The Promise

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

Note: Introduced August 3, 1976 at Monmouth Arts Center, Red Bank, New Jersey, with Bruce singing and playing piano without the E Street Band, with deeply personal lyrics. 'The Promise' soon became the highlight of each show, and the major subject of discussion among Bruce's tight cult following, which would make up most of the modest crowd in those days. It would always be one of the last songs played for the night, the lights would go down, and one spotlight would be on Bruce playing piano, which he rarely did otherwise. Later, Roy or Danny would accompany him on glock. It was played live 22 times during the Lawsuit tour, until the first studio demo was recorded at Atlantic Studios on June 1, 1977. V1 was one of the takes recorded 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 with slightly revised lyrics, and recorded V2 on August 24, which then added dubs and mixing on August 30, 1977, completed on the last day of operations at Atlantic Studios. On September 28, 1977 at the Record Plant, V3, considered the definitive version by collectors and long-time fans, was recorded, clocking in at 7:10 with the full E Street Band, and first released unofficially on 'Deep Down In the Vaults'. However, Bruce found it lacking for some reason, and in late September-early October, after a Rolling Stone reporter suggested the song was actually about the lawsuit, he 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'. These lines replaced "I won big once and I hit the coast, oh but somehow I paid the big cost", and Landau agreed this solidified the narrative, and that 'The Promise' deserved to be on the January 16 album sequence. Album #4 was still untitled, but "Badlands" or "American Madness" were the two front runners. The new sequence had 'Badlands' as the opener, and 'The Promise' as the album closer. Instead of 'Streets of Fire', 'The Way' was in the third slot on side two, and 'Don't Look Back' followed 'Badlands'. The two songs missing, that we know made it on the final lineup, were 'Factory', which Bruce had just started calling, "The Factory Song". He had been using the working title, 'Come On, Come On (Let's Go Tonight)' since June 1977, despite re-writing the lyrics in July, to tell the tale of his dad and the horrible plastics factory he had worked in when Bruce was a child. On January 2, 1978, final takes were completed, though Springsteen spent March 10 and most of the 14th on final mixes, and recording his own vocal overdubs. The other missing song was 'Darkness On the Edge of Town', which had not been worked since June 1977, and appeared to be all but forgotten. It should be noted that at no point does he ever seem to have considered calling the LP "The Promise" (per Clinton Heylin).

January 12 was the big day when the final takes of 'The Promise' V4 were to be completed. The proceedings were shot live in-the-studio by Barry Rebo, and one of the takes was released on the Thrill-Hill Blu-Ray/DVD2, in 2010 on the box set, 'The Promise:The Darkness On the Edge Of Town Story'. Springsteen fussed over mixing and dubbing for days after this, and was planning to add strings (according to Landau, a ‘string’ version was cut V5). Finally on January 24, 1978, without the E Street Band around, he sat down at the piano and recorded V6 of 'The Promise' by himself, just like he did during the Lawsuit tour for 22 nights, when he was locked out of the recording studio. A Ruffs tape (see illustration above) provided to Springsteen by his engineer, Jimmy Iovine, mixed on February 17, had the September 28, 1977 V3 recording featuring the "Old verse", followed by the January 12 session with the "New Verse" V4, and V5, the strings and "full harmony" version, which was cut in mid-January. There is no doubt that he cared deeply about 'the Promise', as a total of 10 sessions were held from January 17 to March 7 (seven week period). Later saying he still ‘felt too close to it’, at a certain point in March, he decided that another contender would go on the album in it's place. It was quietly removed from the April track sequence, and the masters placed in the Columbia Vault.

But at the Darkness Tour rehearsals in Asbury Park on May 19, 1978, Bruce and the band played the "daddy taught me how to walk quiet" version of 'The Promise', and it was in the setlist on opening night in Buffalo. As the tour continued, 'The Promise' would be on the setlist around every other night, usually part of the encore, with Bruce by himself on piano, which was a spine-tingling experience for fans. After playing it 22 out of the first 33 shows, he sang it on July 15, 1978 in Houston, Texas, and then, for unknown reasons, never played it again.

That is, until a huge fan uproar, when 'The Fever' and 'The Promise' were both left off of 'Tracks' in 1998. Instead of releasing V3 or V5, he re-recorded 'The Promise' from scratch on February 9 and 12, 1999 at Boxwood Studios, located at his home in Rumson, New Jersey. V9 was released on April 12, 1999 on '18 Tracks', to the dismay of many long-time fans. He made his case to Charlie Rose, "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..a lot of people mention it. 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." However, he liked it enough to use it as the base track for V10, officially released on Disc 2 of 'The Promise: The Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story' in 2010, with overdubbed strings, guitars, glock, double tracked vocals, and backing vocals by himself, with modern vocals and musical elements recorded July 18, 2010 Stone Hill Studio, Rumson, New Jersey by assistant engineers Kevin Buell and Rob Lebret. Instead of replacing two lines of verse 3, two lines 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". The lines were removed with slick editing, under a "Phil Spector-like Wall of Sound", consisting of layers of overdubs, and a modern string arrangement by Ken Ascher. In addition to making 'The Promise' family friendly, they succeeded in reducing the time of the track from 7:11 to 5:49. This version, along with other 1977 songs on "The Promise: The Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story", that many customers were familiar with, and had been looking forward to sonic improvements over their bootleg collections, now were hearing overdubbed Mexican horns, choirs, modern vocals, and assorted instruments, drowning out the base tracks created by the E Street Band 33 years ago. An uproar was created on message boards that has continued for years, as customers learn production details that have never been announced or printed. Thanks to Eddy Wehbe for spotting version 3 underneath the thick layer of overdubs, and discogs for the extra details, and the support of contributors on BTX, SPL, Hoffman Music Forums and Greasy Lake for helping to identify the key issues.

Springsteen said later it was ultimately rejected for Darkness due to the personal lyrics. "It was a song about defeat, and it was self-referential, which made me uncomfortable", said Springsteen in 2010. "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 really helps it now”. Regardless of what is said, Bruce was very upset and feeling betrayed by his first manager, Mike Appel, when he wrote the Promise. He blamed the lawsuit on himself, and wrote about a lonely, loveless, loser whose spirit had finally been broken. In verse 2 he sang "Once I had a girl who loved me so, I guess I'd loved her too if I had the sense, but somehow I can never let myself go, my love is no good in the end, Cause it's a loser, I'm gonna sit by this window 'til things work out all right…" Many of us have had moments like this in our lives, but we are incapable of expressing them with clarity and honesty in a song, and though Bruce was just having a bad day or month, his words really hit home for some. You have to at least admire his bravery, to sing his innermost feelings in front of friends and 15,000 strangers. He re-wrote the lyrics extensively after that August 3, 1976 night, and played the new version on September 29, 1976, "All my life I fought that fight that no one man can ever win, every day it just keeps getting harder to live the dreams I'm believing in, Thunder Road, I stay up every morning until it's light". Amazing, those are the same words he used in his first studio takes in 1977. He did not call himself a loser again until 1982, when he wrote about Frank Davis in the "Losin' Kind."

There are many, including that core group of fans who had him to themselves back in 1976-78, that believe "The Promise" is Bruce's greatest song. Perhaps a record was never meant to hold it.

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