Springsteen’s first two albums were commercial duds. He had no money, and the sound he wanted for his third record—The Boss later described it as ‘Roy Orbison singing Bob Dylan produced by Phil Spector’—required months of studio tinkering to perfect. So Jimmy Iovine (then a recording engineer, now the head of Interscope Records) took care of hiding stacks of overdue bills from the record label while Springsteen obsessed over things like just how many guitar overdubs the title track needed. If it seems trivial to note that the final tally was 12, listen again, because, it’s the accumulation of details, both musical (the warm wind of the saxophone on “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out,” the violin that comes out of nowhere on “Jungleland”) and lyrical (‘The screen door slams/ Mary’s dress waves…’) that makes Springsteen’s grandiosity both operatic and personal. No one before or since has tried to pack as much of the American experience into 39 minutes, and no one has come as close to succeeding.
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