Most great artists have at least one great “lost song” – that unused album cut that was somehow dismissed upon its creation, only to find itself coveted and revered by bootleggers and die-hard music fans for generations to come. Bruce Springsteen has about a hundred of these songs (I shit you not). Here are ten of the best…
Honourable Mentions: “Bishop Danced”, “Zero And Blind Terry”, “Winter Song”, “Give The Girl A Kiss”, “Cynthia”, “Trapped“, “Held Up Without A Gun“, “Jersey Girl”, “Chain Lightning”, “Janey Don’t You Lose Heart”.
Amongst the small batch of songs recorded with the temporarily reunited E Street Band in 1996, “High Hopes” (originally recorded by the Havalinas) marks the high point of the Blood Brothers EP that was briefly bundled with the VHS release of the documentary of the same name.
“Crazy Rocker” is an unfinished Darkness On The Edge Of Town outtake, recorded in 1977. The song trades that album’s grounded and insular aesthetic for the more care-free odes to rock and roll and rockabilly that would eventually crop up on The River. The lyrics are far from being completed (with indecipherable mumblings occasionally standing in for actual words) and the song structure was clearly still in the process of being worked out (as evidenced by Springsteen audibly calling chord changes on the fly) but despite that – or maybe even because of it – the song still stands as one of the better Darkness outtakes yet to be officially released in any capacity.
“Roulette” marks Springsteen’s first foray into the political protest song. Written in the wake of the Three Mile Island meltdown in 1979, “Roulette” tells the tale of a family being forced from their home after a nuclear catastrophe. Despite being written in 1979, the song wouldn’t see the light of day until 1988, appearing as the B-side to Tunnel Of Love‘s “One Step Up”.
“My Love Will Not Let You Down”
An outtake from the Born In The USA recording sessions, “My Love Will Not Let You Down” might easily have found its way on to that album and sat comfortably alongside songs such as “Bobby Jean” and “No Surrender”. That it didn’t could perhaps be attributed to the notion that it maybe sounded a little too much like those songs to warrant inclusion. Taken on its own though, a case could be made for “My Love Will Not Let You Down” being one of Springsteen’s finest moments of the 80s.
Recorded in 1973 during sessions for The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle, “The Fever” (despite somehow missing the cut for that album) saw an extremely limited release on 7” single and was sent to radio stations to play in anticipation of the release of Born To Run. Why it was never released on a studio album (it would have been perfectly suited to either E Street Shuffle or The River) is anyone’s guess.
Another outtake from The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle, “Santa Ana” sees Springsteen falling back on the Bob Dylan and Van Morrison influences that informed so much of Greetings From Asbury Park, New Jersey to great effect.
The story behind the recording of Darkness On The Edge Of Town is well documented. Unable to step foot in a recording studio as a result of a contract dispute with then-manager, Mike Appel, an angry, coming-of-age Springsteen spent three years writing songs he was unable to record. By 1978 – and with the lawsuit behind him – Bruce and the E Street Band set about recording three year’s worth of songs and narrowing them down to only the ten which would eventually comprise Darkness On The Edge Of Town. This meant dozens of songs recorded in those Darkness sessions – oftentimes songs that most songwriters would be proud to call their best work – being unceremoniously discarded. “The Promise” is perhaps the most famous of these songs, and not without cause.
Written in 1976 and recorded in 1982, “Frankie” is maybe the finest song recorded-for-but-not-used-on Springsteen’s 1984 radio-baiting, stadium-sized, Born In The USA album.
“Janey Needs A Shooter”
That this song never saw an official release on either the rarities collection, Tracks, or on the Darkness outtakes collection, The Promise is a crime, and a heinous one at that. “Janey Needs A Shooter” is by far the most glaring omission from the aforementioned Promise album, and a song that compares favourably with the likes of “Thunder Road” and “Racing In The Street”. Originally recorded in 1972 – then a stripped down composition featuring only piano and vocals – the song was revisited and re-recorded with the E Street Band in 1978. Never making it past the demo stage, “Janey Needs A Shooter” was never mastered (let alone remastered) and the imperfect, muffled recording presented here is the only known recording of this version of the song.
For my money, “Thundercrack” is the greatest Springsteen song to never find its way onto any of The Boss’ main albums. Recorded during the Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle sessions, the song is driven by “Mad Dog” Vini Lopez’s hyperactive drumming (a stark contrast to Max Weinberg’s machine-like thud), features a sax solo, an elongated guitar solo, about three different false finishes, and maybe the best intro of any Springsteen song ever written. That it didn’t feature on E Street Shuffle is an absurdity (“Thundercrack”, “Santa Ana” and “The Fever” being included on that album would have surely pushed it into contention for ‘best album ever’).