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26 Notes


"Jungleland" (live, February 5, 1975 at the Main Point, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania; unreleased)

by Brian Wall

The Main Point recording captured a unique version of the E-Street Band. In particular, it was one of the little more than forty shows in 1974 through March 1975 featuring violinist Suki Lahav, who played on Born to Run. The recording, renowned for its high quality and ubiquity, offered the opportunity to see many of Born to Run’s songs approaching their completion.

“Jungleland,” as performed that evening, serves as a snapshot of a work in progress. As elsewhere on the Main Point recording, Lahav’s violin adds another dimension to the E-Street’s sound – a literal one-woman string section to Springsteen’s cinematic songs that evening. Her introduction to “Jungleland” on this recording closely matches the performance on the album, particularly in the opening twenty seconds.

Compared with the earliest version circulating (July 13, 1974 at The Bottom Line in New York), the version performed at the Main Point showcased the arrangement that would remain in the Jon Landau sessions beginning the following month. Most notably, since the previous summer, the two final verses flipped, with the “beneath the city” verse now coming first after the solo section. The Main Point version also lacked the jazzy organ solo section from the Bottom Line recording. What remained that night in Pennsylvania was the complete outline of the song; the characters, major plot, chord changes, and melody all existed as they would appear on Born to Run, and with Lahav present, the major players were all on stage. The most significant differences between this version and the album version came about in the studio that spring when Springsteen tightened up the lyrics and turned over the solo to Clarence Clemons.

In the Wings for Wheels documentary, Springsteen spoke of the meticulous way he wrote and re-wrote lyrics. By winter 1975, Springsteen tightened up many of his details by eliminating redundant phrases, turning “those boy prophets” into “prophets,” and the shadows “in vacant doorways always silent” became simply “always silent” and later “always quiet.” The most drastic differences lyrically between February 1975 and the album’s release in August deal with the increased presence of the “midnight gang” and their illicit acts, especially in the third and fifth verses. The gang replaces the line about the “crazy kind of light” (and its reference to “The E-Street Shuffle”) and details about secret debts, vanishing contracts, and backstreet girls from the final version were yet to appear. Most likely, Springsteen went back and rewrote these parts of “Jungleland” after writing “Meeting Across the River” in May 1975. Originally known as “The Heist,” “Meeting Across the River” described the narrator desperately seeks an opportunity to find money. These details added after the Main Point performance link “Jungleland” back to “Meeting Across the River,” suggesting that the narrator’s last chance to prove himself ends wounded in the street at the end of the album.

Springsteen also tweaks a couple blade related details. The “boys flash guitars like bayonets” become “kids flash guitars like switchblades,” staying consistent with the gang introduced at the beginning of the verse. Later, in the final verse, “the quick of the knife” becomes “the quick of the night,” leaving the wounds’ origins less explicit. Furthermore, Springsteen heavily revises the second to last verse, in particular adding the line about the ambulance pulling away unwatched, emphasizing the end to the Rat’s dreams in the album version over the girl’s loneliness.

Most notably at the Main Point, Springsteen takes the solo himself, later joined by Lahav toward the end, playing the solo very similar to the Bottom Line performance. In the Wings for Wheels documentary, Springsteen and Landau play the 12th studio take of the solo played largely as it was that night, with Clemons doubling the end of the guitar solo the way Lahav doubled Springsteen’s lead that night. “I can tell you what that was,” Springsteen remarked in the documentary with a bit of a laugh. “That’s probably the way we were playing it live at the time.” A few minutes later in the film, Springsteen and Clemons describe the process by which they wrote and re-wrote the saxophone solo over a sixteen-hour session. Aside from the title track’s myriad overdubs and rewrites, the solo section in “Jungleland” best typifies Springsteen’s tunnel vision and commitment to his sonic vision.

Ultimately, this tedious recording process worked. Clemons’s solo became one of his signature moments, enough so that when he passed away a few years ago, a friend sent me to a Facebook fan page for the solo. Springsteen even put the song into semi-retirement after Clemons’s passing, with Clarence’s nephew Jake playing the solo on a half dozen occasions on the recent Wrecking Ball tour in tribute to his uncle.  On the Wings for Wheels documentary, Clemons and others describe it with religious terminology, but Clemons describes it best as “pure emotion.” Compared with Springsteen’s guitar solo, Clemons’ saxophone reaches a greater range, and its vibrato, especially on the high notes, comes the closest to the spiritually redemptive way the narrator describes music in both the song and the album as a whole. Beyond the notes Springsteen obsessed over in the studio that late spring, the timbre provided by Clemons’s tenor saxophone filled in the finer details still in flux that night at the Main Point. If the version performed that winter had all of the colors picked out and arranged, the switch to Clemons solo and the slight revision of some of the details in the lyrics adjusted the tint and shading until it was just right.

From last Friday, the second of two posts I wrote about Bruce Springsteen’s February 1975 show at the Main Point for One Week / One Band. This one is more or less on the way “Jungleland” evolved on its way to the version that appeared on Born to Run, with the version that evening as a sort of midpoint.