The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (”WIESS”), Bruce Springsteen’s second album, was released in the autumn of 1973. The sprawl of the debut album Greetings from Asbury Park has however experienced quite an abrasion: the same elements can be found but in a noticeably more controlled way. Many fans consider this album as one of Springsteen’s crown jewels.
Bruce and the E Street band have played WIESS in it’s entirety two times at a live show: first in Madison Square Garden, New York in 2009 and second time in Entertainment Centre, Brisbane in 2009. Before the act in 2009 Bruce initialized the album by saying, that it contains two different themes: half of the songs on the album take place in band’s home corners in New Jersey (the songs are The E Street Shuffle, 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), Wild Billy’s Circus Story and Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)), the other half being ”romantic ideas and fantasies about New York City: Kitty’s Back, Incident on 57th Street and New York City Serenade.
The album starts with an almost soul-like song The E Street Shuffle. The horns sound more tunefuly than on the debut album that was released only half a year prior. The clarity of the production compared to ”Greetings” is clear: the band separates and plays tighter.
The text could be from the first record, but the composition is more organized. This also works as the band’s signature song! ” The teenage tramps in skintight pants do the E Street dance and everything’s all right”. In it’s duration of four and a half minutes it’s the shortest track on the album: there’s action also in this one, however.
”Shuffle” was one of the first flashes of the latest incarnation of the E Street Band, when the band (extended with a horn section) performed in Jimmy Fallon’s show in the spring of 2012. Old favourite got a new life with the new players!
WIESS‘s second song paints its canvas with different strokes than what the band has done before. 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) plays delicately and finely, taking place in the E Street Band’s home soil, Asbury Park. This was one of ESB’s late organist Danny Federici’s signature songs: the accordion played by “Phantom” creates it’s own, inimitable rolling in the summer night.
“Sandy” anticipates the thematic of “an endless summer night” that surrounds the Born to Run-album released just a little more than year after WIESS. It’s at the same time beautiful and wistful. The text has lots of imagery, like Springsteen used to do in his early days. Especially the last verse is dramatic in its own way, as only an electric piano accompanies:
Sandy, the angels have lost our desire for us
I spoke to ’em just last night and they said they won’t set themselves on fire for us anymore
Sandy the aurora’s rising behind us, the pier lights our carnival life forever
Oh love me tonight and I promise I’ll love you forever
A beautiful song that is played in concerts every now and then. This one is also recorded as a great version on the live box Live/1975-85. In some internet forum there was a comment that when one listens one the version on that album, the song’s “soul opens”. “Sandy” and the songs on this album’s B-side have a lot in common with their atmosphere and imagery.
The third track, Kitty’s Back, demonstrates the E Street Band at it’s best. Meandering, at times pretty jazz-like piece is once again full of interesting characters and stories.
“Kitty” starts with a raw guitar solo, played by Springsteen himself with his legendary Fender (Telecaster body and Esquire neck). The sound of the guitar toned many legendary solos in the 70s.
After the intro almost all of the instruments tail off as only electric piano is alongside Bruce’s singing. “Catlong sighs holding Kitty’s black tooth”. Kitty’s gone and things have changed.
“Since Kitty left with Big Pretty things have got pretty thin”. It feels like the song takes off right after the virst verse: “walking bass” starts to skitter and tempo condenses, but a second unruffled verse follows.
In the second verse playing-wise interesting things start to emerge. The tension is build with apposite chord selections, until the song shifts to a baffling section, that can almost be named as a chorus: “Ooh, what can I do, ooh, what can I do?”
Then we get to the solos. In the album version there’s couple of them: David Sancious’ organ piece, Bruce’s own guitar solo and blowing of the horns. When played at concerts this section often extends to last minutes longer and the solos are shared with a big hand: all the way from the 70s until recent years the live versions may last closer to 20 minutes! Especially the piano solo by Roy Bittan is great at concerts (Bittan wasn’t yet in the band when they recorded the album).
After the solo section there’s some controlled chaos before the song gets back to verse and more peaceful mood once more after some nice organ playing. “So get right, get tight, get down”, because someone’s back. ”Well who’s that down at the end of the alley?” This enquiry also streches greatly in concerts.
”Kitty’s back in town”. It sets the song on fire one more time. There’s one more section in the end, that sums the song aptly into an utterance heard before: ”Ooh, what can I do?”…
Kitty’s Back is the gem of the album’s A-side, although all the others are Springsteen classics as well. The band plays as a great example of the power of the E Street Band and the text is early Bruce at his best. The live version is also worth listening: here’s an example of the band playing ”Kitty” 40 years after its release. The before-mentioned solo section streches here out to 7 minutes, almost ten players get to play their solo… And there’s even a snippet of ”Oh, Pretty Woman” there somewhere.
The A-side of the ”WIESS”-LP concludes with Wild Billy’s Circus Story. WBCS starts with Bruce counting ”one, two, three, four” and instantly there’s something unexpected as an effect: a tuba. The instrument works as a replacement for bass for the whole song. The instrumentation is reduced, there’s only acoustic guitar, tuba and an accordion, which together create a light and airy soundscape.
The text is all about what the title says. In a circus story there’s lots of characters from the industry: a machiner, a fire- and sword-eater, a midget, tightrope walker, human cannonball… The story is full of precise description.
The B-side of the LP is Springsteen at his most legendary, one of the best sides of records ever made. A trio of almost epic songs. It’s good to remind that the songwriter was about 24 years old while writing them. Many consider that Bruce hasn’t got to the same level later on his career.
Incident on 57th Street starts the second half. After a piano-intro the band comes in on a very 70s-like manner as Bruce plays a little solo. ”Incident” is always an event, when played live.
Spanish Johnny drove in from the underworld last night
With bruised arms and broken rhythm in a beat-up old Buick
But dressed just like dynamite
He tried sellin’ his heart to the hard girls over on Easy Street
But they sighed “Johnny it falls apart so easy and you know hearts these days are cheap”
Bruce’s singing and the band’s simple playing hold the thing together. In a same way like on the first album’s Spirit in the Night this one also teems original characters. In the lead roles are Spanish Johnny and Jane, whom Johnny loves in fall with.
Oh good night, it’s alright Jane
Now let them black boys in to light the soul flame
We may find it out on the street tonight baby
Or we may walk until the daylight maybe
For some reason this love story between Johnny and Jane is pretty touching. “Spanish Johnny, you can leave me tonight but just don’t leave me alone”.
In the last verse, accompanied only by bass and drums, Johnny wonders where things are going to. He ends up going into the night and leaving Jane sleeping, saying that they may see each other again.
Good night, it’s all right Jane
I’ll meet you tomorrow night on Lover’s Lane
We may find it out on the street tonight baby
Or we may walk until the daylight maybe
In the outro play both Bruce’s guitar and David Sancious’ piano, whose last notes link directly with the next song…
… Rosalita (Come out Tonight). Beginning with a guitar arpeggio, this one goes on right where the previous left off. Also saxophone jumps in right from the start.
The events take place in the same streets and similar feels. This time the object of interest is named Rosalita, or ”Rosie”. There’s a party coming again and the narrator tries to assure ”Rosie” that she’s the one almost desperately.
The lyrics of this song ramble like those on the first album. There’s also some legendary lines here as well: ”I ain’t here for business / I’m only here for fun” for example.
In the second verse the party’s going strong and the whole section concentrates on them:
Jack the Rabbit and Weak Knees Willie, you know they’re gonna be there
Ah, sloppy Sue and Big Bones Billie, they’ll be comin’ up for air
We’re gonna play some pool, skip some school, act real cool
Stay out all night, it’s gonna feel all right
So Rosie come out tonight, baby come out tonight
In the end of the section Bruce shares some life wisdom:
Windows are for cheaters, chimneys for the poor
Closets are for hangers, winners use the door
So use it Rosie, that’s what it’s there for
After a jam section that almost gets out of control the song goes on to the last verses through a saxophone riff. Rosie’s parents don’t dig the narrator because he plays rock’n’roll, but it has gotten him a record company deal so great, that Rosie should go with him: there won’t be a second opportunity like that.
Rosalita jump a little lighter
Senorita come sit by my fire
I just want to be your love, ain’t no lie
Rosalita you’re my stone desire
The album ends with an epic of its on way, New York City Serenade. It opens with piano, but in a different way than the previous ”Incident”.
It almost feels like Sancious is trying different styles to introduce the song. Eventually he settles to a delicate mode, a beautiful progression of a few chords into which Bruce’s acoustic guitar joins in a moment with congas played by Richard Blackwell.
”NYCS” is clearly the third song of the trilogy of the B-side on the album. It’s atmosphere is fitting to end the record. There’s again characters introduced in the text, main one being Billy, through whom events are described on the streets of New York. The midnight in Manhattan is no time to be cute, ”walk tall or baby don’t walk at all”.
Dreams float in the air in New York as well, one has to only dare. You can shake away the street life, all you have to do is take a risk and get on the train: some do it, some don’t.
There’s nuances and changes of tempo in the composition. At times the band peals almost urgently and on the next moment there’s only congas, tambourine, acoustic guitar and strings playing. The saxophone flavours the thing, but it’s not on the leading role. The string arrangement is beautiful…
I could write a lot about especially this ending trilogy, but it would be pointless. It took years of listening these songs to outline the whole scene myself. It could be felt from the very beginning that there was something special about these songs, but I had to give them dozens and dozens of listens before the tones began to clarify. New York City Serenade gave in last: not until the summer of 2013, when during a cycle around Lieksa on a beautiful July evening the song’s beauty dawned in it’s full force. After that the song hasn’t been the same.
The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle is a strong record, because it’s weakest song (I’d say Wild Billy’s Circus Story) is pretty good as well. The rest of the album is a jewel: it’s sad that the audience didn’t buy it. I have to admit that the songs don’t sound like radio hits and many of them last pretty long. This meant, that Bruce had to follow his first two albums with a hit record or his recording career may be close to end. I’ll get back to the outcome of this pressured situation, Born to Run, after a while…