‘The Promise’, a two CD collection of remastered Bruce Springsteen outtakes and unreleased work from 1978, was released last week.
The album is of tremendous importance to Springsteen fanatics everywhere, providing both a window into the past and an essential addition to his tremendous body of work. But for music fans more generally it is a fine collection boasting some very familiar work as well as many great new songs amongst its 22 tracks.
In 1975 Bruce Springsteen had the musical world at his feet after releasing his third album, Born To Run, to tremendous critical acclaim. But he then spent a frustrating three year period tied up with a legal battle that prevented him from recording.
He continued to write prolifically, and by the time he was finally able to take the E Street Band into the studio once more he had amassed over 70 new songs. Just ten of these made the final cut of 1978’s Darkness On The Edge of Town, a masterpiece that is very simply one of the greatest rock records ever made.
Some of the many unused tracks later turned up on subsequent Springsteen albums, in whole or in part, and several were given to other artists to record. Still more have emerged over the years, traded amongst fans as bootlegs. But some have remained hidden deep in the Springsteen vaults – until now.
Because The Night is perhaps best known as a Patti Smith song, but Springsteen actually wrote it and his own version is well worth listening to. Similarly, Fire has been recorded many times, with the Pointer Sisters achieving the greatest chart success, but it too is a Springsteen composition. The original version, which was written with Elvis in mind, is more rock that pop and features a great sax solo from Clarence Clemons.
Racing In The Streets is the only version of a track that was actually on the Darkness release to be included. This take is slightly harder and more intense that the tender version that closes side one of the record.
Springsteen fans will find the lyrics in some of the other tracks familiar. Candy’s Boy is an early, and more poppy, version of Candy’s Room, which turned up two years later on The River double album. Spanish Eyes, a keyboard driven masterpiece, is one that got away, although sections of the lyrics were recycled for later use in I’m On Fire.
And the superb Come On (Let’s Go Tonight) marks the death of Elvis. Some of the lyrics form the core of Factory while others will later find themselves reworked into Bye Bye Johnny.
Several love songs are included here; their style and content deemed not appropriate for the stark and atmospheric Darkness On The Edge Of Town. Save My Love, The Brokenhearted and Someday (We’ll Be Together) are all fine songs that would clearly have merited inclusion on a different album.
The Promise itself is an epic track of betrayal, and this remastered version features the addition of strings to the bootleg version that is beloved of many hard care fans.
And there is even a hidden track. The Way is another bootleg favourite now made official. It is a dark and brooding love song that moves from desire to longing before verging into dangerous obsession.
‘The Promise’ is not simply a collection of leftover songs that failed to make the grade. Rather it is living proof of the immense songwriting talent of Bruce Springsteen. That the tracks he ultimately decided not to use are so polished and well rounded shows the musical strengths that have made him such a success over a career that spans forty years.
There is also a deluxe box set on offer that includes this double album, as well as a digitally remastered Darkness On The Edge of Town and three DVDs – two concert films and a documentary on the recording of the album.
One final thought: all of these tracks come from one recording session for one album. Just think what other yet to be discovered gems there could be hidden amongst the Springsteen archives.