Nebraska - Studio Sessions

Commercially Released: September 20, 1982
Produced by Bruce Springsteen
Recording Engineer: Mike Batlan
Recorded at Thrill Hill East (Springsteen’s home studio), Colts Neck, NJ, on or about January 3, 1982*

* except “My Father’s House” and “The Big Payback”, both recorded at the same location later - see notes below.

Part One - Overview

"I was living in a place called Colts Neck, New Jersey — and I remember I saw Badlands, and I read this book about them, Caril [Fugate, accomplice of Charles Starkweather], and it just seemed to be a mood that I was in at the time. I was renting a house on this reservoir, and I didn't go out much, and for some reason I just started to write. I wrote Nebraska, all those songs, in a couple of months. I was interested in writing kind of smaller than I had been, writing with just detail — which I kind of began to do on The River. I guess my influences at the time were the movie and these stories I was reading by Flannery O'Connor — she's just incredible."
- Bruce Springsteen in 1984

The Nebraska sessions were never conceived to result in a commercially released album. Bruce’s intention was to create a batch of multi-channel, professional sounding, finished solo demos to demonstrate to The E Street Band at sessions for the follow-up to The River album due to start in New York City in February 1982. By creating professional demos Springsteen felt the band sessions would progress faster than they had for his previous three albums.


To achieve his goal in early December 1981 Springsteen asked his guitar technician, Mike Batlan, to set up a no-frills “porta-studio” in a spare room of Bruce’s Colts Neck, NJ home. Some modification work was done to the room to make it more receptive to achieving a decent sound. Batlan purchased a Teac Tascam (Series 144) 4-track cassette recorder, two Shure SM57 mics and two microphone stands. The sound was mixed through an old Gibson Echoplex and an old Panasonic boom box acted as the mixdown deck.

Legend dictates that the bulk of the songs were recorded in one all day/night session on January 3, 1982. Springsteen himself has said it took three days, although he later said it took "no more than a few weeks" in Songs. There were fourteen songs recorded and it seems unlikely that Springsteen and Batlan could have recorded and mixed those fourteen songs in (at best) a few days, especially since it involved some thirty-nine takes. Batlan has said that the actual recording began on December 17 or 18 and ended around January 3, which seems more realistic. In any case, Springsteen sent a cassette comprised of fourteen demos to Jon Landau, along with what is almost certainly a live recording, not a studio demo, of a fifteenth song, "Johnny Bye Bye". The tape also included seven alternate takes and five alternate mixes. However two or three months later, with a few of these fifteen songs by then earmarked for coverage by the E Street Band, Springsteen recorded two additional songs ("My Father's House" and "The Big Payback") at home on the same equipment, thus making a total of seventeen different songs seen on the list below.

THE BIG PAYBACK 1:55 1982 b-side / ESSENTIAL
LOSIN' KIND 4:47 circulating
CHILD BRIDE 5:22 circulating
DOWNBOUND TRAIN 2:22 circulating
PINK CADILLAC 5:21 circulating
JOHNNY BYE BYE uncirculating live recording

It was during the E Street Band sessions in late March and early April of 1982 that Bruce first attempted to record full-band arrangements of the demos. However, it soon became apparent to him that a majority of these songs did not lend themselves well to these full-band arrangements. Springsteen would later write in Songs, "I went into the studio, brought in the band, rerecorded, remixed, and succeeded in making the whole thing worse." It should be noted that most of the Nebraska songs were not recorded in "rock" arrangements, as the fan-coined title "Electric Nebraska" may suggest. Instead, Bruce had Max Weinberg add light percussion, or Roy Bittan a synth pad. However, not every re-arrangement was a failure, "Born In The U.S.A.", "Downbound Train", "Pink Cadillac" and the re-written "Working On The Highway" were all successfully recorded with the band during the Born In The U.S.A. sessions.

According to Toby Scott, it was in April 1982 that Bruce handed him the original solo demo tape and said, "there's something about the atmosphere on this tape – can't we just master off this tape?" In effect, Bruce was asking Scott if it was possible to make the sound quality good enough to release some of the songs as a solo album. It took Scott a few weeks to get back to Bruce with a definitive answer. If Scott's answer had been “no” then there is unlikely to have ever been a Nebraska album. At one point Bruce even went back into the studio with an acoustic guitar to try and re-record the album, but the result lacked the atmosphere and feeling of isolation only found on that original cassette. Eventually, however, Scott said "yes", so by late May it had been decided to issue the album, ahead of the still-in-progress E Street Band album. Despite Scott's confirmation that the tape was usable, the task to produce the album was not an easy one, for example, the old Gibson Echoplex used as mixer was long gone. In addition, the tracks were recorded with the varispeed knob turned to "fast", before Batlan turned it back to the twelve o'clock position for mixdown. The Panasonic boom box had fallen into a river in the meantime, and was recovered from the muddy bottom and hosed down before springing back to life one Sunday morning soon after. The heads of all the Gibson and Panasonic decks used were never cleaned or aligned, and finally, Springsteen had carried the only tape copy around in his jacket pocket for three months.

Toby Scott was later interviewed about the process of recording Nebraska:
"Well of course you could just about hear the moans coming from all the engineers in the room. We were all trained to get the best sound possible on the best equipment, and here was our artist asking us to go against pretty much everything we knew. And I said 'yes Bruce, we could. I'm not sure you'll like it, but we could.' I could've said no, that the sound wasn't good enough to master off of, but that's not what it's all about. We work for the artist, and we're there to help them achieve their vision, even if it goes against all the rules of engineering. I guess that's probably part of why I'm still working for Bruce after all these years.

"So I gave that cassette to an assistant and told him to copy it onto a good piece of tape. Then we went around to four or five different mastering facilities, but no one could get it onto a lacquer - there was so much phasing and other odd sonic characteristics, the needle kept jumping out of the grooves. We went to Bob Ludwig, Steve Marcussen at Precision, Sterling Sound, CBS. Finally we ended up at Atlantic in New York, and Dennis King tried one time and also couldn't get it onto disk. So we had him try a different technique, putting it onto disk at a much lower level, and that seemed to work. In the end we ended up having Bob Ludwig use his EQ and his mastering facility, but with Dennis' mastering parameters. And that's the master we ended up using.

"The album sounds the way it does because of all those factors - the multiple tapes, the dirty heads, the varispeed - it's all part of the overall atmosphere, and part of what Bruce liked about the songs. At the end of the day, he was able to get his ideas down on tape, in his own environment, thanks to a PortaStudio and a pair of 57's, and that was the equipment he needed to get the sound he was looking for."

The title for the album was narrowed down to three choices "Open All Night", "January 3, 1982" and the ultimate winner, "Nebraska". The Nebraska album was released with only ten of the seventeen songs listed above on it. "The Big Payback" turned up later in 1982 as a b-side to Open All Night in parts of Europe and "Born In The USA" was issued on the 1998 outtakes compilation Tracks. Of the five "missing" songs – three of them ("Pink Cadillac", "Downbound Train" and "Johnny Bye Bye", as well as "Born In The USA") were re-recorded with multi-instrument arrangements during the 1982-83 Born In The USA sessions and released either on that album or Tracks. The two remaining songs ("Child Bride" and "(The) Losin’ Kind"), despite being among the most compelling of all the Nebraska session songs, remain officially unreleased. So to date twelve of the seventeen songs from this session have been officially released in their original arrangements. Fortunately, complete takes of all four of the other studio recorded songs are circulating in excellent quality. The alternate takes of some songs (see session details below) have also yet to surface.

In September 2014, Bob Ludwig was interviewed by Backstreets prior to the release of Springsteen's first seven albums in remastered form and spoke about the methods required to remaster the album utilising the Plangent Process. "The process allows the tape playback to sound closer to the output of the mixing console than ever before", explains Ludwig. "It yields better separation, less distortion and a solidity to the sound that can be really remarkable." Recovering lost frequencies and digitally correcting wow and flutter and other timing issues, the Plangent Process reveals, as Ludwig puts it, "a sonic depth and clarity not heard since the original mix-down session." Nebraska, given the nature of its origin, has always been tricky. That material was recorded to cassette, which caused many engineering headaches when preparing the album for release in 1982. Fortunately, Ludwig didn't have to go back as far as the mix-down cassette Bruce carried in his pocket. He explains that for the other six albums in the box, "we used all the original 1/4-inch, two-track mix masters, so nothing needed to come from multi-track. Nebraska was the exception. The original album was mixed to a cassette, and we could not cut vinyl from that, so during those Nebraska sessions, I made a 1/2-inch master reel which contains the correct takes, edited together, at the correct speed and with the correct azimuth Bruce wished for the album. That reel was used for the original vinyl cut, cassette masters and CD mastering, and it is what we worked from here."

Part Two - Details

NEBRASKA - V1 uncirculating
NEBRASKA - V2 uncirculating
NEBRASKA - V3 uncirculating
NEBRASKA - V4a 4:25 LM-1
NEBRASKA - V4c 4:16 NEBRASKA (stereo mix)

Note: The first song recorded, and the first song on the album. Four takes were recorded (take #4 was used for the album), and the three variants of V4 above are alternate mixes. Mix #1 is complete, with a 12-string guitar. #2 fades early, #3 is noted as "bad harp no good". Take #4 is with glock. Listed as "Starkweather" in an early song lineup, the song is about the Charles Starkweather murder spree in the 1950s. Also recorded with the band at The Power Station in April 1982 during the so-called "Electric Nebraska" sessions.

ATLANTIC CITY - V1 uncirculating
ATLANTIC CITY - V2c 3:43 NEBRASKA (stereo mix)
ATLANTIC CITY - V3 uncirculating
ATLANTIC CITY - V4 uncirculating

Note: Four different recordings were made, each with slight lyric and arrangement changes - only one has surfaced (three mixes). Takes #2 and #4 were shortlisted, the album contains one of those two takes (we've guessed #2 in the table above). In a letter to Jon Landau, Springsteen noted that "this song should probably be done with whole band + really rockin' out." As such, it was also recorded with the band at The Power Station in April 1982 during the so-called "Electric Nebraska" sessions.

MANSION ON THE HILL - V1a uncirculating
MANSION ON THE HILL - V1c 3:55 NEBRASKA (stereo mix)

Note: Written by Springsteen during the River Tour, although the themes found in the song were explored prior to this, during the Darkness sessions. For example, the lyric "there's a palace on the edge of town / risin' from the factories and railroad shacks" can be found in the Darkness box set facsimile book, which is very similar to a lyric found in the final version. The first song completed, and only one recording was made - the four variants above are merely alternate mixes. Also recorded with the band at The Power Station in April 1982 during the so-called "Electric Nebraska" sessions.

JOHNNY 99 - V1 uncirculating
JOHNNY 99 - V2 uncirculating
JOHNNY 99 - V3a 3:30 LM-1
JOHNNY 99 - V3c 3:36 NEBRASKA (stereo mix)

Note: Three different, complete, recordings were made - only one has surfaced (three mixes). One of the recordings has a different end verse. Also recorded with the band at The Power Station in April 1982 during the so-called "Electric Nebraska" sessions.

HIGHWAY PATROLMAN - V1 uncirculating
HIGHWAY PATROLMAN - V2 uncirculating
HIGHWAY PATROLMAN - V3 uncirculating
HIGHWAY PATROLMAN - V4c 5:37 NEBRASKA (stereo mix)

Note: Four different takes were recorded - the three variants of V4 are merely alternate mixes. The original title was “Deputy”. In a letter to Jon Landau, Bruce said he "worked very long on this and always had the feeling I was comin up short. Not really finished but is about as good as I can get it at the time. Don't think the ending was quite strong enough." Also recorded with the band at The Power Station in April 1982 during the so-called "Electric Nebraska" sessions.

STATE TROOPER - V1 uncirculating
STATE TROOPER - V2 uncirculating
STATE TROOPER - V3 uncirculating
STATE TROOPER - V4 uncirculating
STATE TROOPER - V5c 3:04 NEBRASKA (stereo mix)

Note: Five takes were recorded. The two variants of V5 are merely alternate mixes. In a letter to Jon Landau, Bruce wrote "I dreamed this one up comin back from New York one night. I don't know if it's even really a song or not, but I did it, so I figured I'd throw it on. It's kinda weird." According to studio logs, not one of the songs attempted with the E Street Band during the so-called "Electric Nebraska" sessions of April 1982.

USED CARS - V1 uncirculating
USED CARS - V2 uncirculating
USED CARS - V3 uncirculating
USED CARS - V4a 3:00 LM-1
USED CARS - V4c 2:59 NEBRASKA (stereo mix)

Note: Four different, complete, recordings were made - only one has surfaced (three mixes). Take #1 was "a little dirty recording wise", according to Springsteen.

OPEN ALL NIGHT - V1 uncirculating
OPEN ALL NIGHT - V2a 2:50 LM-1
OPEN ALL NIGHT - V2c 2:48 NEBRASKA (stereo mix)

Note: Two different, complete, recordings were made - only one has surfaced (two mixes). Listed as "Wanda (Open All Night)" in an early song lineup. Also recorded with the band at The Power Station in April 1982 during the so-called "Electric Nebraska" sessions.

MY FATHER'S HOUSE - V1 uncirculating
MY FATHER'S HOUSE - V2a uncirculating
MY FATHER'S HOUSE - V2b 5:35 NEBRASKA (stereo mix) / SPEM / HNWB

Note: Two different, complete, recordings on separate cassettes were made on May 25, 1982, over five months after the vast majority of the Nebraska tracks were cut. Only one take has surfaced (three mixes). V1 and V2a do not include any synthesizer (the synthesizer was likely added at The Power Station). V2b includes an additional 28 seconds of synthesizer at the end that was cut from the official release. The master tape for this longer version was accidentally sent to Japan in 1985 and released on the first-ever CD print run of the album, as well as a second pressing of the Japanese CD in 1986-87. The long version was also utilized on original 1986-7 export editions of the Japanese CD sent to Europe and the USA. The mistake was eventually corrected on all versions. The long version has not been officially available anywhere since 1995. Some early promotional copies of the album sent to press and radio stations (certainly in the UK, and perhaps worldwide) also included the synth coda.

REASON TO BELIEVE - V1c 3:56 NEBRASKA (stereo mix)
REASON TO BELIEVE - V2 uncirculating

Note: Two different, complete, recordings were made - only one has surfaced, which is take #1. This take circulates in three different mixes. The second (unused) take has an extra verse. Inspired by Springsteen's own experience driving down Highway 33 on his way to Millstone, a township in Monmouth County. Also recorded with the band at The Power Station in April 1982 during the so-called "Electric Nebraska" sessions.

THE BIG PAYBACK - V1 uncirculating
THE BIG PAYBACK - V2 1:55 1982 b-side / ESSENTIAL

Note: Two different recordings were 'cut at home shortly after the Nebraska album', according to Springsteen's Essential notes. Only one has surfaced. Likely recorded January-April 1982, the exact date is not listed in the studio logs.

BORN IN THE U.S.A. - V1a 3:06 LM-1 / HNWB

Note: Only one recording was made - the two variants above are merely alternate mixes. Written after Jon Landau sent Springsteen a Paul Schrader script with the same title in 1981, evolving from an earlier song called "Vietnam". In his notes to Landau, Bruce describes the song as "[a] little ditty.[that] should be done very hard rockin'." As such, it was later recorded with the band at The Power Station in April and May of 1982.

LOSIN' KIND - V1 uncirculating
LOSIN' KIND - V2 uncirculating
LOSIN' KIND - V3 4:47 LM-1 / HNWB

Note: Three different recordings were made - only one has surfaced. Take #2 was included on Springsteen's demo tape. The work-in-progress title for "Losin’ Kind" was "The Answer". Stunning song, Occasionally referred to as "The Losin' Kind". Springsteen's notes to Landau are interesting: "searched + searched for a better title, spent many hours on this task but no good. I like the verses but I can't seem to find a better punch line. Kind of like a James M. Cain story. Could be done with more of a band arrangement." "Losin' Kind" was later recorded with the band in the studio in April 1982 during the so-called "Electric Nebraska" sessions, and again in March 1983 during sessions for Born In The USA.


Note: No take information recorded in the studio logs. Was not included when Springsteen's demo tape was backed-up on June 1, 1982, suggesting it was either recorded separately or at that time Bruce had decided it was surplus to requirements. “Child Bride” is often incorrectly noted as being an alternate title for “Working On The Highway”. They are in fact separate songs as they bear no common melody. In his notes to Jon Landau, Springsteen wrote "in which the protagonist violates the Mann Act and is left to ponder his fate. This is kind of a work in progress or more like without progress. I worked a real long time on this song and could never quite get it right. I spent so much time on it I thought I'd include it to see what you think." As such, Bruce would later set it to an up-beat backing, dispose of the entire original ending and re-invent the song as "Working On The Highway", which was recorded on April 30 and May 6, 1982.

DOWNBOUND TRAIN - V1 uncirculating
DOWNBOUND TRAIN - V2 uncirculating

Note: Three takes were recorded. Described by Springsteen in his notes to Jon Landau as an "uptempo rocker for full effect / needs band / could be exciting". In all likelihood, never seriously considered for release in its solo iteration. As such, it was recorded with the band at The Power Station in April and May of 1982 during sessions for Born In The USA.

PINK CADILLAC - V1 uncirculating

Note: Two takes were recorded. Later recorded with the band at The Power Station in May 1983 during sessions for Born In The USA, and included on Tracks.

JOHNNY BYE BYE live recording

Note: Evidence from the studio logs strongly suggests that this is a live recording from Brendan Byrne Arena in July 1981, not a studio take.

Part Three - Nebraska Stereo Mix

At some point during the album mixing sessions an alternative "stereo" mix of Nebraska was created, using the original four-track master tape as the source. This alternative mix was ultimately rejected by Springsteen, and he elected to instead use the original mono mix, as is. As a result the stereo mix was, presumably, placed on a shelf somewhere. Somehow, when it came to pressing Nebraska on to CD, this stereo mix was inadvertently shipped to Sony Japan and used for a number of CD releases, starting with the very first Japanese CD of Nebraska, which was issued in the country in 1985 with the catalogue number 32DP 357. The stereo mix was not only issued in Japan, but also utilised for several "Made In Japan" editions that were released in the US (CK38358 / DIDP 20040 11A2) and Europe (CDCBS 25100/DIDP 10040 [CK 38358]) the same year. It was re-issued in Japan in 1988 (25DP 5246) and for the last time in 1995 (SRCS 7860). The mistake was finally rectified in 1999 with the release of SRCS 9471.

It should be noted that since the songs were recorded in mono this is not a true stereo mix. Vocals and guitars remain dead-centre in the mix, and only the added reverb is in stereo. Despite this, the result is two quite contrasting albums. Most obvious difference is the addition of a keyboard coda to "My Father's House" extending the runtime of that song to 5:35, as well as slightly varying lengths of other songs, either due to changes in the fades or faster tape speed / higher pitch. The contrast in pitch is particularly noticable if you perform an A/B comparison. The audio quality is a quite different experience as well, with the stereo mix providing an ambience and warmth that is not found in the mono original. There are also other small changes to the mix, such as the level of the background vocals at the end of "Atlantic City".

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