The Promise

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

Note: 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 regularly during the 1976–1977 Lawsuit Tour, but according to studio documentation it was not recorded in the studio until late June 1977. V1 was most likely recorded during sessions on June 30, 1977, though further work was done on July 1, 7, 8 and 13. The June take master was transfered to comp. reel and ruffs tape, and was used in V10, mixed in 2010. Unlike his live versions, all of the Darkness studio recordings in circulation include the E Street Band, though solo takes were also attempted. 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 or 30, 1977, which was on the tracklist for the aborted 'Badlands' release (see artwork). However, Bruce was back on September 28 and 30, 1977, recording V3 at the Record Plant, which some collectors and hardcore fans consider the definitive version. Over 7 minutes long, and sporting an arrangement for the full E Street Band, it was first released unofficially on 'Deep Down In the Vaults' in the mid-1990s. This version was barely in the can when a Rolling Stone reporter suggested that the song was about his now-settled lawsuit with Mike Appel, which Bruce sternly denied, and has denied ever since (he wrote the music and the first set of lyrics before the lawsuit was filed in 1976). Nevertheless, Springsteen soon 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 with solidifying the narrative, and when recording concluded in January, and a ten-song track sequence for Album #4 was prepared, "The Promise" was the last song on side two.

On January 12, 1978, V4, with revised lyrics, was recorded with the band, and also filmed live in-the-studio by Barry Rebo, later released with the The Promise:The Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story. It is confirmed that strings were recorded and dubbed to the January 12 master (Landau confirmed this, and a mix tape exists with three versions; V3 "old verse", V4 "new verse", and V5 "strings and full harmony" (see illustration). But on January 24, 1978, without the E Street Band, Springsteen sat down at the piano and recorded V6 by himself, just as he did for 22 shows while locked out of the recording studio. A total of ten sessions were held from January 17 to March 7 (a seven-week period). Meanwhile, he finished "Candy's Room", "The Factory Song" and "Darkness On the Edge of Town" in early March, and decided to not include "The Promise". He has said he could not get a recording he was happy with, and that he "felt too close to it." 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 regularly during the early part of the tour. 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, Colts Neck, 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."

V1 and V3 were used as the base tracks for V10, the version on The Promise outtake album, with overdubbed strings, guitars, glockenspiel, and double tracked vocals. Two lines of verse three were removed ("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") and a modern string arrangement by Ken Ascher was recorded in July 2010.

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