Bruce Springsteen – The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle

The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle (1973)


1. The E Street Shuffle 2. 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) 3. Kitty’s Back 4. Wild Billy’s Circus Story 5. Incident On 57th Street 6. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) 7. New York City Serenade


Bruce is back with a whole wrecking crew of characters with ridiculous nicknames! I mean, for fuck’s sake, in a single verse of “Rosalita” alone, we get introduced to “Jack the Rabbit,” “Week Knee Willie,” “Sloppy Sue,” and “Big Bone Billy.” What is this, Sesame Street? None of these people get any characterization either. All we get are their dumb names. If Bruce Springsteen were a screenwriter, he would get so much shit from nerds on the internet about not developing the wacky characters he sings about on his first two albums enough.

However, as a music nerd on the internet, I will not give Bruce shit for arguably his best album, The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle. Well, other than the fact that there’s no Oxford comma in the title, which is grade-A bullshit, AP style be damned. That’s obviously not because Bruce has abandoned the stupidly named character-based storytelling he employed on Greetings. It’s also not because he has transcended his Dylan worship (ahem, “Wild Billy’s Circus Story” and “Incident On 57th Street”) or even fully found his own voice as a songwriter yet. Nope, in fact, it’s largely because these boys—meaning the E Street Band (which had by this point added keyboardist/accordion guy Danny Federici, as well as promoted Clarence Clemons to full-time duty)—can fuckin’ play. E Street is a full, rich, joyous showcase of pure musicianship more than anything, which is a major anomaly in the Springsteen catalog and also astounding considering the fact that Greetings sounded so thin and musically un-dynamic that one could easily assume that it consisted entirely of demos that Bruce recorded all by himself.

But this isn’t a Santana album or anything. Yes, almost all of the seven tracks on this thing are quite long—the average song length is 6:41—but there’s little to no traditional jamming or prog rock wanking (other than the totally proggy guitar/keyboard breakdown that happens about three and a half minutes into “Rosalita,” which is kind of hilarious). Instead, this is just a batch of long songs with a lot of lyrics that Bruce wrote that the E Street Band organically filled to the brim with all manner of catchy licks, instrumental variation, and creative interludes. Clarence Clemons, blowin’ on his sax! David Sancious, playing everything from that jazzy Wurlitzer on “Kitty’s Back” to the ornate, classically-oriented piano on “New York City Serenade”! And even Broocie himself, actually earning that guitar slinger rep with some truly fantastic, emotive leads, especially on “Kitty’s Back” and “Incident On 57th Street”! Also, there are bass and drum parts on the album.

Naw, just kidding. The whole bands sounds incredibly tight here. I mean, “The E Street Shuffle” BRINGS DA FUNK like nobody’s business. Typically Bruce Springsteen is about as funky as a piece of buttered Wonder Bread, but man, this tune grooves HARD. As in, it’s funky, with all the horns and gang vocals and what not, but it’s got an incessant sense of rhythmic urgency thanks to the hyperactive rhythm guitar and clavinet part. It’s jovial but tough, like it rose straight from the NYC streets on a hot summer day. Elsewhere, “Kitty’s Back” is stuffed with so many musical ideas—from the wailing bluesy guitar intro to that hipsterly jazz rock groove the band somehow manages to slip into without sounding like douchebags—that it feels like it could explode at any moment. When it finally does, sort of—the “Kitty’s back in town!” refrain near the end—the sense of celebration is palpable. And, of course, there’s “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” Bruce’s most reliably crowd-pleasing rave-up in concert to this day. Catchy organ and sax licks flying this way and that, surging to one triumphant climax after another, Bruce deliriously imploring his gal to leave her stodgy folks behind to come out and party – it’s as effective a distillation of pure joy into musical form as any I’ve heard.

On the songs where Bruce focuses more on being a “singer-songwriter” than on fostering band dynamics, the results may not be as fun, but they’re still very impressive, especially considering how much more mature and carefully crafted those songs are compared to puerile crap on the last album like “Mary Queen Of Arkansas” and “The Angel.” The one you probably know is the romantic boardwalk odyssey “Sandy,” which is lovely, even though Bruce’s put-on “whispering really loudly for some reason” vocal delivery has always bugged me. But I prefer two other songs on this album – “Wild Billy’s Circus Story” and “Incident On 57th Street.” Both, as I alluded to earlier, are total Dylan rip offs, and yet may be the two most underrated songs in the Springsteen catalog. The former especially – something about the way Bruce took this early Dylan-style folk strummer into an actually compelling song about made-up carnival freaks using an understated, atmospheric arrangement, pitch-perfect tuba interjections, and a grumbling, grinning vocal just works for me. It should be just a stupid novelty song, but it feels emotionally significant, which is a neat trick considering the main hook is “God save the human cannonball!” As for, “Incident,” well, right down to the title, it sounds like it came straight off Blonde On Blonde. But unlike most songs by Dylan acolytes that fit this description, if it were actually on Blonde On Blonde, it would be one of the best songs on the album – the rolling piano and Al Kooper-ish organ are spot on, and the cooing, comforting chorus is certainly as melodic as most of what Dylan himself put on that album.

It’s hard to find anything to nitpick about this album. Its wordiness may overwhelm some perhaps. Oh, and no matter how many times I’ve heard it, I don’t think I could hum the melody of “New York City Serenade” for you, but every time I do hear it, I come away thinking how gosh darn pretty it is regardless, how incredible the piano and acoustic guitar playing are, and how I don’t mind that it’s 10 minutes long. Honestly, the worst thing about The E Street Shuffle is that Bruce never sounded like this again. As his subject matter got weightier and more serious, he would certainly improve as a lyricist and social commentator, and certainly at defining his own style. But never again would he come close to sounding like he was having this much fucking fun.

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