Finding Bruce Springsteen’s music for the first time as a young kid was an experience I won’t forget. It was like I could suddenly peel back the layers of my banal suburban life and see a different existence alive and teeming underneath the surface, a world of sweet summer nights at the drive-in and last-chance adventures to find romance, beauty, and wonder somewhere in the city. To a kid that only knew these sort of things from movies and music, finding Springsteen was the closest thing I could get to living that life of excitement and becoming intimate with all its broken, romantic dreams.
“The Wild, The Innocent, And The E Street Shuffle” was the album that cemented Springsteen in my imagination as the lordly purveyor of that reckless teenage energy, granting meaning to those vibrations of youthful gusto I felt surging inside of me in my early teens. As a shy kid with no outlet in those years, I found a way to express myself by driving my car around my small town and singing along with Springsteen at the top of my lungs, the warm wind of late spring moving through my hair as I flew through the lonely nighttime palaces of America.
At the time I was a burgeoning songwriter and music nerd, and Springsteen’s songs became a standard to reach for, a pinnacle of expression for those who are romantically inclined and perhaps a little too full of nervous energy. When I sang along with “Kitty’s Back” or “The E Street Shuffle” I could imagine, for one ecstatic second, that I was on stage with the E Street Band and part of an exhilarating, marathon jam, one that left me breathless and shaking with emotion.
Recorded in the summer of 1973 in New York City, “The Wild, The Innocent, And The E Street Shuffle” never achieved the commercial success of “Born to Run,” Springsteen’s smash hit from 1976. Despite this, many well-respected critics still consider that 1973 album to be his best, capturing his music style at a critical juncture of youthful exuberance and cinematic grandeur that is masterful in its execution.
The best-known songs from the album are all heart-baring adventures through Springsteen’s mythological world of street punks, beautiful latinas, and sidewalk troubadours. Take “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” a romping, driving tune that any Springsteen fan will recognize both for its explosive saxophone solo and Springsteen’s breathless exhortations of “Rosalita, jump a little lighter / Senorita, come sit by my fire / I just wanna be your lover, don’t know why / Rosalita, you’re my sole desire.” The package, when it hits you like the romantic cannonball of emotion that it is, is nothing short of irresistible.
At the time I wished for Rosalita of my own, imagining myself rescuing her from a lonely second-floor room in her Spanish house and running away with her toward the California coast, where we would swim all night in the warm waters surging up from Mexico. Without a real-life experience to base these fantasies in, Springsteen became my lifeline to this alternate reality, a vibrant world that stood in stark contrast to the awkward life of a shy teenager.
This alternate reality was undoubtedly fueled by Springsteen’s sonic palette, which had grown more complex and colorful at this point in his career. By “The Wild, The Innocent, And The E Street Shuffle” he already had the uber-talented E Street Band behind him and years of experience tearing up barrooms and concert halls around the country. With a big label – Columbia Records – supplying the cash, him and his band were able to pack their sound with soaring organs, rich horn sections, and ripping guitars, blending in rock with elements of jazz and folk to create a sound all their own. Whether or not the listener identified with the youthful perspective of the music, there was no way to deny the infectious energy and emotion of music that so easily coasted through feelings of sorrow, gusto, or pure, wide-eyed masculine romance.
Take the aching remembrance of Springsteen’s ode to the boardwalk culture of his native Jersey shore.
“Sandy, that waitress I was seeing lost her desire for me
I spoke with her last night
She said she won’t set herself on fire for me anymore
She worked that joint under the boardwalk
She was always the girl you saw bobbing down the beach with the radio
The kids say last night she was dressed like a star
In one of them cheap little seaside bars
And I saw her parked with loverboy out on the Kokomo”
Many critics still believe that “The Wild, The Innocent, And The E Street Shuffle” was the grandest statement of Springsteen’s career, finding a rich balance between exuberant lyrics and epic rock ‘n’ roll arrangements pulsing with life and energy. There is hardly any better example of this than “New York City Serenade,” which brings the album home in ten minutes of romantic splendor and life-affirming balladry. “So walk tall, or baby, don’t walk at all,” Springsteen sings, showing us the way of the romantic warrior, a path which no one but him seems to walk so well.
To purchase the vinyl pressing of “The Wild, The Innocent, And The E Street Shuffle” click on this link.