Remember When: A Journalist’s Quote Changed the Course of Bruce Springsteen’s Career

It’s hard to imagine now, but many thought that Bruce Springsteen‘s career fell somewhere between hype and flop in his early days. That changed soon enough, and The Boss’ talent and drive would likely have eventually won the day anyway.

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But a quote from a respected journalist certainly helped turn that tide, especially when that journalist went on to become a key cog in Springsteen’s recording machinery. Here is the story of one of the most famous reviews in music journalism history.

Bruce Needs a Boost

Bruce Springsteen received the full weight of the Columbia Records publicity department when he signed with the label, as they sensed they had a special talent on their hands. But things turned a bit sour when his 1973 debut album Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. sold poorly. Another album released later that year also struggled to reach an audience, a disappointing result for the supposed “Next Dylan.”

Springsteen had already established himself as a fantastic live performer in the Northeastern part of the U.S. And critics generally enjoyed the first two albums. But his ability to break through on a national level was questioned. Many wondered if he’d even be able to keep his once-hyped record deal.

In spring 1974, Springsteen played a pair of shows a couple of weeks apart in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and they were both attended by a man named Jon Landau. At the time, Landau was in charge of the reviews section at Rolling Stone magazine and also wrote for a Massachusetts weekly known as The Real Paper. Prior to seeing him live, Landau had heard and been impressed by Springsteen’s second album (The Wild, the Innocent, & the E Street Shuffle), although not to the point he thought there was anything earthshaking happening with the artist.

But he had never seen Springsteen live until those shows. He found himself losing himself in the performances and, forgetting his professional demeanor, whooping and hollering with the rest of the rapt fans. Needing to share this experience with others, Landau sat down at his typewriter right after the second show (“It’s four in the morning and raining,” he began) and churned out a piece for the next edition of The Real Paper.

The article started by talking a little about other transformative acts Landau had heard in his younger years, and he hinted he had lost some of that youthful enthusiasm when considering then-current acts. But that’s when he ramped up into his big point: “Last Thursday at Harvard Square Theatre, I saw my rock and roll past flash before my eyes. And I saw something else: I saw rock and roll’s future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”

Had it been a lesser reviewer, it likely would have been written off as hyperbole. But because of Landau’s status with Rolling Stone, the most popular of all music magazines, his Real Paper article had a ripple effect. It caused other top reviewers to check out Springsteen more closely, and pretty much all of them came away fawning.

It also forced Columbia to react. They put out an ad featuring Landau’s words and put the two albums back into circulation, which spurred increased sales. The ball of momentum was rolling now, and all that was needed was a new record that would give it another shove down the hill. Interestingly enough, Landau rose to the occasion again.


In addition to his journalistic duties, Jon Landau had also produced a handful of albums before the Springsteen encounter. Stomach problems prevented him from doing more. But when surgery corrected those issues, producing was no longer out of the question. And, as fate would have it, Bruce Springsteen needed help in that department.

Many critical assessments of the first two albums (including Landau’s) felt the material had been let down by shaky production. After meeting Landau, Springsteen began to pick his brain about what a producer’s duties are and what he might be able to do different in that department. One thing led to another, and Landau eventually found himself co-producing Springsteen’s next album. That album: Born to Run.

The partnership between Springsteen and Landau had produced one of the great rock albums of all time, which is why it’s no surprise the two men have worked together for the bulk of The Boss’ career. Landau not only saw rock and roll’s future, but he also helped ensure Springsteen fulfilled his famous prophecy.

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