Bruce Springsteen released his debut album on January 5, 1973. Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. was a critical success but a commercial failure as it sold only in the neighborhood of 25,000 copies during its first year of release. It was not until the release of 1975’s Born To Run that this album would become popular. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked it as the 379th best album of all time.
Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. finds a young Springsteen beginning to hone his craft. The lyrics tell poetic stories and have almost a folk feel at times. The music, however, is rock ‘n’ roll driven with keyboards, guitar, drums and sax used to fill in the sound. The problem on many of the tracks was that the denseness of the lyrics sometimes overwhelmed the music and gave the songs a crowded feel.
“Blinded By The Light” was an example of this disjointedness between the lyrics and music. Taken on their own, the lyrics present Springsteen as a formidable master of words and pictures. When laid against the almost funky instrumental track they come across as hurried. Nevertheless it would become a classic song. Manfred Mann would cover “Blinded By The Light” and reach number one on the American singles charts in February of 1977. This would be the only penned Bruce Springsteen song to top the singles charts. “Spirit In The Night,” on the other hand, is a song where the lyrics do fit. It is a powerful song about young people and would give a glimpse into the musical direction that many of his songs would take in the future.
A trio of songs form the basis for the album’s brilliance. “Does The Bus Stop At 82nd Street?” is rock ‘n’ roll. This song about journeying through the city contains no chorus. The lyrics and the music almost overwhelm the listener as it has an energy that Springsteen would become known for in the future.
“Lost In The Flood” is a song stripped to the basics. The Vietnam War was still fresh in people’s minds in 1973 and Springsteen was responding to this seminal event in the lives of young Americans. It conveys strong emotions revolving around veterans, youth and resistance. It is a great, if sometimes forgotten, song in his catalogue. “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City” deals with growing up and explores working class motifs. As such it would again point to the future as it dealt with themes to which he would constantly return.
“Mary Queen Of Arkansas” and “The Angel” are both slower, sensitive tunes. Springsteen would return to this type of acoustic form many times during his career. “Growin’ Up” is a return to an up-tempo beat and the difficulties associated with early maturation. Springsteen was not very far removed from being a teenager and the song may be a personal glimpse into a period of his life.
Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. was an auspicious debut from a man who would become one of the dominant and creative forces in American music. The fact that he was still going through some growing pains should not cover up the reality that there is brilliance here.