How The River album helped Bruce Springsteen shake off the next Dylan tag

The River album was a huge turning point in Bruce Springsteen’s musical career when it was released 43 years ago.
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So let's go down to The River with Bruce Springsteen

The River album took a while to finish. Work started early with several tracks already recorded in 1977. But despite being very close to going to press as a single disc in October 1979, a last minute rejection by Springsteen delayed matters. He wasn’t happy with the balance and selection of tracks as a whole. He added songs which had some grim realities amongst the happier pop and rock tunes. The River expanded to become a double album and was finally released on October 17, 1980.

Bruce Springsteen - The River

Amongst the stand-out tracks on the album, “Hungry Heart” was surprisingly his first charting single, reaching fifth spot in Christmas week on the Billboard Hot 100. It also brought Springsteen his first UK hit too. A good job he didn't pass it to The Ramones, despite being originally written to meet a request for a song from Joey.

In contrast, title track “The River” is one of the darker points in the album. Based on his sister, it carried the story of a teenage pregnancy, the starkness of a wedding with no smiles, set against the backdrop of the bleak economy; it wasn't a celebratory song at all, life in its grim reality laid bare. 

“Sherry Darling” as an example of more contrast was one of several early tracks deemed too upbeat for the previous album, but still included in the darker at times The River. Perhaps that helped the overall balance. It still remains a regular live favourite for good reason.

This was my first Springsteen album and has one of my favourite songs of his. “Drive All Night” is a classic in my eyes. The bass line and quiet simple piano opening, the way it builds in intensity and Clarence Clemens immense once again on saxophone. That track alongside the remainder of The River convinced me Springsteen was the real deal.