As an artist, Springsteen always let his songs do the talking, but in this 18-track, career-spanning compilation, fans will get to hear his musical evolution from a scruffy teen to a major-label recording artist, Grammy Award winner, Oscar winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.
The songs — each selected by Springsteen — begin to tell the story, returning to Springsteen’s earliest-known recording with his Freehold-based group, The Castiles. While Springsteen didn’t take the lead on the single, “Baby I,” (that was band leader and song co-writer George Theiss), sharp ears can detect traces of his vocals in the background, as well as his Kinks-like work on guitar. In a video on his Facebook page, Springsteen described the recording of the song as “very primitive” and the engineer had a hard time “handling any volume, whatsoever.”
The second track, a cover of Willie Dixon’s “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover,” continues the narrative of the band’s garage-rock roots with a live performance of the group at Left Foot, a teen club located in the recreation center in Freehold, N.J.
The third offering — “He’s Guilty (The Judge Song)” — offers a glimpse into the New Jersey native’s journey into California with his band Steel Mill. The group featured future E Streeters Danny Federici on keyboards and Vini Lopez on drums. The song — which includes the lyrics “Send that boy to jail” — was recorded as a demo at Pacific Recording Studio in San Mateo, Calif., for Bill Graham, who offered the group a record deal at Fillmore Records, which they rejected. Federici’s organ and Springsteen’s guitar are in the forefront. While the song owes more to the jam bands of the ’60s, Springsteen’s forays into storytelling comes more into focus between musical interludes.
Steel Mill gave way to The Bruce Springsteen Band — featuring Federici, Lopez and now Steve Van Zandt — and “The Ballad of Jesse James.” It features a guitar line more indicative of The Band and The Allman Brothers (listen closely and you can almost hear “The Weight” mixed in with the slide guitar), but the lyrics, “Don’t you want to be an outlaw?/ Don’t you want to ride the rain?” draw you into the tale. The guitar playing — forceful and clean — foreshadows the fury of later arena-rock anthems, and a wail at the end echoes “Backstreets.”
“Henry Boy,” which describes “being new in town,” is an important addition, as the melody is exactly the same as future anthem “Rosalita,” except the lyrics aren’t about a “pretty little place in Southern California,” but rather the Jersey Shore landscape and New York City, where “the West Side is for debutantes.”
It is here where Springsteen’s selections tell the rest of the story we think we already know, beginning with his initial 1972 audition for Columbia Records, through The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle’s “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy).” He declares, “This boardwalk life for me is through” and breaks from being a regional act to superstar status, landing on the covers of Time and Newsweek after hitting the big time with “Born to Run.”
The sequencing of the rest of the record clearly spells out the story Springsteen wants to tell — from Darkness on the Edge of Town‘s defiantly hopeful “Badlands” (and the first attempts at defining his characters in a more succinct manner) through the story of his sister and brother-in-law’s struggles in The River and the crucial inclusion of “My Father’s House,” a look into one of the center themes of Springsteen’s relationship with his father, Doug.
While “Born in the U.S.A.” serves as a reminder of the album and mammoth tour that propelled Springsteen into mega-stardom, “Brilliant Disguise” exposes the inner insecurities of a man struggling to learn how to be married. Interestingly, he jettisons the Human Touch album for Lucky Town‘s “Living Proof,” a song about embracing fatherhood and the responsibility that comes with it.
Cuts like “The Ghost of Tom Joad” and “The Rising” — written after the 9/11 attacks — further illuminate Springsteen’s strength as an observer, lending a voice to those without a microphone.
The record concludes with “Long Time Coming” off Devils and Dust and the humorous “Wrecking Ball,” written as a humorous goodbye to the old Giants Stadium, but perhaps chosen as a suggestion that the ghosts of the past will pave way to a new future. After all, Springsteen said his next album — a solo one — will be released in the future.
Clearly, the story isn’t over, and a new one is yet to be told.
Chapter and Verse is available as a single CD and a double LP, with bonus lyrics and rare photos.
Born to Run arrives in stores Tuesday.
Chapter and Verse song titles:
1. “Baby I” — The Castiles (recorded May 2, 1966, at Mr. Music, Bricktown, NJ; written by Bruce Springsteen and George Theiss; previously unreleased)
2. “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover” — The Castiles (recorded Sept. 16, 1967, at The Left Foot, Freehold, NJ; written by Willie Dixon; previously unreleased)
3. “He’s Guilty (The Judge Song)” — Steel Mill (recorded Feb. 22, 1970, at Pacific Recording Studio, San Mateo, CA; previously unreleased)
4. “Ballad of Jesse James” — The Bruce Springsteen Band (recorded March 14, 1972, at Challenger Eastern Surfboards, Highland, NJ; previously unreleased)
5. “Henry Boy” (recorded June 1972, at Mediasound Studios, New York, NY; previously unreleased)
6. “Growin’ Up” (recorded May 3, 1972, at Columbia Records Recordings Studios, New York, NY; previously appeared on Tracks)
7. “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” (1973, The Wild, The Innocent & the E Street Shuffle)
8. “Born to Run” (1975, Born to Run)
9. “Badlands” (1977, Darkness on the Edge of Town)
10. “The River” (1980, The River)
11. “My Father’s House” (1982, Nebraska)
12. “Born in the U.S.A.” (1984, Born in the U.S.A.)
13. “Brilliant Disguise” (1987, Tunnel of Love)
14. “Living Proof” (1992, Lucky Town)
15. “The Ghost of Tom Joad” (1995, The Ghost of Tom Joad)
16. “The Rising” (2002, The Rising)
17. “Long Time Comin'” (2005, Devils & Dust)
18. “Wrecking Ball” (2012, Wrecking Ball)
Watch Springsteen describe “Baby I”: