Sourced from the original analog master tapes and housed in mini-LP gatefold sleeve packaging, Mobile Fidelity’s numbered-edition hybrid SACD plays with a clarity, directness, and emotionalism that practically whisks you into the New York office in which Springsteen – accompanied by then-manager Mike Appel – played a few originals for legendary Columbia Records executive John Hammond and earned a record deal.
That solo-centric aspect of Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. – credited only to Springsteen and featuring only a handful of accompanying musicians – helps make it unique in Springsteen’s catalog. So do the acoustic-based frameworks, revealed on this pressing with newly exposed detail, nuance, and immediacy. The music emerges with an openness that gives flight to the Boss’ storytelling. His words flow with unbridled, stream-of-conscious pacing and vibrant imagery; they pay homage to and update a tradition established by Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and Jack Kerouac. Equally important, Springsteen’s still-underrated vocal performances can now be appreciated in full-range fidelity. Earnest, transparent, and sincere, his singing comes across with an urgency that distinguishes him from the era’s singer-songwriter mold and a raw energy that underlines his unflinching belief in rock ‘n’ roll.
An aspirational declaration by a then-23-year-old musician who was already a seasoned veteran of the Jersey Shore bar-band scene, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. can in many ways be seen as a semi-fictional autobiography released more than four decades before Springsteen penned his official tome. Elaborate, descriptive, and absorbing, Springsteen’s lyrics spark with the enthusiasm and exuberance of a wide-eyed adventurer ready for possibility, excitement, and fun – but who is also mindful of loss, pain, and disappointment. Words often tumble and collide like dice spilling from a jar; shaken and fully intact, they pour forth with purpose and without self-conscious concern.
One of two songs composed after label president Clive Davis cited the need for a radio-friendly single, the opening “Blinded by the Light” provides an unforgettable introduction. It flares with a blend of confidence, fun, and poetry that helps define Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. Crackling with wiry guitars, funky chords, Clarence Clemons’ cool-toned saxophone, and action-packed lyrics, the shuffle simultaneously expands and contracts – and establishes Springsteen as a master of rhyme, alliteration, and breathless expression. The thread continues on “Growin’ Up.” Steered by ascending piano lines, soulful grooves, and frisky rhythms, the coming-of-age confessional is at once rebellious and controlled, fearless and vulnerable, honest and boastful. It is a tale to which multiple generations still relate.
Such universality has always been a Springsteen trademark. It surfaces throughout Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., as does another Boss hallmark: the importance of friendship and tight bonds. These concepts relate to the fact many of the songs – see the feverish “Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?,” strutting “It’s So Hard to Be a Saint in the City,” and tender “For You,” the latter complete with brilliant Hammond organ shading – are directly tied to the friends, acquaintances, places, and happenings he knew. “Lost in the Flood,” whose cinematic drama and epic scope hint at the directions Springsteen would pursue on his next LP, extends that familiarity while addressing the kind of socially conscious issues with which he’s forever been associated.
Balancing the label’s vision of him as a folk-based singer-songwriter and his own desire to play rock ‘n’ roll with a full band, Springsteen never again made a record like Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. One of the most captivating debuts in history, it heralds the start of a legacy whose import Springsteen seemingly foretells on “Blinded by the Light”: “He’s gonna make it tonight.” And how.