Legend has it that when a scruffy, skinny kid from New Jersey named Bruce Springsteen walked into the Columbia Records offices in Manhattan with an acoustic guitar to audition for John Hammond — who had signed Billie Holiday and Bob Dylan earlier in his illustrious career — Springsteen played "It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City," and Hammond knew after 15 seconds that he was going to sign him.
"The kid absolutely knocked me out," Hammond has said. "I only hear somebody really good once every 10 years, and not only was Bruce the best, he was a lot better than Dylan when I first heard him."
Heady praise indeed, but the hype machine was just beginning to get rolling.
Rock critic Jon Landau saw Springsteen play a show in 1974 and wrote that he’d seen "the future of rock ’n’ roll, and its name is Bruce Springsteen." Landau thought so much of Springsteen that he quit his writing gig to manage Springsteen’s career.
THIRD TIME’S THE CHARM
Unfortunately, the artist’s first two records, while excellent, didn’t sell well outside the East Coast, where Springsteen played most of his shows, in particular at Asbury Park, N.J.’s Stone Pony club.
Bruce Springsteen’s next album, "Born to Run," turns 30 this fall, an occasion marked by the three-disc 30thanniversary package of the album that hits stores today. It broke the Boss out of the Jersey swamps and into national prominence, his visage plastered on Newsweek and Time magazines’ Oct. 27, 1975, issues.
And the record is great, although Springsteen would surpass it with his next two albums, 1978’s "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and 1980’s "The River," which remain the apex of Springsteen’s prodigious talents.
The anniversary "Born to Run" package includes the original album, digitally remastered. Highlights include the rumbling, anthemic title cut — which the Boss reportedly hated when he wrote it — the Roy Orbisoninfluenced "She’s the One," the sprawling epics "Thunder Road" and "Jungleland" and the jazzy groove of "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out."
The true joy of the package is a DVD of Springsteen and his impossibly tight E Street Band performing at London’s Hammersmith Odeon in 1975. All the energy and sweat of a prime Springsteen show practically drips off the TV set as the band rips through the "Born to Run" material and selected tunes from his first two albums such as the rousing "Rosalita," the smooth "Spirit in the Night" and the raucous "For You."
A second DVD is a documentary titled "Wings for Wheels: The Making of Born to Run." It features interviews with Springsteen, members of the E Street Band and Springsteen’s former manager, Mike Appel, with whom The Boss feuded in court for control of his career and music after "Born to Run" was released.
Not all albums deserve an anniversary blowout — is anybody really looking forward to celebrating the 25th anniversary of Journey’s "Escape" in 2006? — but "Born to Run" is truly a majestic rock ’n’ roll experience. It’s full of Phil Spectoresque Wall of Sound production techniques, which made the album sound like a classic upon release, and Springsteen’s blue-collar Everyman lyrics that struck a chord with underdogs everywhere. Mostly, there are the anthemic songs, fist-pumping blasts of sound tailor-made for cranking down the window on the boulevard and letting the wind blow back your hair.
Springsteen was great before releasing this album, but "Born to Run" truly made Bruce Springsteen "The Boss."