This two-CD, 21-track collection (plus a hidden track) gathers songs cast aside during the marathon recording sessions that spawned Darkness on the Edge of Town, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band’s epic 1978 album that helped seal their place in rock history. At the time Darkness was recorded, Springsteen had been involved in lengthy court battles after a management deal went sour. With three years away from the charts, Springsteen’s pen found plenty of inspiration.
Darkness, one of the greatest rock albums of all time, found the then-27- year-old Springsteen wrestling with the fame that followed in the wake of 1975’s Born to Run (he had been touted in Rolling Stone as the next Bob Dylan), as well as the harsh realities of adulthood and his emerging role as a bandleader.
“Darkness was my ‘samurai’ record,” Springsteen has said, “stripped to the frame and ready to rumble.”
These lost sessions—the detritus of Darkness—include a pair of popular songs that had been rejected by the Boss as too commercial: “Because the Night,” which he gave to Patti Smith, and “Fire,” which became a Top 10 hit for the Pointer Sisters. But, more importantly, these tracks trace the historic rock influences that fueled Springsteen’s early career. The first three tracks alone—“Racing in the Street (’78),” “Gotta Get that Feeling,” and “Outside Looking In”—encapsulate the nascent history of rock ’n’ roll, echoing the sounds of Buddy Holly, Phil Spector, and Roy Orbison. Tucked away in the studio during endless nights, Springsteen, first and foremost a fan and astute student of rock, often imbued these songs and the others with Orbison’s bel canto drama and the innocent sentimentality of doo-wop, even as he trolled the record stores during the day for the latest punk singles.
You can hear his penchant for backseat serenades in such cast-off songs as “Rendezvous” and “Candy’s Boy” (a companion to “Candy’s Room,” which did make the final cut on Darkness). Solid Springsteen, yes, but these songs—in which girls, cars, and a restless spirit play a central role—pale in comparison to the mighty metaphors and elevated angst of “Adam Raised a Cain” and the mature adolescent anthem “The Promised Land,” classic songs that found Springsteen reaching creatively while expressing the depths of his own soul.
Still, The Promise is loaded with great material: what’s not to love about the youthful joy of “Ain’t Good Enough for You,” the snarling swagger of “It’s a Shame,” or the lush beauty of “Breakaway”? Certainly a lesser artist would have mined this treasure trove— and the previously unreleased songs that found their way onto 1999’s Tracks—to fill out several albums. But Springsteen, a prolific songwriter and rapidly maturing artist, kept driving forward. The resulting Darkness proved a tightly programmed portrait of Springsteen, circa 1978, but The Promise gives fans a chance to visit the Boss’s creative cul de sacs.
One final note: a few of the remastered tracks on The Promise have been sweetened in the studio, but by-and-large, these songs are presented just the way that Springsteen and producer Bob Clearmountian intended.