The Bottom Line, New York, NY, USA – 15 August, 1975 (early show)
Disc 1: Interview Before The Show, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Spirit In The Night, Then She Kissed Me, Growin’ Up, It’s Hard To Be a Saint In The City, Intro To E Street Shuffle, E Street Shuffle, When You Walk In The Room, She’s The One, Born To Run, Thunder Road
Disc 2: Intro To Kitty’s Back, Kitty’s Back, Rosalita, Encore Comments, 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), Quarter To Three, Closing Comments
Springsteen was still a local or regional, rather than a national figure in the early months of 1975. As stated in Clinton Heylin’s Bootleg: The Rise And Fall Of The Secret Recording Industry, he “was barely known outside certain fanatical enclaves of New York, the New Jersey Shore, Philadelphia and Cleveland.” By October, this situation had changed dramatically.
Springsteen’s third LP, Born To Run, was released on 25 August, and Greil Marcus’ Rolling Stone review called it “a magnificent album that pays off on every bet ever placed on him.” There was a high profile four-night, six-show stand at the Roxy in Los Angeles during 16-19 October and the hype culminated in Springsteen featuring on the covers of both Time and Newsweek on 27 October.
However, the process of bringing Springsteen to national prominence began with the ten shows performed at New York’s Bottom Line during 13-17 August. The significance of these shows was considerable. As Dave Marsh writes in Rolling Stone, “not since Elton John’s initial Toubadour appearances has an artist leapt so visibly and rapidly from cult fanaticism to mass acceptance as at Bruce Springsteen’s ten Bottom Line shows. This was not pure chance.
As I pointed out in my review of Crystal Cat’s The Roxy Theatre Night, “the single show on the first night was used by Columbia to promote Springsteen’s career by reserving a significant number of seats for music journalists and celebrities, including Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty.” John Rockwell, also writing in Rolling Stone, similarly states that, “the ten sold-out Bottom Line shows [were] carefully orchestrated to garner press quotes and industry attention…Columbia bought 1,000 of the 4,000 seats for the Bottom Line dates…to proselytize the press, record dealers and radio personnel.” Heylin also points this out, stating, “shows from New York’s Bottom Line in July 1975 and LA’s Roxy in October were certainly intended to capitalize on the media buzz that Springsteen was creating.”
However, Rockwell also contends that the enthusiasm was genuine, with “block-long lines of people hoping to buy the fifty standing room tickets sold for each show. Every performance saw a good 200 extra bodies crammed into a club that supposedly seats 400 [Marsh states 450]. Springsteen’s entrances were greeted with standing ovations, and by the end of each set the crowd’s mood was one of delirium.” Ross Warner, on the American Heritage website calls the Bottom Line shows “electrifying” and WNEW DJ Dave Herman, who had previously resisted the allure of Springsteen, describes the concert he attended on 30 July as “the most exciting rock ‘n’roll show I’ve ever seen.”
The level of excitement is effectively described by the clubs’ co-owner, Stanley Snadowsky: “The raw power was unbelievable. He climbed on the building’s poles, the piano, the tables. He was so exposed in such a reckless way, everyone felt it.” Springsteen commented that, “the energy of the band forced me out on those tables. Playing a little place like that, and it starts boiling. we were so set up for that kind of playing.” He was extremely pleased with the performances at the Bottom Line. “It went pretty ideally,” he said shortly afterwards, “the band cruised through them shows like the finest machine there was. There’s nothin’ – nothin’ – in the world to get you playing better than a gig like that. The band walked out of the Bottom Line twice as good as when they walked in.”
One other thing acted to raise Springsteen’s profile: the first bootlegs of his performances. As Heylin argues, “this was one instance where bootlegs were helping to establish an artist, rather than riding on the back of his success.” It was the radio broadcast of the early show from 15 August at the Bottom Line which provided the source for what is sometimes stated to be the first Springsteen bootleg, Coral Records’ Live (though this honour is also claimed by the noted early bootlegger Lou Cohan for his Jersey Devil). The Brucebase website has this to say of the genesis of this historic artefact:
“The first (early) show was broadcast live by New York’s influential WNEW-FM – and it was a cannibalized home taping of this show off the radio that appeared on the very first-ever Springsteen vinyl bootleg ‘BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN LIVE’ (Coral Records) in late 1975. However, this late 1975 boot, as well as countless boot permutations of the performance that came afterwards, was heavily edited, with no-in between song chatter/stories and, in some instances with tracks missing.”
The LPs came in a black gatefold sleeve featuring the head-and-shoulders photograph, taken during the Born To Run photo-shoot, of a smiling Springsteen in floppy flat cap on the front cover. Tinted in pastel shades, the design featured a garland surrounding Springsteen, and it also incorporated his guitar with a pair of sneakers dangling from the neck. The design is doubtless well known to Springsteen collectors due to its use on the artwork of several other LP and CD releases. The rear of the sleeve carried an onstage shot of Spingsteen together with the tracklisting, and the sleeve opened out to reveal two further photographs. Chris Hunt, in Springsteen: Blinded By The Light contends that this is, “certainly the rarest of all [vinyl] Bruce bootlegs.”
Copies of the original Coral Records issue included two releases entitled Live At The Bottom Line. One, on Butterfly Records, featured the same front cover picture as the original, again in colour on a black background although it was a single sleeve. This was pressed on red vinyl. The other release, on Black And Gold Records featured the design in black-and-white on a white background. A version called The Boss Is Back appeared on the Record Man label. There was also a picture disc version which utilized the title and artwork of the original release, together with a similar catalogue number, but with no label identified.
The Great White Boss (Hangman) provided something extra in the shape of a third disc, a 12″ EP featuring You Mean So Much To Me Baby (from My Father’s Place, New York on 31 July 1973) and Don’t Look Back and Action In The Street (both from the Music Hall in Boston on 25 March 1977). It came on both black and coloured vinyl. This was later repressed on Blockhead Records. A no label release also entitled The Great White Boss came without the EP but with an additional track, Circus Song (from the Ahmanson Theater in LA on 1 May 1973). There were several represses of this, including a picture disc version.
The first CD release. Great Dane’s 1989 release Live At The Bottom Line is, according to the Killing Floor Database, a “reproduction of the epic CORAL RECORDS LIVE vinyl, but the source is not the vinyl.” This reproduces the original front cover artwork. Lynn Elder’s guide to Springsteen bootlegs, Bruce Springsteen: You Better Not Touch, published during the 1990s, states that, “Great Dane’s catalog indicates an improved ‘Master Plus’ edition of Live At The Bottom Line is on the way,” though I do not believe it ever appeared. There was also a release on the Main Stream label, entitled Down In The Bottom, which included backstage interviews before and after the show.
There has also been a CD-R release on the Hot Stuff label entitled The Bottom Line On The Bottom Line, derived, according to the sleeve notes, from “a substantially better source.” This utilizes completely different artwork on its card gatefold sleeve, with a different photograph of Springsteen from the Born To Run cover sessions on the front. There is also a booklet with some interesting photographs of Springsteen with David Bowie, Billy Joel, Janis Ian and WMMR DJ Ed Sciaky, an early champion of Springsteen’s music. This would seem to be derived from the Main Stream release due to its inclusion of the two interviews and the fact that, like Down In The Bottom, it cuts off Kitty’s Back after a mere five-and-a-half minutes. (I believe the the Main Stream release appeared in 2002, whereas the Hot Stuff is dated 2004 on the sleeve, which would indicate that the Hot Stuff is a copy of the Main Stream rather than vice-versa,)
The version from Godfatherecords, The Punk Meets The Godfather, also uses the original artwork on the front of its trademark tri-fold sleeve and additionally features some photos from the Bottom Line shows. It also has a foldover booklet with brief notes. The Brucebase website contends that this represents “the best sound quality release of this show, including (for the first time ever) the entire broadcast without edits.”
The Killing Floor Database also mentions the “good dynamic sound and no edits.” Versions of two classic Springsteen shows (this one and Passsaic, 1978) have appeared on torrent sites under the titles The Way It Was: The Complete Bottom Line Broadcast and The Way It Was: Sept 19 1978. The idea was to provide a listening experience that replicated the original broadcasts, complete with DJ comments and interviews. The person behind this, known as Scoper, states that this was Godfather’s source: “This is the same source tape as used for Godfather Records ’The Punk Meets The Godfather’ – they took it from this set when I first posted it on the net.”
Now the Godfather version faces competition from this new no label release, Vintage Broadcast ‘75, a further take on the complete broadcast. Although it is a no label issue, it takes no more than a casual glance at the packaging to realise that this version comes to us from the same source as the recent release of the Born To Run Tour’s opening show, Ready To Run (already reviewed by eric99).
Disc 1 begins with host DJ Richard Neer talking to his WNEW colleague, morning slot DJ Dave Herman. The latter again points out his aversion to the “pre-publicity” and especially the comparisons with Bob Dylan, though he refers to Springsteen himself as “fantastic.”
Commenting on the show he attended on the opening night of the Bottom Line stand, Herman says, “it was a rock and roll show unlike anything I’ve ever seen, at least I’ve ever seen in five or six years. He has the extraordinary power of making rock and roll what is traditionally has been and making it that again, which a lot of people have been unable to do for a long time.” Herman goes on to state that, although “his rock and roll is based on music that goes back not only to Dylan but long before that,” Springsteen is, “totally unique and totally fresh and some thing truly outstanding.”
Neer then comments on the excitement of Springsteen’s live performances, “which cannot be properly captured on record.” The band passes the DJs on the way to the stage, and, as Dave Marsh writes in Born To Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story, “Springsteen delivers a spiel patterned after Muhammad Ali’s heavyweight title fight boasts,” concluding, “I figure I can take this guy in a few rounds.”
The show opens with a wonderfully vibrant Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, played with a lightness of touch and a sprightly good humour that sets the scene for the show. Then comes a splendid Spirit In The Night, propelled by Clarence Clemons’ saxophone. During the slow section where the protagonist is “making love in the dirt” with Crazy Janey (thereby, according to Peter Basham, in Bruce Springsteen, bidding “farewell to youth”) it is clear from the audience reaction that Springsteen has made his first foray onto the tables near the stage. As Marsh tells us, “Springsteen crawl onto one of the front tables, prompting squeals of delight from the patrons, to sing a verse up close.”
The Crystals’ Then [S]he Kissed Me, the first of the show’s oldies, follows, demonstrating Herman’s point about Springsteen’s lengthy musical heritage. As I stated in an earlier review, Springsteen approaches such songs with a mingled irreverence and love which is most effective. As Marsh continues, “Springsteen dives into the magic world of of the Crystals’ ‘Then She Kissed Me.’ The beauty of the arrangement has Springsteen almost breathless; he sings as if the song were new to him, as if he really had just mustered up the nerve to go up and ask that dream-date if she wanted to dance.”
Next comes Growin’ Up, the song Marsh refers to as Springsteen’s “comic autobiography…its delight balanced between the devilish and the angelic.” It is played here with an almost palpable spirit of wide-eyed youthfulness and it is appropriately succeeded by an impressively swaggering version of It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City. At the end of the song Neer interjects to explain that a minor “slip on the vocal” was due to the fact that “Bruce had crawled out into the audience on one of the front tables and his mic cord was disconnected.”
Curiously, I can discern no such vocal slip and there is no evidence to suggest that Springsteen had crawled on the tables during this song. There is, however, such a slip during Springsteen’s time on the tables during Spirit In The Night. Abrupt shifts in the audience noise clearly indicate cuts between songs, so that the placing of Neer’s remark may indicate that the songs do not appear in the correct order, despite them being arranged thus an all releases.
The intensity of It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City then gives way to the far more relaxed slow version of The E Street Shuffle, which is preceded by a lengthy story, one of the many disparate accounts of how Spingsteen first met Clarence Clemons. Springsteen prefaces this version of the tale with an account of the vagaries of being in a struggling, unknown band. One show was in “the darkest, dingiest, dampest place you ever seen,” and earned the band a collective $13.75! At another they played their hearts out, having been set up by the club’s owner, who told them that the manager of The Byrds was coming to see them.
After one such show, according to the tale, Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt were walking home along the boardwalk when they encountered a large figure “dressed all in white…walking like there ain’t no rain, no wind… carrying a saxophone.” After the climax of the story, where Springsteen and Clemons touch to produce the sparks mentioned in the first line, the song itself follows, in a marvellously atmospheric, laid-back version which is a spellbinding as the preceding story. It also contains a shorter spoken section near the end of the song and a short but searing guitar solo which punctuates the otherwise mellow mood.
Next up is the show’s second oldie, a vivacious rendition of The Searchers’ When You Walk In The Room and things remain uptempo with the first of a trio of songs from Born To Run, She’s The One, a song which, in the words of Jimmy Guterman, in Runaway American Dream: Listening To Bruce Springsteen, “invokes the primordial Bo Diddley beat.” A spirited though rather ragged Born To Run then gives way to Thunder Road in its slow incarnation with piano accompaniment. It has a tremendous emotional impact, making it perhaps the best solo piano rendition of the song.
Ross Warner, writing on the American Heritage website calls the Bottom Line performances of this song “gut-wrenching.” The Rolling Stone website, listing the Bottom Line shows among “50 moments that changed the history of rock & roll,” calls it “the show’s emotional centrepiece: a gripping version.” Astonishingly, this seems to have been essentially unintended. “The band hadn’t learned to play that song real well,” Springsteen later pointed out, “that’s the only reason I did it solo.” Although this may seem surprising, especially as the song had been recorded for Born To Run between March and June, it must be remembered that the song, initially titled Wings For Wheels and with different lyrics, had only made its live debut at the main Point on 5 February (a classic show available on Crystal Cat’s Main Point Night, already reviewed).
Moreover, at this stage the instrumental arrangement of the song was different, heavily featuring violinist Suki Lahav, who played with the band until the concert at Constitution Hall, Washington, DC on 9 March. Furthermore (as I pointed out in my review of Godfather’s A Star Is Born), the band had only played ten shows during early 1975 and had only undertaken one rehearsal for the Born To Run Tour, which began in Providence, RI on 20 July. Considering these factors, the band’s difficulties with the song seem more comprehensible.
Disc 2 starts with another long spoken introduction, this time preceding Kitty’s Back. Disappointingly, it lacks the charm and coherence of the rap delivered before The E Street Shuffle. The rambling and seemingly pointless story involving a fortune teller does, however, have the audience in stitches at several points, and it culminates in Springsteen seeing the rerurn of Kitty for himself in a crystal ball. Fortunately, the song itself is far superior to the intro, and Warner refers to it as a “jazz-fueled tour-de-force.” As was common at the time the song develops into a long, loose jam with frequent soloing. This performance, played with tremendous bravura, clocks in at nineteen minutes, and it is clearly a contender for the best ever live version.
The main set then concludes with a splendidly high-spirited performance of Rosalita, which includes the band introductions (complete with a snippet of the Theme From Shaft for Clarence Clemons). After a brief interjection from Neer, we are treated to the two encore numbers. First up is the 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), which, of course, features Danny Federici’s accordion. Although inherently tinged with nostalgia, this early performance is a little lighter of touch than renditions from recent tours where first the passage of time underlined the song’s wistful character and then Federici’s death overlaid it with an inevitable poignancy.
Then comes a jubilant and breathless rendition of Gary US Bonds’ Quarter To Three, which leaves the audience ecstatic at the show’s end. The spirit of the performance is aptly summated by Dave Marsh in Bruce Springsteen On Tour 1968-2008: “The music burned with passion and jumped for joy.” After Quarter To Three we get further input from Harman and Neer as the band leave the stage with Springsteen reprising his boxing spiel. Finally, Neer hands over to late night WNEW DJ, Alison “The Nightbird” Steele, in the station’s studio, whose closing comments clearly indicate that she would rather have been at the show.
The performance undoubtedly makes this show a classic, but the sound quality has remained problematic. Although it is very listenable, the sound of the various releases has never been quite as good as one might expect from an FM broadcast. Additionally, all versions of the show, whether on LP or CD, have suffered from a distinct hum and an unpleasant scratchy clicking noise at many places during the performance. Elder writes of the Great Dane version that, “sound quality is clear, but not very dynamic.
This broadcast exists on tape in somewhat better quality, though no copy of the original broadcast sounds as good as it should, due to problems inherent in the broadcast itself.” Magnus, in his review of the Great Dane release on the Dutch website The Promise, states that ”the source for this bootleg is a radio broadcast, but unfortunately it doesn’t sound as good as most radio broadcast boots.” Two anonymous commentators on his review also have pertinent things to say on sound quality. The first refers to “the sad shame of this botched broadcast. There are no known existing tapes…that do not suffer from the poor sound quality…Somewhere there must exist a soundboard feed (not broadcast feed) version of this one!!!”
Picking up on this, the other commentator, echoing Elder, says, “I know a better tape of this does exist…the defunct WNEW-FM in NYC that originally broadcast the show used to play portions of the show over the years in much better quality (not great but much better than these discs). I know I have a handful of songs taped to a cassette somewhere in my archives…who is in control of that WNEW tape?”
Despite the limitations of the Great Dane version, which receives a rather harsh 6 out of 10 rating for sound quality from Elder, I would prefer it to the Hot Stuff release. (I have not heard the Main Stream version, though, as suggested above it seems likely that the Hot Stuff release is a copy of it.) Oswald, in his review of The Bottom Line On The Bottom Line on the Hotwacks website, contends that, “Hot Stuff has mastered its tape ‘hotter’ than Great Dane’s so there is now a sharper high end and fatter low end.” Certainly there is a little more immediacy to the sound of the Hot Stuff version, but it comes at the cost of a far greater prominence for the hum and the scratchy noises. which at times, for example in 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), almost overwhelm the music.
The enormous cut in Kitty’s Back also makes the Hot Stuff release one to avoid. There is also a cut of a few seconds at the end of It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City and a rather abrupt end to Thunder Road. The Great Dane does, however, have occasional fluctuations in sound quality, notably a few seconds in Born To Run with conspicuous echo and a segment in Kitty’s Back where there is a clear drop in sound quality. The former problem is less evident on the Hot Stuff issue; the latter defect is clearly also present. The other major difference between the two releases is the extra-musical content. The Great Dane has only the music, whereas Hot Stuff additionally includes tracks entitled Introduction and Interview With Bruce.
The former cuts in after Springsteen has begun his pre-show mock boxing spiel, thereby omitting Neer’s and Herman’s initial comments; the latter is also truncated, being largely confined to the second part of the boxing spiel and omitting both Neer’s and Herman’s comments and Alison Steele’s remarks. The comments after individual songs are omitted, aside from Neer’s first word (”incredible”) at the conclusion of Rosalita.
As indicated above, both the Godfather and no label releases contain what seem to be all of the DJ comments and interviews, indicating that the no label release also originates with the work of Scoper. The Godfather version has a depth and presence that makes it superior in sound quality to previous releases, thereby justifying the comment from the Brucebase website quoted above. The levels of hum and scratching/clicking are kept relatively low on the Godfather version, with the exception of some surprisingly prominent noise at the start of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out and the level of extraneous noise is much lower than on the Hot Stuff release.
For example, on 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) the noise that marred the Hot Stuff version is barely audible. However, Vintage Broadcast ‘75 also has full, clear and very enjoyable sound, similar to that of the Godfather release. At times the sound of the new release comes across as marginally superior than that of the Godfather, but (with the exception of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out) the extraneous noises are a little more prominent. Then S(he) Kissed Me, for example, has slightly clearer instrument separation and a marginally fuller bottom end on Vintage Broadcast ‘75. Max Weinberg’s drums seem to pound harder and Clarence Clemons’ sax is more raspy. Elsewhere, however, differences in sound quality are barely discernable. When You Walk In The Room, for for example, sounds, to my ears, identical on both versions. Thunder Road has less background noise on the Godfather issue whereas the no label version has enough noise to mar the sound of the piano, the only occasion where the noise becomes a real issue. Overall, the difference in the sound quality of the music is marginal, whereas the difference in the level of the extraneous noise is a little more than marginal.
This would seem to give Godfather the advantage, and I suspect that this may be the deciding factor for many potential purchasers. However, I also suspect that, when I want to listen to this show in future, the slightly more satisfying sound will ensure that the no label version is brought down from the shelf. One thing, however, is clear – both are much superior to the older releases. This is noticeable not only in general terms but in specific instances. For example, the echo on Born To Run is virtually eliminated and the drop in sound quality during Kitty’s Back is not quite so drastic.
The Godfather release, unlike the no label release, has the advantage of a bonus track, which, to quote the booklet notes, is “an incredible version of Jungleland, jazzy and incomplete [i.e. not in its final form]” from the Bottom Line show of 14 July 1974. A superb performance, excellent sound and significant differences from the official version, principally different lyrics and some extended instrumental soloing, make this highly desirable. However, this performance also appears as a bonus track on Crystal Cat’s The Roxy Theatre Night (an essential component of any serious Springsteen collection), which would seem to negate Godfather’s advantage.
As with Ready To Run, the packaging of this release is simple but effective. Fitting into a slimline jewel case, the packaging features four onstage photographs from the era, at least one of which is from the Bottom Line. Three of the photos are familiar to me from Marsh’s book, Bruce Springsteen On Tour 1968-2005. The outer side of the single sheet front insert shows part of a shot which appears on pages 60-61. It is a colour photograph but the colours are subsumed within a deep red colouring (presumably an effect of the stage lighting). The shot is credited to Phil Ceccola, but no location is given. The outer side of the rear insert has an uncredited colour photo (from page 86) taken at the Hammersmith Odeon gig of 18 November 1975. Springsteen is shown acknowledging the audience by raising his guitar.
This shot has been given a reddish hue so that it matches the front insert. The inner sides of the inserts feature monochrome photographs tinted a plum colour. The front insert (from pages 80-81 and credited to David Gahr) carries part of a photo taken at one of the Bottom Line shows and depicts Springsteen walking along the front of the stage, while a security man holds back a female member of the audience. (This shot also appears on page 118 of Marsh’s Born to Run.) Finally, the inner side of the rear insert, which I have not seen elsewhere, shows a smiling Springsteen between his bandmates on stage, dressed in a fashion identical to his appearance in some of the many Bottom Line shots included in Marsh’s book. The track listing appears on the outer side of the rear insert; there are no band credits or notes.
This is a classic performance and a historically significant show, which all serious Springsteen collectors must own. As Magnus states in his review of the Great Dane version, “the red hot performance is what pushes this bootleg into the ‘classic’ level. There is a certain intensity that runs through the entire show.” The first of the two quoted commentators on his review (who actually attended the late show on the first night) argues that, “15-8-75 is a magnificent show, containing, what remain in 2003, many of my all-time favorite live versions of Springsteen classics and covers.” It is noteworthy that Marsh considers the Bottom Line concerts to be so important that he devotes the entirety of Chapter 1 of Born To Run to an account of them, focusing particularly on the concert under consideration here. This is a must-have show and it is to be hoped that one day a better tape will surface; in the meantime there is much enjoyment to be gained either from the Godfather or this new no label release.