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Back in June 1978, Bruce Springsteen's Darkness On The Edge Of Town album made it to no.16 in the UK charts. It was the first full album I'd heard of his, and I made a point of buying it. I had heard a little of his stuff from his previous Born To Run album and a smidgeon of his Asbury Park material, all of which I'd liked, but venturing further into his work was still a bit of an unknown quantity for me. Since then, Darkness On The Edge Of Town has been and remains one of my all-time favourite albums, with Bruce Springsteen as an artist being right up there in my estimation with Van Morrison, The Stones, Bob Dylan, The Kinks, Pink Floyd, Lou Reed, U2 and The Beatles.
This album comes from what I personally interpret as Bruce Springsteen's 'early middle period' work, sort of like a stepping stone between his Asbury Park days and when he earned the title of The Boss after his highly successful 1984 no.1 album, Born In The USA, which plunged him headlong into the limelight.
The music on Darkness On The Edge Of Town is very Bruce, being a mixture of energetic, tuneful rock tracks, peppered with a couple of slower ones. The whole atmosphere throughout is intense, with Bruce's extremely poetic words and observations on life shining through what could almost be described as a wall of sound.
Instrumentally, this album is all but perfect with some excellent guitar work, but my own personal favourites are the sax and piano. I love the way the guitar lends a heavy feel to each of the tracks, with the sax and piano contrasting as they offer something milder, softer and gentler....yet steeped with deep feeling which is laced with a unique brand of wistfulness.
The subject matter of this collection of songs is very typical of where Bruce Springsteen was with his material during the late 1970s and perhaps into the early part of the1980s, where he homes in on working-class lifestyles, youth, romance and a yearning to escape, explore and cut loose. Springsteen for me conveys great hope, vision and positivity through most of his songs, and he has an amazing ability to hit home quite hard with his simple, but deep and meaningful lyrics. Nobody can rip my insides out with the power of song, then shove them back in a better, brighter order than Bruce Springsteen, and Darkness On The Edge Of Town, which is a combination of being moody, yet simultaneously shining forth with a brilliant light, always hits my spot.
The one track I'm not so keen on from this album is Adam Raised A Cain, which I interpret as one of Bruce's many songs that home in on the apparently difficult relationship he had with his father. It isn't the lyrics which bother me....it's more the arrangement and the overall sound of the song, as it's too noisy for me and I feel it would have much more impact if it were just Bruce singing to an acoustic guitar, more in the style of his Nebraska album. The words are excellent, but because the track is so raucous, much of their meaning and ability to penetrate into my consciousness is killed off.
My personal favourites from the Darkness On The Edge Of Town album are the opening track, Badlands, and the 8th track, Streets Of Fire. Both songs are steeped in passion....a passion which belts out of the speakers at high tempo in Badlands, a good-time rock song that has a message of hope for two young people wanting to escape their tawdry life in small-town America, and in Streets Of Fire, being a slow yet loud, intense piece of mastery which drives flaming daggers of intensity deep inside my brain, in the best possible way.
All in all, Darkness On The Edge Of Town is a mostly easy to listen to album with some very meaningful and high-powered observations/messages lurking behind a largely up-front set of instrumental arrangements that will blow the mind of anyone who manages to 'get' Springsteen and his work. The album comes very highly recommended by me, and is a good place to start for those who are unfamiliar with the work of 'The Boss', but would like to get to know him better. Bruce Springsteen is a refreshingly honest singer/songwriter/performer who tells it how it is, yet in a deeply poetic and thoughtful way, creating his songs in a style that makes them simultaneously fun to listen to.
The sleeve of Darkness On The Edge Of Town shows an image of a very young Bruce Springsteen on the front, with a tracklist on the rear. Inside are the words to all the songs, plus brief details of who played what instruments.....nothing special, but surely at least adequate for anybody's needs.
On a final and very personal note, each time I play Darkness On The Edge Of Town, I am reminded of an old friend who is now sadly no longer with us. She adored Bruce Springsteen, deeply understanding his art, poetry and message....and, was one of the most beautiful people, personality-wise, I've ever had the pleasure to meet and be friends with. Even though you are long gone, RIP Jackie, and on the day I learned your life had ended, I dedicated Darkness On The Edge Of Town to your memory, as you loved it and Bruce himself so much. Keep on rockin' !!!
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
At the time of writing, Darkness On The Edge Of Town can be purchased from Amazon as follows:-
New (on CD): from £3.97 to £10.81
Used (on CD: from £3.64 to £20.00
Some items on Amazon are available for free delivery within the UK, but where this doesn't apply, a £1.26 charge should be added to the above figures.
You can also purchase this album as an .mp3 download from Amazon for £6.49.
Thanks for reading!
~~ Also published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~
Overview and Background Information
Darkness on the Edge of Town is an album that has had so many words written about it. It's an album that took a long time to come to fruition and Bruce and the band spent many a sleepless night creating songs for this album. Some people say that this album was the turning point in Bruce's life where he changed from a boy into a man. I'm not so sure about that as he was 27 years old when he wrote the songs for Darkness and that's not really a boy! Admittedly, he was a very giddy kipper in his earlier years - you only have to listen to the old songs and view the concerts; they are bursting with high energy and giddiness.
For me, Darkness was a total change of direction. It was a new project and Bruce loves nothing more than a project. He wanted to write about his life and the people he had grown up with, the tensions of his family life -where his Ma and Pa had to work all hours to make ends meet. There's an old clip from 'Old Grey Whistle Test' where Bruce tells Bob Harris that he wanted his Ma to go and see him at Madison Square Garden and she said she couldn't because she was working. He said. 'Oh for God's Sake, just take the day off!' She did eventually and he was thrilled but I think throughout most of his life he has always regretted that his folks had a bad start in life and has tried to write music about similar characters in similar circumstances. A bit clichéd I know but if you have had hardships in your life you will find that they stick with you always and whether good or bad make you the person you are.
Also, his musical influences at this time had changed. He was more aware of country sounds. I think he said once that country music was about adult topics. In writing, Darkness he wanted the songs to mean something and to quote his words, 'to resonate down the road.'
By this time Bruce had made quite a lot of money and a name for himself. The 'Born to Run' album was successful but also at the same time he was in the middle of a 3 year law suit to gain control over his music and win all the rights to his songs from his former manager. Personally, I think this law suit wore him out mentally and made him very bitter and angry. The bitterness shows through on the Darkness album but thankfully, it's not all morbid and dark. There is hope.
What stands out the most for me is the sound and production on Darkness. The sound is tighter, the music has been stripped to the bare essentials. The grand wall of sound that you can hear in 'Born to Run' no longer exists. It wouldn't have worked on this album. The characters he talks about don't need any grandiose gestures.
Bruce and the band spent hours working on the album and I think you can feel the tension in the songs. It took a while before they even came up with a verse and I remember him saying in an interview that he spent 3 weeks trying to find the perfect drum sound. He sat slumped over the mixing desk with his arm raised in the air shouting, 'STICK!' until he thought Max had hit the right beat. I laughed when I saw this clip but I bet it wasn't funny at the time.
So guys and gals - was it worth the tension, long nights of recording locked away in his ranch, hardly eating or sleeping, falling out with each other? Let's have a look and see.....
Music and Tracks
The first time I played Darkness on the Edge of Town was on a late Friday night. My husband had gone to bed so I lay on the floor in the living room with my headphones on and the volume turned up real high. By this time I had seen him play most of the songs live which is a big problem because I think his live versions are usually better than the recorded versions. When the album had finished I think I said, 'Wow!' but at the back of my mind I thought that somehow this album didn't exactly fit together - it was a bit mixed up. Over the years I have changed my mind and realised that because the songs are all different doesn't mean that there isn't a continuous thread. It does fit together - perhaps I was just being a giddy kipper myself way back then and not listening to it as thoroughly as I should have.
Every track is excellent but the ones that really stand out for me are:
Adam Raised a Cain - a song about Fathers and Sons, Fantastic guitar on this track and this is where Bruce really shows just how good a guitarist he is and a great soul singer. I love the throbbing and wailing of the guitar. Some say that there is a lot of hate and bitterness in his voice as he drawls out the words of this song but I see no hate only fear. The chorus line is quite scary, especially the last chorus where he beats the hell out of his voice. The words are poignant - if you take the lines;
'Daddy worked his whole life for nothing but the pain
Now he walks these empty rooms
looking for something to blame.'
These words are obviously semi-autobiographical but I can relate to these words from my own experiences with my Father. A truly, great song.
Something in the Night......wait for it .......the moaning almost primeval wailing at the beginning preceded by the enlightening piano chords executed by the Professor and the heartbeat of the band, Max's drumming. The band plays really tight on this track and the music flows beautifully behind Bruce's gruff, intense vocals that send shivers down your spine. A very moving song and one that is up there with the best.
Candy's Room - now I know why I thought this album was disjointed - it's because of this song. I love this very much but I am still not sure whether it fits the album or not - it goes off into a different dimension altogether. What I love about the song is the seductive vocals and words that lead you into that dark room. The tinkling of the cymbals, dancing piano keys and manic controlled drumming make this song sound amazing. And, oh boy - that wailing guitar - it just makes me want to get hold of the brush and play air guitar. This track has a very modern sound and is totally different than most of his other tracks but it's a cracker.
Racing in the Street is my husband's favourite Bruce song. He goes very emotional when he listens to this and sometimes I have seen tears in his eyes. It's a terrific song, lyrically and constructively. It is a wonderful ballad telling us how men pay for not living their lives to the full. He places human beings into two separate categories;
"Some guys they just give up living/And start dying little by little, piece by piece/Some guys come home from work and wash up/And go racin' in the street."
Bruce isn't being self-congratulatory here - I think he knows very well the very fine line between someone who has been zombified by everyday circumstances and someone who has been hurt by taking risks. The last verse is particularly beautiful where he describes the feelings of someone who has given up on life,
"She sits on the porch of her Daddy's house
But all her pretty dreams are torn
She stares off alone into the night
With the eyes of one who hates being born."
Beautiful poetry, piano and Danny's organ sound. I also really love all the intricate details in the words like the size of car engines and street numbers.
Promised Land - a great song of hope. This is what makes the Boss such an innocent - who else could believe that there is a promise land out there? I love this track - the words are fab and I love the piano, sax and of course, the harmonica. The imagery is superb - when he sings the words, "take a knife and cut this pain from my heart," I can physically see him doing it - slicing his heart out - he sings the line with such commitment.
And then we are left with the two biggies, "Streets of Fire," and titular track, "Darkness on the Edge of Town."
I think in both these songs there is a lot of bitterness especially on "Streets of Fire" If ever a song spits out words of hate it is this one. We hear just what it is like to be trapped by other peoples lies. In this case he is talking about his work and how it was stolen from him and he had to fight back to own the rights to his songs. It cut him up pretty badly but the amazing thing is that he only hated the system and not his manager. I think that's pretty remarkable and not sure if I would feel exactly the same way. It's a great song, tight, great vocals where he is like a snake spitting venom. Not forgetting the welly he gives the old guitar. Wey hey!
Final track - Darkness on the Edge of Town. Angry young man standing on the top of the hill spilling his guts out. This is the best track I reckon. So much conviction here - he's a real punk when singing the words to this song. The phrasing is excellent and the way the delayed guitar chords lead you into the song. Bruce's voice here is sarcastic and at times blood curdling. When he sings,
"Now, I hear she's got a house up in Fairview
And a style she's trying to maintain
Well if she wants to see me
You can tell her that I'm easily found
I always shudder. I think he is at his most bitter when he relates these lines. Although, once again the song isn't only about anger and having to live within a confined space - there is a ray of hope and the idea that these people can escape from their hum drum lives.
There you go - waffled on a bit too much perhaps but it is a great album and one that I could write about all day and one I absolutely recommend without giving it a second thought.
Is it his best album? Don't ever ask a Bruce Springsteen fan that question. :-)
Enjoy! It's up there with the greats.
Darkness on the Edge of Town/Columbia Records
Recorded in 1978
Price £2.99 from Amazon UK
This was the first Springsteen album that I bought, when I was 16 years old. A DJ on Capital Radio in London, the late Roger Scott, was a fanatic and played a lot of Bruce on his show, and it was this that made me buy the album (£3.44 in Boots Orpington, I still remember).
Having made the make or break-through with Born To Run in 1975, due to contractual wrangles and court cases, Bruce wasn't able to enter a studio for 3 years, hence the delay until 1978 for Darkness. 10 songs of despair, hope, love and more.
It says a lot about the high quality of the songs that he will still play all of them live now (On his latest tour, he actually played the whole of the album from start to finish on a couple of nights as part of his shows).
His voice is suberb, displaying the emotions of the songs perfectly. I won't go into each song in detail, every song is just right, and it is hard to pick highlights, but if I had to.....
Badlands...... (you gotta live them every day).
Prove it all Night
No, I cant' pick just a few, I love them all!
My personal favourite is Candy' Room, short and sweet, or is my favourite Racing In The Street, a gorgeous 7 minute tale of lost love (and cars) featuring the wonderful piano of Roy Bittan? Or is it Adam Raised a Cain? It goes on.....
After all these years it is still my favourite album by my favourite artist.
I can't recommend it enough.
Hmm, how to follow up one of the most revered rock albums of all time? Well, stick to the blueprint and add a couple of light twists along the way. Born to Run made Bruce a household name, and aided by the production of Phil Spector, created a distinctive sound that some would have found hard to break free from the shackles of.
The funky backbeat of much of Springsteens previous work is hidden here, instead replaced by harmonica riffs and a sludgier guitar sound (Adam Raised a Cain). Its also home to many of his most loved songs. Both Badlands and Racing in the Street have aged very well, still staples of his touring show. The Promised Land returns to a familiar theme of mans desire for personal freedom and contentment, and is another successful addition to that canon.
The amazing consistency of range of Springsteens work was evident here, and this is another fine example of the greatest living songwriter we have.
darkness on the edge of town was springsteens follow up to the classic album born to run. during and after the album born to run springsteen found himself in a law suit with hes manager and which prevented him from recording.
this was the first album since released during that time with he's control of he's music seeming like it was slipping away and a realization that it all could be taken away springsteen changed he's style of writting and as he says this si the album where he found he's voice and what he wanted to write about and would continue to write about ever since.
Its a mix of defiant anthems and dark gritty guitar led yearning rock ballads.
regarded by fans as he's best album along with born to run this shows bruce springsteen as the rocker welding he's guitar as scret weapon agaisnt the hard reality of everyday life.
the working class issues the father & song troubled relationship the lack of money and loss of faith are all represented here in some superb dark and angry tales some mournful.
There is a defiance in the voice but also a sadness the album fights for the right to be a live to call for the things that are yours and fight for them when they are bein taken away.
it also has the realization of reality of facing the hard struggle to survive everyday, work love life.
in born to run springsteen was a romantic dreamer who wanted the girl to run away with him to get out of that dead end town before it ripped from him he's dreams.
in darkness this is what happens when you cant get out or when you have gotten out but find you still have to face reality.
it has many classics, badlands, the promised land, prove it all night, racing in the street, some gritty scorching guitar solos , some yearning vocals, some anger some sadness but above all it has passion.
if you need a reason to carry on then stick this album on and it will make you want to get up nd do something , anything to make things better, springsteen at he's best
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Adam Raised A Cain
3 Something In The Night
4 Candy's Room
5 Racing In The Street
6 Promised Land
8 Streets Of Fire
9 Prove It All Night
10 Darkness On The Edge Of Town