There have, over the years, been a variety of Best Of/Greatest Hits albums by the Boss, but this one's a little different. Released to tie in with publication of his autobiography, Born To Run (what else!), the tracks were selected by Springsteen to reflect the book's different themes and sections, charting his career from the early days up to the title track of 2012's Wrecking Ball. Naturally, there's some inevitable appearances, "Born To Run", "Badlands", "The River", "Born In The USA", "Brilliant Disguise" and "The Ghost of Tom Joad" all duly ticked off, while Nebraska's represented by "My Father's House" and The Wild, The Innocent & the E Street Shuffle by "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)". His solo debut, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., doesn't get a studio track, but is represented by the demo version of "Growin' Up", recorded May 3, 1972, and previously featured on the Tracks compilation. Of the other album cuts, there's "Living Proof" from 1992's Lucky Town, the title number from The Rising and "Long Time Comin'" off 2005's Devils & Dust.
It's hard to imagine any Springsteen fan not having these already, so the real interest lies in the first five, previously unreleased (or at least, not in authorised form, three of them having appeared on the Missing Tracks Vol 1 bootleg), tracks that predate his official debut. Two of these come from The Castiles, the band he fronted as a 16-year-old alongside George Theiss (vocals, guitar), Paul Popkin (guitar) Vinny Maniello (drums) and Curt Fluhr, (bass). The first of these, "Baby I", co-written with Theiss on the way to the studio, was recorded at Mr Music in Bricktown, NJ, May 2,1966 and, clocking in at just under two minutes, is pretty standard 60s garage band stuff, the nature of band reinforced by the second track, a cover of Willie Dixon's "You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover", recorded at the Left Foot cluB in Freehold, NJ the following year on Sept 16. Raw and rowdy, there's little here to suggest the artist into which Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen would develop, nor indeed to any great extent in "He's Guilty (The Judge Song)", the number chosen to represent the Steel Mill years. Titled "He's Guilty (Send That Boy To Jail)" on the Steel Mill bootlegs, it was recorded Feb. 22, 1970, at Pacific Recording Studio, San Mateo, California, one of the three songs recorded there and Springsteen's first studio outing since that 1966 session. Written by Springsteen, it features Vini Lopez on drums and Vinnie Roslin on bass, with the first of the E Street Band regulars, Danny Federici, on keyboards. Interestingly, one bootleg source has this down as just over six minutes, but the track here runs for under five.
By the time 1972 rolls around, Springsteen can be heard developing his style on "The Ballad of Jesse James", a Southern bluesy rock number with clear Band influences and some powerful guitar work, recorded (one of six tracks) Mar 14 by The Bruce Springsteen Band at Challenger Eastern Surfboards, Highland, NJ, the line-up still featuring Lopez on drums, but now with David Sancious on piano and organ alongside future long-term E Streeters Gary Tallent on bass and Stevie Van Zandt on guitar. Again there's a running time discrepancy, the Deep Down In The Vaults bootleg source having it as seven minutes, whereas the version here is just five-and-a-half
The final unreleased number features just Springsteen on vocal and acoustic guitar and marks the development of the familiar storytelling approach that would characterise his albums from Greetings through to Nebraska. Recorded in June 1972 at Mediasound Studios, New York. That's not the only thing that's familiar, the tune clearly a template for aspects of both "Rosalita" and "Thunder Road". A live recording of it from Max'sKansas City can be found to your right.
A fascinating accompaniment to the autobiography, it comes with a fold out lyric sheet and a collection of rare photographs, the unreleased material quite like to whet the appetites of more recent devotees into scouring the bootleg market (not that we would endorse this, obviously) to find more of those early, formative recordings.
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