2021 Song Draft- Round 2 Pick 8: Mike and Paul’s Music Blog selects- ‘Incident On 57th Street’- Bruce Springsteen.
Bruce Springsteen – Incident on 57th Street
Ok so Music City Mike chose Born to Run as the inaugural song to kick off this draft, but surely there is room in the draft for another song from Bruce? Hearing no objections… here we go!
Being a huge Springsteen fan, I knew I was going to include him in my draft. I was in high school during the time of Darkness on the Edge of Town and The River, and I enjoyed those albums (along with Born To Run) alongside a lot of other rock music of the time. But it wasn’t until I saw Springsteen live in 1984 on the Born in the USA tour that a switch flipped and I was all in. As I watched Bruce put as much effort, commitment, drive and energy into the performance of a single song as I had seen other bands put in during an entire concert, I knew there was no going back. And that was one song of a multi-hour marathon concert!
With so many great songs and a number of favorites, the question of which song to pick for me was easy. Of all of Springsteen’s songs over the years, my favorite has always been Incident on 57th Street from his second album, The Wild, the Innocent, and the E St. Shuffle, from 1973.
The song starts side B of the album (do we remember B sides?) and was part of the so called Side B suite, together with Rosalita and New York City Serenade. On this album, Springsteen had started to write in a more grand cinematic style, taking the intense word play and richly described scenes of his first album, Greeting from Asbury Park, NJ, to the next level. The songs on Incident were like miniature 5-8 minute motion pictures. Springsteen would arguably reach the peak of this form on his next album, the breakthough Born to Run, and you can hear echoes of Incident on songs like Jungleland. In fact, in his memoir, Springsteen says that perhaps Jungleland is what happens to the characters in Incident after the song ends.
The song starts with David Sancious’s lovely piano intro, builds momentum with Bruce’s ringing guitar, and then the first line:
Spanish Johnny drove in from the underworld last night; With bruised arms and broken rhythm and a beat-up old Buick but dressed just like dynamite
And there youu are, transported into a modern day Romeo and Juliet story of Spanish Johnny and Puerto Rican Jane.
I’ve included the lyrics at the end of this post – even just reading them you can appreciate the scope and grandeur of this song.
For me the keyboard lines of Danny Federici when Johnny and Jane first meet never fail to give me goosbumps. The song progresses to its climax with a searing guitar solo from Springsteen, and then transitions again to Sancious’s solo piano, which leads directly into Rosalita, and another grand tale of love and obsession. While Rosalita would become much more famous as it became a concert staple, Incident was played much more sparingly.
In the draft’s Round 1, Pick 10, Diana of run-sew-read spoke eloquently of her frustration of not having seen her favorite Pearl Jam song Better Man performed live. I felt the same thing about Incident – having seen Bruce 20+ times, I knew the odds were long of ever hearing it since he just never really played the song much, esp. in the years post BUSA. But then, boom it happened – Philadelphia, Lincoln Financial Field, August 11, 2003, the Rising Tour, song 18 of a 27 song set. If you were there that night, and noticed a grown man balling his eyes out, that would have been me. 😊
Anyway, enough of me blabbing on – below is both the album cut and a live version I found of Bruce performing the song solo at the piano (I saw the full band version, but this version is amazing).
Spanish Johnny drove in from the underworld last night
With bruised arms and broken rhythm and a beat-up old Buick but dressed just like dynamite
He tried sellin’ his heart to the hard girls over on easy Street
But they said, Johnny, it falls apart so easy, and you know hearts these days are cheap
And the pimps swung their axes and said, Johnny, you’re a cheater
And the pimps swung their axes and said, Johnny, you’re a liar
And from out of the shadows came a young girl’s voice
Said, Johnny, don’t cry
Puerto Rican Jane, oh, won’t you tell me, what’s your name?
I want to drive you down to the other side of town
Where paradise ain’t so crowded and there’ll be action goin’ down on Shanty Lane tonight
All the golden-heeled fairies in a real bitch-fight
Pull thirty-eight’s and kiss their girls goodnightOh, goodnight, it’s alright, Jane
Now let them black boys in to light the soul flame
We may find it out on the street tonight, baby
Or we may walk until the daylight, maybeWell, like a cool Romeo he made his moves, oh, she looked so fine
Like a late Juliet, she knew she’d never be true but then, she really didn’t mind
Upstairs a band was playin’ and the singer was singin’ something about going home
She whispered, Spanish Johnny, you can leave me tonight, but just don’t leave me alone
And Johnny cried, Puerto Rican Jane, word is down, the cops have found the vein
Oh, them barefoot boys left their homes for the woods
Them little barefoot street boys, they said their homes ain’t no good
They left the corners, threw away all of their switchblade knives
And kissed each other goodbyeJohnny was sittin’ on the fire escape, watchin’ the kids playin’ down the street
He called down, hey little heroes, summer’s long, but I guess it ain’t very sweet around here anymore
Janey sleeps in sheets damp with sweat
Johnny sits up alone and watches her dream on, dream on
And the sister prays for lost souls, then breaks down in the chapel after everyone’s goneJane moves over to share her pillow but opens her eyes to see Johnny up and putting his clothes on
She says, those romantic young boys (those romantic young boys), all they ever want to do is fight
Those romantic young boys (those romantic young boys), they’re callin’ through the window
Hey, Spanish Johnny, you want to make a little easy money tonight?And Johnny whispered, goodnight, it’s all tight, Jane
I’ll meet you tomorrow night on lover’s lane
We may find it out on the street tonight, now, baby
Or we may walk until the daylight, maybe
Oh, goodnight, it’s alright, Jane
I’m gonna meet you tomorrow night on lover’s lane
Oh, we can find it out on the street tonight, baby
Or we may walk until the daylight, maybeAh, goodnight, it’s alright, Jane
I’ll meet you tomorrow night on lover’s lane
Oh, we may find it out on the street tonight, baby
Or we may have to walk until the daylight, maybe (goodnight it’s alright, Jane)
a second Bruce is taken!
I could fill up all ten of my picks with Bruce. Easy. Great pick Paul. This is where I came on board with him and the E Streeters. Still the album of his that I pull out the most. This song is just one off the album that make up one of the best records ever. For CB anyways. The album is one great song. Im I getting it across that Im with you on this?
I’m getting that vibe CB! 😀. Thanks !
Well I enjoyed reading that you did finally hear this performed live! It’s a good song, that I haven’t heard in so long, I don’t remember when it last would have been. Anything from Bruce prior to Born in the USA is great by me. I’m glad to be reminded of this one.
Thanks! Personally i think he has a lot of great songs from throughout his career but agree that his preBUSA work is on another level
I agree that the last of his good songs wasn’t then, and still hasn’t happened. I have Wrecking Ball from 2012, because of ‘We Take Care of Our Own’, and I love ‘Girls in their Summer Clothes’, to name a couple that are huge faves of mine.
Love those ones too! Have you heard his latest Letter to You? Ghosts off that album is one of his best of the last 20 years I would argue
I have not heard his latest. I will check it out. Thanks for the recommendation!
It includes new versions of several old unreleased songs including 2 that predate Greetings. Actually the original versions may have been on the Tracks compilation I don’t remember
That does sound worth seeking out.
Great song all-round. Boy, look at those lyrics… maybe The Boss doesn’t get the respect he deserves as an American poet.
Thanks Dave. Yes he definitely has a way with lyrics. My favorite of his is from Jungleland – “Barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain” / man does that paint a picture
He didn’t write songs in this period…he wrote epic movies. I love the world he created with all of these characters like Crazy Janey, Puerto Rican Jane, Hazy Davy, and many more. Great pick Paul! Brings back a lot of memories.
Max, they say write what you know, and I’m sure these were people from his neighborhood. I love how he immortalized them in his songs.
Yes I’m sure they were based on real people…he ran into many people during his early playing days.
Glad you enjoyed it Max. Yes he really had a incredible cast of characters back then.
I enjoy the passion you write with on this song. Amazing to think you’ve seen Bruce live so many times. It’s been awhile since hearing this one and as I listen to it again I think “operetta” this could be done as street theater and the crowds would eat it up. The Boss is one of my favorites and I have many of his albums.
P.S. He’s one of the best storytelling musicians out there. I”m guessing you’ve seen him as the guest on Storytellers?
They have a playlist on youtube with the whole episode on there. If you watch this on youtube and have autoplay on you can watch it all.
Yes I saw this years ago and it was great – gaining insight into some of his songs was really enjoyable. I’ll have to check it out again
The other thing about him which I kind of miss is he used to tell stories in concert before his songs – putting them in context, giving some insight into it. – he doesn’t do that much anymore. The story he tells on one of his live albums about his relationship with his father and going to the draft board a d getting rejected and his fathers reaction always gets me a bit misty eyed.
Which album is that, Paul? I need to hear it.
I want to say it’s the Live 1975-85 set but can’t remember what song the story preceded. I was checking it out this morning on Spotify but couldn’t find it. Not sure if spotify cut the stories? I’ll keep looking
Paul no worries. If you happen across it let me know but don’t waste your time for it ok?
Ok! This is the type of thing that will drive me nuts though. I’m going on vacation tomorrow so will have more free time. I’ll let you know if I find it
lol OK if you want to spend your precious vaca time on it, be my guest. 🙂
Thanks Lisa – yes the characters come alive in your mind as you listen to the song
I love this one – also my favourite Bruce song. He probably had to streamline his sound to sell some records but I loved this romantic and emotional phase in his career.
Thanks Graham. Yes after BTR his songs never approached this cinematic style again – shifted to almost like short stories or novellas on some cases.
Meeting Across the River from BTR is another one I love. Like a little film noir that you know is going to end badly.
Oh yeah that ones great! I forgot about that one. I actually read somewhere where someone actually made a movie based on that song – or could have been a short story.
Great write-up Paul. I enjoy how you and several others have told about how deeply these songs touched you. It’s been years since I last heard this, and it’s so poignant and beautiful.
Great pick, Paul. While I recognized the title right away, I didn’t recall the song. I think the clip of the live performance is even better than the studio version.
Springsteen is such a compelling performer who leaves it all on stage. Just look how soaking wet he is – a clear indication how hard he has worked. And yet, he just keeps going.
When I saw him in New Jersey in 2016 as part of the River Tour, it almost appeared that the longer the show went on, the more he got into a trance-like condition. He played just shy of four hours that night with no break. Simply incredible!
Thanks Christian! Agree about the live version – something magical about Bruce solo on the piano. And yeah I noticed the soaked shirt too – I remember you mentioning the 2016 show – simply amazing
Great track! Great read!