Musicians that survive in the music industry for decades on end can sometimes find themselves developing into nostalgia acts, sticking close to the hits they amassed in the ’60s and ’70s and not reaching much further. While there is certainly nothing wrong with that—we are as sentimental as the next journalists—there are a fair few music veterans that shun that idea and continue to allow their music to evolve with them. Bruce Springsteen falls into the latter category.
Nearing half a century in the music industry, The Boss is continuing to put out new music, reach new career heights, and deliver a healthy dose of iconography, pulling generation after generation into his orbit. As Springsteen celebrates his 73rd birthday today, Sept. 23, we’re looking back at the early days of his career and following the trail of iconic moments he’s left in his wake.
1. Springsteen auditions for John Hammond/Columbia Records
John Hammond had a long history of discovering artists. Bob Dylan and Billie Holiday are among his ingénues. In 1972, Springsteen was given the opportunity to audition for Hammond via his original manager Mike Appel. Though Appel’s gushing about a very green Springsteen nearly turned Hammond off of him completely, as soon as he began to sing, everything changed.
2. Springsteen releases Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.
Springsteen and Appel recorded most of what would become Springsteen’s debut album at the low-priced 914 Sound Studios to save as much of Columbia Records’ advance. Soon after they finished up the recording session, a dispute broke out between Appel, Hammond, and Springsteen. Appel and Hammond preferred the album’s solo tracks while Springsteen preferred the songs that featured his backing band. A compromise was reached with a 50/50 split between the two preferences and Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. was released in 1973.
3. Springsteen releases Born to Run
After Asbury Park and the middling successful The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, Springsteen released Born to Run, breaking into the mainstream and selling millions of copies in the U.S. The album continues to be a pinnacle in the rock sphere and a high point in Springsteen’s career.
4. Springsteen is the cover star on both Time and Newsweek and does a 10-show stand at New York’s Bottom Line Club
Album release week for Born to Run also saw Springsteen on the cover of Time and Newsweek at the same time. Soon after he does a ten-night stand at New York’s Bottom Line club with a huge critic turnout. According to the editor of Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters, Jeff Burger, “Those three things made him a star.”
5. Live At The Hammersmith Odeon, 1975
Springsteen and the E Street Band performed at the Hammersmith Odean in London to promote the release of Born to Run in 1975. The performance marked Springsteen’s European concert debut broadening his appeal to both sides of the Atlantic. The performance was later released as both a concert film and a live album in 2006.
6. Born in the U.S.A makes Springsteen a megastar
If Born to Run ignited Springsteen’s star, it was Born in the U.S.A that sent him into a supernova. The albums he released in between proved that Springsteen wasn’t going to follow any pre-set path but Born in the U.S.A was a phenomenon through and through. Everyone from Ronald Reagan to Chrysler begged Springsteen for use of the title track, unaware the lyrics protested the treatment of Vietnam veterans in the U.S. The message certainly resonated with a large portion of the country as it sold 15 million copies in the U.S. alone.
7. Springsteen Releases “Dancing in the Dark”
Along with “Born in the U.S.A,” another single from the album proved to be an enduring force in Springsteen’s career—”Dancing in the Dark.” When Jon Landau heard the album, he was worried it lacked a guaranteed hit and pushed Springsteen to pen one more song. After a brief altercation between the two men, Springsteen wrote “Dancing in the Dark” about his “difficulty writing a hit single and his frustration trying to write songs that will please people.”
8. Springsteen wins an Oscar for “Streets of Philadelphia”
Springsteen, a long-time supporter of gay rights, wrote the theme song for the 1993 movie Philadelphia. Burger said of the song, “I think it was the first music he ever wrote for a film. It was a different kind of song for him, more of a pop song, but it was very political. He was an early supporter of the gay rights movement. There’s a great interview with the editor of the Advocate where he talks very eloquently about gay marriage before anyone else was talking about it.” The effort went on to earn Springsteen an Oscar for Best Original Song.
9. Springsteen releases Letters To You
Springsteen’s latest studio album, Letters To You, is a testament to his lasting appeal. Clinching yet another No. 1 album for The Boss, Springsteen leaves youthful rebellion behind and instead focuses on his own aging and mortality. Completed in just four days, the album was recorded live in the studio with the E Street Band at Springsteen’s home studio.
10. Springsteen plays alongside Paul McCartney in New Jersey
It’s hard to find a place to end this list. Nearing 50 years in the music industry, Springsteen continues to deliver iconic moment after iconic moment. Because we have to end it somewhere, we’re looking at the recent performance Springsteen gave with Paul McCartney during the ex-Beatle’s show in New Jersey. The duo performed Springsteen’s “Glory Days” from Born in the U.S.A and the Beatles’ “I Wanna Be Your Man.”
Photo: Danny Clinch / Shore Fire Media