The River is the fifth studio album (a double album) by Bruce Springsteen, released in 1980.
The sources of The River go back into earlier parts of Springsteen's recording career. "Independence Day", "Point Blank", "The Ties That Bind", "Ramrod", and "Sherry Darling" were leftovers from his previous album, Darkness on the Edge of Town, and had been featured on that 1978 tour, as had parts of "Drive All Night" as a long interpolation within "Backstreets". "The River" had premiered at the September 1979 Musicians United for Safe Energy concerts, gaining a featured spot in the subsequent documentary No Nukes.
“The River" was a record that was sort of the gateway to a lot of my future writing. It was a record we made after Darkness on the Edge of Town. It was a record made during a recession - hard times in the States. Its title song is a song I wrote for my brother-in-law and sister. My brother-in-law was in the construction industry, lost his job and had to struggle very hard back in the late 70s, like so many people are doing today. It was a record where I first started to tackle men and women and families and marriage. There were certain songs on it that led to complete records later on: "The River" sort of went to the writing on Nebraska, "Stolen Car" went to the writing on Tunnel of Love. Originally it was a single record. I handed it in with just one record and I took it back because I didn't feel it was big enough. I wanted to capture the themes I had been writing about on Darkness. I wanted to keep those characters with me and at the same time added music that made our live shows so much fun and joy for our audience. So in the end, we're gonna take you down to The River tonight.”
Originally, the album was to be a single set entitled The Ties That Bind and released in late 1979. According to Dave Marsh, tracks of this unreleased album were to be:
Side One: 1. "The Ties That Bind" 2. "Cindy" 3. "Hungry Heart" 4. "Stolen Car" 5. "Be True".
Side Two: 1. "The River" 2. "You Can Look (But Don't Touch)" 3. "The Price You Pay" 4. "I Wanna Marry You" 5. "Loose Ends".
Springsteen added darker material after he'd written the title track. Indeed, The River became noted for its mix of the frivolous next to the solemn. This was intentional, and in contrast to Darkness, for as Springsteen said during an interview, "Rock and roll has always been this joy, this certain happiness that is in its way the most beautiful thing in life. But rock is also about hardness and coldness and being alone ... I finally got to the place where I realized life had paradoxes, a lot of them, and you've got to live with them."
"Hungry Heart" was Springsteen's first U.S. pop singles chart top ten hit single, reaching #5. (Springsteen had not intended the song to be for himself, having initially written it for The Ramones; manager/producer Jon Landau convinced Springsteen to keep the song for himself.) The album hit number one on the U.S. pop albums chart, a first for Springsteen, and sold 1.6 million copies in the U.S. between its release and Christmas. Sales faltered with "Fade Away", which only reached #20.
The album was followed by a lengthy tour of North America and Western Europe during 1980 and 1981. Several of the album's up-tempo rockers became concert staples for decades to come, including "Cadillac Ranch", "Ramrod", and "Out in the Street", as did "Two Hearts" (with Steven Van Zandt acting as the second 'heart').
"Stolen Car" and "Wreck on the Highway", the closing tracks on the original LP's sides three and four, bore quiet, haunted arrangements that presaged much of the musical direction Springsteen would take in the future.
"Point Blank" took its title from a 1967 movie starring Lee Marvin.
Since its release, The River has been certified quintuple platinum by the RIAA in the U.S., making it one of Springsteen's best-selling albums. In 2003, the album was ranked number 250 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
"Drive All Night" and "Stolen Car" played a key role in setting the tone of the 1997 film Cop Land.
"Drive All Night" and "Out in the Street" were used in the 2007 film Reign Over Me, and the album was mentioned multiple times throughout the movie.
On November 8, 2009, near the end of the Working on a Dream Tour, Springsteen and the E Street Band performed The River in its entirety for the first time at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
User Album Review
Throughout the 1970's Bruce Springsteen developed a significant following due to his earthy mid-tempo rock that often focused on the plights of the working class. He was one of the few gifted artists that could create rock that was lively and thoughtful, capable of spreading political or societal messages without coming off as preachy or holier-than-thou.
As good as Springsteen was during the 70's, it was during the 80's when he perfected his formula and forever sealed his reputation as one of rock's greatest performers. In fact he is still actively releasing albums and performing 30 years after his debut album in 1973 – a feat nearly unrivaled in the music world.
The River was Springsteen's first 80's masterpiece, a gigantic double-album that featured a whopping twenty tracks. Often the idea of a double-album is better than the actual reality; artists often run out of inspiration when composing so many tracks for one work that filler material becomes inevitable. While some of the tracks work better than others on The River, all contain that Springsteen flair that make them wholly enjoyable.
Some of the highlights of this double album are:
Hungry Heart – One of the Boss' greatest and most identifiable hits ever. This anthemic song was the first of his significantly "commercial" tracks and as such enjoyed plenty of airplay on the radios.
Independence Day – A heartfelt ballad concerning a father and son that demonstrated Springsteen's versatility when compared with the exuberant Hungry Heart.
I Wanna Marry You – This isn't one of Springsteen's better-known songs, but it's a fun little pop-rocker that provides a nice contrast to his more thought-provoking faire.
What impressed me most about this double-album is the sheer diversity offered throughout. Lighthearted pop-rockers, ballads, songs with societal messages… you'll find it all on The River, one of the Boss' best albums ever. Make sure you give this highly recommended and timeless album a listen if you haven't experienced its rock bliss already.
External Album Reviews