Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer Bruce Springsteen turns 67 years old today, and to celebrate, he's released Chapter and Verse, an 18-track album timed to coincide not only with the birthday, but with Springsteen's forthcoming autobiography, which will be published on Tuesday.
Along with 13 key tracks from his career, each of which will play an important role in his autobiography Born to Run, Springsteen has released for the first time five "new" tracks from his pre-Columbia Records days -- representing the first official release for the material, which hardcore Bruce fans have likely heard before as they've been widely available in bootlegs for years.
That said, it's still five new Bruce Springsteen songs to most people -- in the form of Chapter & Verse, a companion to the book.
We figured, rather than just running down Springsteen's career today, we would take a critical glance at his "new" material, which also happens to be a retrospective on his early life and music...!
If this one comes off as a little tinnier and less polished than the rest of the music on the CD, that might be related to the fact that this is fifty years old at this point.
Springsteen was 16 years old when The Castiles recorded "Baby I," the first track included on Chapter & Verse.
One Week One Band describes the song as "the young working dude angst of The Animals with a touch of Stonesy bravado," and that's a pretty fair assessment. And if you don't think you can hear Bruce on vocals, that's becuase he wasn't the frontman of this first band: he's the guitarist trying to make his cheap Kent guitar wail.prevnext
YOU CAN'T JUDGE A BOOK BY THE COVER
A little more bluesy and a little more Stones-influenced, we get the white guy version of Bo Diddley's hit is a lot more raucous, evoking a Springsteen show more than "Baby I."
Of course, that could be in part becuase it was recorded live during The Castiles' show at The Left Foot, which you can see above.
It's been cleaned up considerably from existing bootlegs, but is otherwise pretty unremarkable. It's not an original song, and it's not particularly Springsteen-y. It's really more a song that any respectable bar band should have in their repertoire.prevnext
HE'S GUILTY (THE JUDGE SONG)
Steel Mill's "He's Guilty" is the third new track on the CD, and this is really where The E Street Band starts.
The track is one of the earliest collaborations between Springsteen, Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez, and Danny Federici, and Federici on the organ marks this as unmistakably a Springsteen song.
This one is also where the songs start sounding a bit more professionally recorded. Word is Springsteen and company recorded this at the behest of Bill Graham, the legendary concert promoter, who was interested in signing them to a record deal that never happened.
musically, Federici gets a great organ solo and the guitar hooks are infectious. It feels a bit like early Steppenwolf -- not quite "Born to Be Wild" and "Magic Carpet Ride," but it's like if Springsteen took characters and lyrics from his record Nebraska and superimposed them over "The Pusher" or "Your Wall's Too High."prevnext
THE BALLAD OF JESSE JAMES
The Bruce Springsteen Band's "The Ballad of Jesse James" sounds a lot like some of the early recordings and post-Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ music that Springsteen would release in bulk on his Tracks box set in the late '90s.
You can absolutely hear this fitting in with songs like "Zero and Blind Terry" and "Thundercrack." It's got a bluesy, soul-inspired, funky hook but the screaming guitars feel more rock-inspired than anything you could comfortably call any of those genres.
It's probably the strongest song on the record if you were going to release a single, and that's not surprising: again, we're getting deeper and deeper into proto-E Street territory, with Vini Lopez, Steve Van Zandt, Garry Tallent and David Sancious on board for this track.prevnext
By the time he got to "Henry Boy," Springsteen was marketing himself as a solo act. This isn't one of his best -- it's more reminiscent of the oft-mocked "Mary Queen of Arkansas" than of early higs like "New York City Serenade" -- although you can hear what seems to be a kind of early draft of "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" in some of the lyrics if you listen closely.
(And, yes, a little bit of "Thunder Road" even, if you squint.)
By the time this is over, though, Chapter & Verse makes its way right into the part of his career that everybody knows: Bruce Springsteen, "the next Dylan" and "the future of rock 'n' roll," picking away at an acoustic guitar on "Growin' Up" in the famous take from Tracks that is actually part of his life-changing Columbia Records audition.prev