Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.
Released: January 1973
Chart Peak: #60
Weeks Charted: 36
Certified Gold: 11/21/78
Remember P.F. Sloan? Sure you do. It was back when every folk rocker worth his harmonica holder was flushed with Dylan fever and seeing how many syllables he could cram into every involuted couplet. There was Tandyn Almer, of "Along Comes Mary" fame ("The psychodramas and the traumas hung on the scars of the stars in the bars and cars" -- something like that), and David Blue had his own Highway 61 too, but absolutely none of 'em could beat 'ol P.F. He started out writing surf songs, but shook the world by the throat with his masterpieces "Eve of Destruction" and "Sins of a Family," and all his best material was just brimming with hate.
Boy howdy, the first thing the world needs is a P.F. Sloan for 1973, and you can start revving up yer adrenaline, kids, because he's here in the person of Bruce Springsteen. Old Bruce makes a point of letting us know that he's from one of the scuzziest, most useless and plain uninteresting sections of Jersey. He's been influenced a lot by the Band, his arrangements tend to take on a Van Morrison tinge every now and then, and he sort of catarrh-mumbles his ditties in a disgruntled mushmouth sorta like Robbie Robertson on Quaaludes with Dylan barfing down his neck. It's a tuff combination, but it's only the beginning.
"Madman drummers bummers and Indians in the summer with a teenage diplomat/ In the dumps with the mumps as the adolescent pumps his way into his hat" begins the very first song, and after that things just keep getting more breathtakingly complicated. You might think it's some kinda throwback, but it's really bracing as hell because it's obvious that B.S. don't give a shit. He singshoots his random rivets at you and you can catch as many as you want or let 'em all clatter right off the wall which is maybe's where they belong anyway. Bruce Springsteen is a bold new talent with more than a mouthful to say, and one look at the pic on the back will tell you he's got the glam to go places in this Gollywoodlawn world to boot. Watch for him; he's not the new John Prine.
- Lester Bangs, Rolling Stone, 7/5/73.
The main thing about Bruce Springsteen's semispectacular debut should be that he is a city-minded kid -- like most people in such places as Asbury Park, he is preoccupied with New York. The city's toughness, particularly, fascinates him, and its speed, chaos, spontaneity, contriving, and conniving actually do -- I believe -- pass through him and out into a sort of sidewalk-Baroque style of music. Unfortunately, the main thing about him may be those "Next Dylan" pronouncements already starting; computers this minute are scanning "Blinded by the Light" alongside "Like a Rolling Stone" for profundity comparison readouts.
Before the data fog closes in, note Springsteen's singing style. It probably will prove distinctive enough, but not by a lot. He uses a puffy-jawed production that's a little too campy, but he superimposes a redeeming buzz, and there's an urgency about it all that suits his subject matter and his treatment of it. Some treatment, too -- so many words! So many rhymes! "Madman drummers bummers and Indians in the summer..." he'll say, "in the dumps with the mumps as adolescent pumps..." He doesn't require much of his melodies, and they generally respond accordingly. He's a rocker, essentially, as such a downtowner would logically be. Still, it is pleasantly unsurprising to find that "Spirit in the Night" has a really haunting melody and sticks in the mind.
The arrangements are what you unobtrusively rollicking, and Springsteen handles himself well on several instruments. The disc version, with lyrics printed on the jacket, is a better deal than the Dolbyized cassette, which sounds good but has the sequence of tunes rearranged in a dunderheaded manner and provides no lyrics.
Springsteen is an important newcomer. The language, the images, the rhythms, the fragmented impressions just keep rolling on, relentless and maybe out of control a little, like the taxicabs on Fifth Avenue. The language is so right sometimes it's almost spooky. But then there are times when something that was handy and little else was grabbed for the interior rhyme scheme... and times when I, not being city-minded, find it -- overwhelming. My God, say hicks like me, is that still going on? I fancy that, instead of "Don't lose your mittens," the Uptight Mommy must now be sending her kid out with "Don't let the excessive stimuli freak you out." No Next Dylan would affect me that way, not here in the laid-back Seventies. Bruce Springsteen is something else, read both ways, and seems to be already proving that street poeting still has a kick or two left in it, although -- with the lure of Country Comfort being what it is now -- his may be becoming a specialized line of work.
- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 7/73.
Of course, I spent my adolescence in the Garden (or is it Pizza?) State, so perhaps I'm prejudiced. Still, despite the kiss-of-death "New Dylan" hype that Columbia has given him, and despite the fact that most of the current crop of singer/songwriters give me a swift pain, I have no doubt that this kid has really got it. For one thing, his lyrics are a terrific combination of Dylan's "Highway 61" speedfreak ramble-epics with poignant accounts of what Lester Bangs has called "the uninterrupted dry grope of growing up in the Sixties." For another, his music is an absolutely haunting kind of mutated sleazy r-&-b, and his band is fantastic. It all reminds me of what Van Morrison might be doing if he ever stopped whining.
- Steve Simels, Stereo Review, 2/74.
The comparisons with Dylan as far as lyrics are concerned will be inevitable, but this new artist proves himself highly original and able to run the gamut from humorous to rather sad songs. Best cuts include "Blinded By The Light," "Growin' Up," "Lost In The Flood," "For You" and "Spirit In The Night." LP should gain strong play from FM stations.
- Billboard, 1973.
The songs, laced with Dylanistic wordplay, are gorgeous street vignettes fused with romance, idealism, and a true sense of wonder. * * *
- John Floyd, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
On Bruce Springsteen's debut, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., Columbia thought it had a troubadour, not a rocker, and this set sounds more stiff and mannered each passing year. * * 1/2
- Gary Graff, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
Bruce Springsteen's debut album found him squarely in the tradition of Bob Dylan's folk-rock music of 1965-66: folk-based tunes arranged for an electric band featuring piano and organ (plus, in Springsteen's case, 1950s-style rock & roll tenor saxophone breaks), topped by acoustic guitar and a husky voice singing lyrics full of elaborate, even exaggerated imagery. But where Dylan had taken a world-weary, cynical tone, Springsteen was exuberant. His street scenes could be haunted and tragic, as they were in "Lost in the Flood," but they were still imbued with romanticism and a youthful energy. The lyrics tumbled out -- "Madmen, drummers, bummers, and Indians in the summer with a teenage diplomat/ in the dumps with the mumps as the adolescent pumps his way into his hat" was the opening couplet of the lead-off track, "Blinded by the Light" -- and if they didn't carry much literal meaning, they conveyed a sense of excitement, a delight with life. "Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the sun," Springsteen sang, "Oh, but mama that's where the fun is." Asbury Park painted a portrait of teenagers cocksure of themselves, yet bowled over by their discovery of the world. It was saved from pretentiousness (if not preciousness) by its sense of humor and by the careful eye for detail -- "Eighth Avenue sailors in satin shirts," "Madison Avenue's claim to fame in a trainer bra with eyes like rain" -- that kept even the most high-flown language rooted. None of which would have mattered if the music hadn't been so listenable. Like the lyrics, the arrangements were busy, but the melodies were well-developed and the rhythms, pushed by drummer Vincent Lopez, were breakneck. Though the album itself was not a success upon release, Manfred Mann for one recognized the strength of the material, and he scored a number one hit with "Blinded by the Light" and a Top 40 hit with "Spirit in the Night" in 1977.
- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock.
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