Bruce Springsteen – Greetings From Asbury Park, New Jersey

Greetings From Asbury Park, New Jersey (1973)


1. Blinded By The Light 2. Growin’ Up 3. Mary Queen Of Arkansas 4. Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street? 5. Lost In The Flood 6. The Angel 7. For You 8. Spirit In The Night 9. It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City


Well howdy to you too, Mr. Springsteen and your merry band of guys who play rinky dink organ, thin drums, manically strummed acoustic guitar, theatrical piano, and the occasional sax part! And thank you for reminding me that you’re from Joyzee. Holy shit, you guys, did you even know that Bruce Springsteen was from New Jersey? I mean, like, wow! No one ever mentions that when they talk about him! What an obscure, mindblowing factoid! Also, George W. Bush is from Texas (but actually not because he’s from fucking Connecticut).

Greetings is not generally considered the most auspicious of debuts, even by the world’s biggest Bruce fans, and is understandably remembered more for its faux-postcard cover than for the songs contained on the vinyl therein – and for good reason. That reason isn’t necessarily that it’s bad, though it does contain the fewest songs that the casual fan might actually recognize when compared to any album Bruce would release up until the early ‘90s, Manfred Mann’s AM radio staple cover of “Blinded By The Light” notwithstanding. Mainly, it’s because, first of all, while the E Street Band was basically in place in terms of personnel—no Roy Bittan, Little Stevie, or Max Weinberg yet, but Clarence Clemons, Gary Tallent, and Bittan and Weinberg’s respective predecessors David Sancious and Vini Lopez are all here—it didn’t really exist yet in name or function, on this album offering only fleeting hints of the sweaty urban theatricality it would soon become known for. And second of all, it’s clear at this point Bruce had no idea what kind of songwriter he wanted to be. Greetings sees the Boss portraying multiple personae: the scruffy “New Dylan” folk troubadour that Clive Davis envisioned him being when Davis signed him to Columbia; the guitar slinger he became renowned for being in the Jersey clubs he played with garage bands in the ‘60s and early ‘70s; and the wailing bombasticator he would become circa Born To Run. With the presence of all these voices muddled together on one record, the result is that none of them end up being entirely convincing.

Let’s start with the guitar slinger part, because that to me is the most hilarious thing ever. When I think about Bruce Springsteen, “lead guitarist” is probably not even in the top 20, and well below things like “the New Jersey Turnpike smells like garbage.” And yet, before he became a rock star, Bruce apparently gained a rep for being a shit hot, generational talent on the guitar. WTF? Must’ve been one of those things where he was “good for Jersey” but not when you broaden the geographical scope, not unlike Rutgers or Chris Christie. Like, Bruce has laid down a few killer licks over the years, but electric guitar is rarely more than a secondary element of virtually everything he’s ever put out, at times ranking as barely an afterthought. Maybe there was a time when Bruce made shredding a focal point of his sound, but if there was, it was well before Greetings came out, cause this thing has barely got any traditional rock ‘n roll lead guitar action on it. In fact, it basically only appears on “Blinded By The Light,” featuring Bruce tearing off some nice doodly licks over top the intro and more. Unfortunately, this does little to affect my opinion that “Blinded By The Light,” catchy and beloved though it may be, is kind of a dumb song. Mostly cause of the lyrics, which sound like a 14-year old trying really hard to sound like Bob Dylan (“In the dumps with the mumps as the adolescent pumps his way into his hat.” I mean, that’s just pure poetry). Believe me, I have extensive experience being a 14-year old and attempting to write songs that sound like Bob Dylan, so I know what I’m talking about. And no, I don’t know if he’s singing “cut loose like a douche” or not either. Frankly, I don’t want to find out if he is or not, cause if he’s actually not, it might tarnish some of the enjoyment I do get out of this song.

And that brings me to Bruce the Folk Singer, who also shows up on Greetings. Not in the way he would on Nebraska or all the hee-haw on the Hudson stuff he’s been doing since The Seeger Sessions, but rather as a guy who strums his acoustic as fast as he can and makes up pseudo-Dylanesque lyrics with an overreliance on creating characters with dumb nicknames. Here, witness this list of characters with dumb nicknames that appear on this album, in order of appearance:

Go-Cart Mozart


Mary Queen of Arkansas

Broadway Mary

Senorita, Spanish Rose

The Ragamuffin Gunner


Jimmy the Saint

The Angel

Crazy Janey

Wild Billy

Hazy Davy

Killer Joe

I mean, Jesus Christ! And that’s just, like, the proper nouns. Basically, Bruce attempts to whisk the listener away to a whimsical carnival-like land populated by eccentric streetwise youths. Only some of the songs here, however, are effectively transportive in this way, and those that aren’t suffer their fate thanks to both the at times borderline laughable pseudo-Dylanesque word salad lyrics and the album’s generally thin, dinky production. Bruce would soon improve dramatically on both these points, but for now, he writes songs like the wretched acoustic folk ballad “Mary Queen Of Arkansas,” which goes beyond ripping off Dylan’s lyrical style into also copping the aimless harmonica tootin’, amelodic moaning vocals, and complete lack of rhythmic consistency that Dylan displayed on the bad parts of The Times They Are A-Changin’. But hey, at least Bruce isn’t the only one to rip off other people! Cause it sure sounds like Keith Richards ripped off the intro of “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City” to write the intro of “Sparks Will Fly,” a song that appeared 20 years later on a Stones album that nobody cares about. Huzzah!

Ultimately, Bruce begins to find his voice on Greetings not when imitating the ascetic principles of his folk predecessors, but rather when he’s discovering his flair for the dramatic. I’d say my favorite song on here is “Growin’ Up,” probably because it sounds like most like a prototypical Bruce Springsteen song. That arpeggiated piano, that soaring, sweeping chorus – that’s the Bruce I know. I also recognize Familiar Bruce starting to pop his head out on the slinky, jazzy, almost Van Morrison-esque “Spirit In The Night,” though that may be largely because of the prominence of Clarence Clemons’ sax, which is actually atypical on this album, on which the Big Man is only featured on two songs. Likewise, the stark, haunting “Lost In The Flood” presages the likes of “Racing In The Street” and “The River.” This is all very primordial and half-baked when compared to even Greetings’ follow up, which would be released later in the same year, but you can still see where Bruce is going, and recognize, based on the evidence also present on this album, that it’s a more promising place than where he came from.

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