The Wild, The Innocent, and The E Street Shuffle (1974)

1. The E Street Shuffle 2. 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) 3. Kitty's Back 4. Wild Billy's Circus Story 5. Incident on 57th Street 6. Rosalita Come Out Tonight 7. New York City Serenade


Wow. Mention the name "Bruce Springsteen" and few people immediately think of this particular album. After all, it was only his second effort, the thing really didn't chart, and it came out roughly a half a year after his debut. Plus, nobody outside of New Jersey really had heard of him yet. So that's not really a surprise. Not a surprise, but a shame. This is not only the best record in his collection, but quite possibly one of the best rock and roll albums of all time.

His first album was unusually strong for a rookie, and he wisely keeps everything that worked. He just adds more here. Much more. The poet inside Springsteen is still there, still singing about the same things, the same bizarre every day characters living in the streets of New Jersey. It's amazing how many of his characters have names. Let's see, there's Kitty, Billy, Sandy, Spanish Johnny, Diamond Jackie, Wild Billy, etc. Whether or not any of these folks are real people he knew is beside the point. You feel like you know all these characters. The music here transcends you into Springsteen's world like very few records can do. It's almost as though you're listening to a soundtrack to a story, or watching a broadway musical. Not to say there's a coherent story - there isn't one here, but a true feeling that you somehow leave your living room and magically join in the midst of all these characters lives and struggles.

It's amazing what he and producer Mike Appel have created here. The E Street Band and the supporting players add all sorts of elements to the songs in terms of instrumentation and atmosphere. To listen to the full orchestra crescendo during the nine plus minute masterpiece New York City Serenade after the haunting piano intro is by itself worth the price of the record. He somehow manages to go from song to song beautifully, mixing up the song styles without ever feeling forced. A song like New York City Serenade doesn't sound at all like it belongs on the same record as the big top sounding Wild Billy's Circus Story complete with tubas, accordions and mandolins, but it works better that you can imagine. As does the fan favorite "rocker" Rosalita, Come Out Tonight and the incredible Incident on 57th Street.

I did not start listening to Springsteen until 1984 (you know, when most everyone else that claims to be a fan started listening) and I've always been a bit agitated by those who have been following him since the beginning claim that "he hasn't done anything good since 1978". That's really a load of crap. You can believe those same people, however, when they praise his early material with the enthusiasm that they do. There's never a dull moment on this album. A casual look at the song titles won't reveal anything "hit" wise, which probably keeps many of the regular fold from giving it a listen, let alone purchasing this record. Springsteen has a lot of great moments, a lot of great shows, and a lot of great albums. This is the best of the best of the best.

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