Bruce Springsteen – Darkness on the Edge of Town
During 2016, I wrote a Blog piece about my ten favourite vinyl albums. Now I plan a series of Blog pieces, looking in more detail at a series of great albums.
Released: June 2 1978
Produced by Bruce Springsteen, Jon Landau, and Steve Van Zandt
Length: 43 minutes
Genre: Hard Rock, Rock and Roll
Adam Raised a Cain
Something in the Night
Racing in the Street
The Promised Land
Streets of Fire
Prove it all Night
Darkness on the Edge of Town
Bruce Springsteen is my favourite artist, and this is the first of his albums that I bought, back in 1980. Nearly 39 years later, it is still my favourite album. The lyrics are amazingly evocative, bringing a direct sense of the lives of the characters Bruce writes about. Bruce spent an enormous amount of time in the final selection from dozens of songs recorded during the sessions. This coincided with a lot of thought about the sequencing of the album. Bruce was influenced by what his manager and producer, Jon Landau, called the four corners approach – with the strongest four songs being used as the first and last tracks on the two sides of the record. The album cover featured stark photos, taken by Frank Stefanko, of Bruce stood in a bedroom – although this is not obviously the location.
Extensive cross-referencing of key words and themes across the 10 songs, each of which Bruce sang in the first person – portraying a life in which struggle is combined with optimism – gives the album a great unity. This is reinforced by the musical backing, which sounds very similar throughout the album. The words “darkness” / “dark” appear in six of the tracks, while nine of them feature the “night” / “tonight”. Meanwhile “they” are mentioned in eight songs, with a general suggestion of nameless people who exert a negative influence. “Work” / “worked” / “working” form part of six songs, and so do the words “dream” / “dreams”. Equally there are six songs in which Bruce and his characters are found “driving” / “racing” / “riding”, or mentioning the names of cars. There are references to “blood” on four of the tracks, and the same number of songs use the word “born”. There is also time for “love” / “loved” in four of the songs on the album.
The album is greater than the sum of its parts, and the songs speak louder than a commentary, but a track-by-track review may provide some illumination of Darkness. The record opens with Badlands, a song destined to become one of Bruce’s concert anthems, with the enigmatic suggestion that “it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive”. Adam Raised a Cain, one of Bruce’s songs about family, is given a wider context with Biblical allusions. Something in the Night sees Bruce struggling against some faceless oppression. Candy’s Room is one of Bruce’s many songs about girls, but different to those of the past – Candy being a hard girl from Easy Street. On the original LP, the first side closed with Racing in the Street, as Bruce hops into a 69 Chevy with a 396, to ride with his partner Sonny, and then an un-named girl. The instrumental passage at the end of the song is a moment of warmth – which has been powerfully extended in live performances. The second half opens with The Promised Land, a stirring tale of optimism and dignity, which echoes Badlands. Factory is the shortest song on the album (at 2 minutes 17 seconds), and understated, but an affecting tale about the rigours of work. Streets of Fire depicts a dramatic struggle against un-named forces. Prove it all Night is a great rock’n’roll love song, but one in which the battle against people lurking in the background is still real. The record closes with Darkness on the Edge of Town, the title track being the defining moment of the album, the tale of a man who seems to be fighting a losing battle in his life, but resolves to keep the struggle going. Bruce explained the outlook of the Darkness album in an interview with Tony Parsons, for the New Musical Express: “The characters ain’t kids, they’re older – you been beat, you been hurt. But there’s still hope, there’s always hope. They throw dirt on you all your life, and some people get buried so deep in the dirt that they’ll never get out. The album’s about people who will never admit that they’re buried that deep”.
The album was re-packaged in 2010 as The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story, a stunning set, in which three CDs plus three DVDs are housed within an extensive book – itself placed within a box. Bruce had delved into the archives, to unveil a mass of material, providing fascinating insights into his creative process. Preparation included Bruce re-recording parts of the material, during 2010, where he was not satisfied with original takes from the 1977-78 sessions. Bruce’s masterpiece, originally a 43 minute album, has been expanded into discs that stretch to eight and a half hours of music and film.