Collecting Bruce Springsteen

If you’ve got all his records – try the promos

Bruce Springsteen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year. Here’s what they said about him: “Bruce Springsteen ranks in importance alongside such rock and roll legends as Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Bob Dylan. Just as those artists shaped popular music at various points, Springsteen served as a pivotal figure in its evolution with his rise to prominence in the mid-Seventies. The unrestrained energy of his live shows, the evocative power of his songwriting, and the direct connection he forged with his listeners catapulted Springsteen to fame and helped lift rock and roll from its early Seventies doldrums.”

Springsteen was born on September 23, 1949, in Freehold, New Jersey, a town often described as “working class.” He grew up there, the oldest of three children, and his roots helped shape him into what one commentator called “rock and roll’s John Steinbeck.”

Apparently inspired by seeing Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show, Springsteen was passionate about rock and roll music, and, despite parental disapproval, joined his first band while still in high school, in 1965. He played guitar and sang with The Castiles for close to three years, forming a new band called Earth in 1968. Earth was abandoned for Child in 1969. Child became Steel Mill in 1970 when Steve van Zandt replaced Vini Roslin on bass.   Steel Mill in turn evolved into Dr. Zoom & the Sonic Boom in 1971 with the addition of keyboard player (and former session musician) David Sancious. When a trumpet and a sax were added to the lineup, it became the Bruce Springsteen Band in 1972.   A shift dropped the trumpet player, and Clarence Clemons replaced the previous sax man later that year and The E Street Band made its initial appearance. The E Street Band was, in various permutations, Springsteen’s band until 1988.

Springsteen earned his success the hard way: by gigging in every available venue, and giving his fans what they wanted. His concerts typically lasted over three hours and more than 30 songs – much longer than most. Early concert posters are pretty scarce, however – although “reprints” are widely available. Typical was a concert at the State University of New York at Oswego in December, 1975.   Several hundred posters were printed, but as soon as any were put up they were taken down by fans or collectors.   So the concert organizers tore the remaining posters into “numerous pieces” and then stapled them up – so that no one would take them.   There were less than 25 of those posters left in one piece.

Springsteen’s Columbia albums and singles were widely sold – Born in the U.S.A. ultimately sold 12 million copies in America, making it Columbia’s all-time best seller, and seven songs from that album became Top Ten hits as well – but an amazing 85 promos were also released by Columbia, Asylum, and radio show producers like Westwood One, NBC, United Stations and Unistar, as 12-inch singles, 45s, LPs, CDs, and in one case (Columbia Records Radio Hour) on reel-to-reel tape.   (That tape includes a live set plus an interview with Bob Costas, and was released in 1995 for December airplay.   It’s worth $400 to $600.) Those produced to be broadcast as complete radio shows are usually album-length LPs or CDs and are hardest to find.

Promos are records released to radio stations and others within the music industry to promote new releases. They are not sold to the general public – or are not supposed to be; many carry warnings to that effect and stake the record company’s claim to its continued ownership of the record. But of course “review copies” and other promos do turn up in some record stores and can easily be found on auction sites.

All of these promos are highly collectible, their value ranging from as little as $10 to an impressive $1,200 for a 1975 test pressing of “Born to Run” complete with a mailing envelope, a letter from CBS, and an orange patch. Asylum issued only one of the promos, but did so in three formats with the same catalog number, 11442, in 1979. It was “Devil With A Blue Dress Medley,” taken from Asylum’s No Nukes album. The medley consisted of “Devil With A Blue Dress,” “Good Golly Miss Molly” and “Jenny Take A Ride,” and was issued as a 12-inch single (backed with Jackson Browne’s “Before the Deluge”) ($40), a 7-inch 33 1/3 single ($300) and a 7-inch 45 ($100).

In the early 1970s Columbia Records issued monthly editions of something called Playback to those listeners who signed up for it.   Playback consisted of a 7-inch 33 1/3 record plus a brief magazine describing who was on the record and promoting their newest release.   Springsteen appeared in two issues of Playback. His “Blinded By The Light” was on Playback #45 (backed by Andy Pratt’s “Avenging Annie”) and is now worth $250 with the generic Playback sleeve. “Circus Song” was on Playback #52, and is valued at $300 with the sleeve. Both appeared in 1973.

Springsteen’s career continues. Watch for new promos. (29638 bytes)