather chart to see if it was safe to go outside” for example.  But that’s exactly how it should be, because the goofy and youthful lyrics match the band’s energy perfectly. Bruce could be singing the dictionary verbatim and it wouldn’t matter. His voice and inflection, powerful and persuasive, capture the story more than the words.

The folk roots were there, too. Springsteen’s distinctly gruff voice was reminiscent of Van Morrison on this album. Greetings as a whole is extremely Van Morrison, but with more of an urban sound. The Boss put a huge emphasis on his background, spitting out lyrics oozing with New Jersey slime. Each song tells a story of some sad character, warped like the very boardwalks Springsteen so sentimentally sings about.

Greetings wasn’t received well, and the record sales were so low Springsteen almost quit the music industry. Little did Springsteen know, as well as the rest of country, that he would soon become one of America’s greatest musicians. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band would find global success two albums later with the release of Born to Run. No stadium would ever be the same, as the New Jersey band would rock them all to their foundations.

Greetings From Asbury Park is an exuberant album. It foreshadows the great success of Springsteen, and captures his youthful spirit at its best.  Songs like “Blinded by the Light” don’t pretend to be deep and meaningful; Bruce doesn’t lay claim to being an expert on social issues. He isn’t a pretentious youth full of angst. He simply puts his words out on the table, and lets the music do all the talking.

But the album isn’t bubblegum pop, either. “Lost in the Flood” is my favorite Springsteen song. His haunting description of a Vietnam vet returning to America will send shivers down your spine. This Vietnam veteran theme would later return in Springsteen’s career. The whole album is like some gypsy fortuneteller, laying out the foundation from which The Boss would build his epic career.

If you have even a slightly decent taste in music, listen to this album. And don’t just go onto i-Tunes and buy “Blinded by the Light;” buy the whole thing. You’ll thank me later when you find yourself up late at night listening to the album. You’ll be shaking in awe as Springsteen bellows out his sagas with the force of a Harley while the E Street Band backs him with equal force, like a whole biker gang rumbling through the backstreets of New Jersey. If you don’t get some reaction similar to the one described above, you might be void of any taste in music.