The River

The River

Bruce Springsteen’s fifth record, The River, was released as a double album—a collection of 20 songs that represented the singer’s marked artistic growth. As a songwriter, he expanded the scope and worldview of his characters; as a producer, he worked to capture a sound that was brighter and more sonically open; and, as the leader of the E Street Band, he pushed his band members to become a cohesive unit, so that their explosive live dynamic could be better captured in the studio. By the late 1970s, Springsteen and his bandmates had just come off the legendary tour supporting 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town. Those shows captured the players functioning on all cylinders—and Springsteen wisely wanted to harness all of that power and all of that joy on record. He also wanted a wider emotional palette of material, especially after the heaviness of Darkness. Released in 1980, The River delivered on all fronts, providing feel-good numbers like “Out in the Street,” “Cadillac Ranch,” and “Hungry Heart” (the latter of which finally landed Springsteen a Top 10 single). But there were also deeper ballads like “Point Blank,” “Independence Day,” and the album’s title track, a semi-biographical depiction of Springsteen’s older sister’s life amidst the economic downturn of the late 1970s. In songs like “The River” and “Wreck on the Highway,” you can hear hints of Springsteen’s later work, and get a glimpse of the paths his song’s characters would follow in such albums as Nebraska, Tunnel of Love, and The Ghost of Tom Joad. And while Springsteen continued to draw from country music—by now, Hank Williams had become a firm favorite—he also leaned hard on the kind of good-time rock ’n’ roll he’d grown up playing in cover bands up and down the Jersey Shore, with songs like “Ramrod” and “I’m A Rocker.” The end result: nearly 90 minutes’ worth of music featuring a truly diverse mix of stories, sounds, and emotions.

Disc 1

Disc 2

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