The Promise

THE PROMISE - V1 5:35 DO-2 / UP / DDOC
THE PROMISE - V2 5:25 LM-2 / DDO / DO-3 / AM / UP / ATEOD
THE PROMISE - V5 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 never 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 or 30 at Atlantic Studios. V3, considered the definitive version by collectors, was recorded on September 28, 1977, and first released unofficially on Deep Down In the Vaults. However, Bruce found it lacking for some reason. He wrote a new verse, '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'. V4 is on the Thrill-Hill Blu-Ray/DVD, and was shot live in-the-studio by Barry Rebo on January 12, 1978, with the new verse, After being rejected again for Darkness, V5 was recorded on January 24, 1978, without the E Street Band (who are on all the previous studio takes). Just like his 22 live performances from August 1976 - March 1977, he recorded "The Promise" singing alone at the piano. He didn't approve the recording, which was placed in the vault, and the Promise was deleted from the final March sequence for Darkness On the Edge of Town. But when the Darkness tour started in Buffalo on May 23, Bruce played the "daddy taught me how to walk quiet" version of "The Promise" 22 out of 33 shows, but then, for unknown reasons, after singing it on July 15, 1978 in Houston, Texas, he never played it again.

That is, until he re-recorded it on February 9-12, 1999 at Boxwood Studios at his home in Rumson, New Jersey V6, instead of using V3 on Tracks. He said 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 V7, officially released on The Promise in 2010, with overdubbed guitars, glock, double tracked vocals, and backing vocals by himself. The final verse, with 'backseat of a borrowed car', edited out, along with much of the ending, and a modern string arrangement added, reducing the 7:06 running time to 5:45. This version, along with other 1977 songs on "The Promise" desecrated with overproduction, Mexican horns, choirs of background singers, modern vocals, and assorted instruments, created an uproar on message boards that continued for years. Thanks to Eddy Wehbe for spotting version 3 underneath the thick layer of overdubs.

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. 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, not calling himself a loser again until 1982, when wrote about Frank Davis in the "Losin' Kind."

There are many, including that core 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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