The Promise

THE PROMISE - V2 5:27 LM-2 / DDO / DO-3 / AM / UP / SC / O711S
THE PROMISE (strings-full harmony) - V5 private
THE PROMISE (solo) - V6 uncirculating
THE PROMISE - V7 uncirculating
THE PROMISE - V8 uncirculating

Note: First debuted live on August 3, 1976 at the Monmouth Performing Arts Center in Red Bank, New Jersey, featuring Bruce solo on the piano, and deeply personal lyrics. Later live versions would continue to feature Bruce on piano, with Roy or Danny accompanying him on glockenspiel. The song was played live during the 1976-1977 Lawsuit Tour, and the first studio demo was recorded at Atlantic Studios on June 1, 1977. V1 was one of the takes recorded during the sessions on June 30, July 1, 7, 8 and 13, 1977. After a break that included a trip with Steve to Utah and Nevada, Bruce came back to the studio with slightly revised lyrics, and recorded V2 on August 24, and then added dubs and mixing on August 30, 1977, which was the last day of operations at Atlantic Studios. V3 was recorded on September 28, 1977 at the Record Plant, and is considered the definitive version by collectors and long-time fans. It's done with the full E Street Band, and was first released unofficially on 'Deep Down In the Vaults'. However, Bruce found it lacking, and in late September-early October, after a Rolling Stone reporter suggested the song was actually about the lawsuit with Mike Appel, Springsteen re-wrote the first two lines of verse 3, with "Well, my daddy taught me how to walk quiet and how to make my peace with the past, I learned real good to tighten up inside and I don’t say nothing unless I’m asked" replacing "I won big once and I hit the coast, oh but somehow I paid the big cost". Landau agreed solidifying the narrative, and that "The Promise" deserved to be on the January 16 sequence for the then-untitled Album #4 ("Badlands" or "American Madness" were the two front-runners). The new sequence had "Badlands" as the opener, and "The Promise" as the album closer. According to Clinton Heylin, at no point did it seem that Springsteen ever considered calling the album The Promise.

On January 12, 1978, V4 was shot live in-the-studio by Barry Rebo, and one of the takes was released on the Thrill-Hill Blu-Ray/DVD2 in the 2010 box set, The Promise:The Darkness On the Edge Of Town Story. Springsteen worked on mixing and dubbing after this, and added strings (according to Landau, a 'string' version was cut as V5). Finally, on January 24, 1978, without the E Street Band, Springsteen sat down at the piano and recorded V6 by himself, just as he did when locked out of the recording studio when the song was first played live. A Ruffs tape (see image above) provided to Springsteen by his engineer, Jimmy Iovine and mixed on February 17, included the September 28, 1977 recording featuring the "old verse" (V3), followed by the January 12 session with the "new verse" (V4) and the strings and "full harmony" version (V5) which was cut in mid-January. There is no doubt that Springsteen cared deeply about "The Promise", as a total of ten sessions were held from January 17 to March 7 (a seven week period). Saying he still "felt too close to it", at a certain point in March 1978, it was decided that a different song would be considered for its slot on Album #4 and "The Promise" was removed from the April track sequence for the album. In 2010, Springsteen noted that "It was a song about defeat, and it was self-referential, which made me uncomfortable. I didn't want it to overtake the album, which in the end, was not my personal story. I wanted 'Darkness' to be completely independent of that. So I left it off. But I remember saying to myself, 'This is something I can sing later'. The distance helps it now."

During a Darkness Tour rehearsal in Asbury Park on May 19, 1978, a full band version (including the "Daddy taught me how to walk quiet" lyric) was rehearsed, and full band version was performed on the tour's opening night in Buffalo. The next night, Bruce reverted to the solo piano version, which was played at 22 of the first 33 shows on the tour, and dropped after the July 15, 1978 show in Houston, Texas. When Tracks was released in 1998, both "The Fever" and "The Promise" were absent from the 66-song tracklist. Both were later included on 18 Tracks, in part due to fan demand. Instead of releasing the existing V3 or V5 versions, Springsteen re-recorded "The Promise" from scratch (V9) on February 9 and 12, 1999 at Boxwood Studios, Rumson, New Jersey, in a solo piano version that many felt paled in comparison to the 1976-78 versions. In an interview with Charlie Rose, Springsteen stated, "Basically, I went back and I listened to it and we never really got a good recording of it in my opinion. It’s been a favorite song of a lot of people … It sort of was the sequel to "Thunder Road" in some fashion, it referred back to those characters. But I went back and we sort of had a very plodding, heavy-handed version of it. I couldn't quite live with it, so maybe another time."

V3 was used as the base track for V10, on The Promise outtake album in 2010, with overdubbed strings, guitars, glockenspiel, and double tracked vocals. Two lines of verse three were deleted ("I followed that dream through the southwestern tracks, the dead ends and the two-bit bars / When the promise was broken I was far away from home, sleeping in the backseat of a borrowed car"), reducing the total running time. A modern string arrangement by Ken Ascher was also added. The full-band version was performed by the E Street Band at a promotional video shoot in 2010, and again on April 1, 2012 in Washington, DC. In a curious parallel to 1978, after performing the full-band version exactly once on the 2012 tour, Springsteen has reverted to solo-piano versions for all performances since.

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