Hearts of Stone has been called "the best album Bruce Springsteen never recorded", which is not quite accurate. Springsteen did pen the title track and the radio-friendly "Talk To Me", and is credited along with Southside Johnny Lyon and Steve Van Zandt on "Trapped Again", but Van Zandt takes solo credit for the remaining six tracks. More to the point, this record pointed the way to the kind of music the reincarnated "Little Steven" would begin making in the early 1980s. Van Zandt asked photographer Frank Stefanko to shoot the album cover art, after meeting Stefanko when they worked together with Springsteen on Darkness on the Edge of Town.
Although hailed by critics, when Johnny severely injured his hand and was unable to tour and promote it, the album did not sell well enough for Epic to renew the Jukes' contract. The group parted ways with its more famous Jersey Shore brethren for the next album, The Jukes, relying on songs written by members of the band.
The first two tracks on Hearts of Stone, the guitar-driven, syncopated raveup "Got To Find a Better Way Home" and the horn-powered "This Time Baby's Gone for Good", are classic Van Zandt compositions, heavily anchored in 60s soul. The bouncy third track belies its lyric; "I Played the Fool" makes very good use of bass and horns to carve a distinctive sound. The title track, Springsteen's main contribution, would perhaps have been a smash hit had it been released by its author, Springsteen. It is soulful, almost wan, as it details the ache of lovers who cannot be together. "Talk To Me", released as a single, provided a bridge to the Jukes' familiar sound from their first two records. It did not make the charts. Pointing the way to the sound they would embrace on their next record, the record's final track, "Light Don't Shine", is light on horns and relies more on detailed guitar, alongside a soft-voiced, reflective Johnny. This song would, ironically, prove to be something of an epitaph.
The Jukes created well-received records after this. However, they were simply not able to crack the national consciousness and sell enough records to justify true star-level backing. They have bounced from label to label in the decades since, and scratch out their existence in little known bars not much higher in stature than the clubs they played on the way up. Their peak was not very high nor very long, but the Jukes, with a little help from their friends, left this one brilliant document to make sure that their contribution to the music of the Jersey Shore would not be forgotten. This would be the Jukes' last album with Van Zandt, who departed shortly after its release to join The E Street Band full-time, until 1991's Better Days where he and Springsteen would rejoin Southside Johnny on many of the tracks.
Additional songs were recorded for the album including "Inside of Me", "Princess of Little Italy", "Until the Good Is Gone", "Forever", "Angel Eyes" and "I've Been Waiting" which were not included on the final album release but were re-recorded by Steve Van Zandt for his first solo album Men Without Women. Versions of "Forever" and "Until the Good Is Gone" with Southside Johnny on vocals can be heard on his live album Hearts of Stone LIVE from 2009. Additionally, the track "Working Girl" was originally recorded during these sessions and appears on Southside's 2004 release Missing Pieces, which contains the recordings made during the lost 1982 sessions. The liner notes state the song is from the "Hearts of Stone" sessions and the track features the clear presence of Steven Van Zandt on harmony vocals. On July 2, 2011 Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes recorded a live performance of Van Zandt's entire "Men Without Women" album for release on CD.
^Minor, E. Kyle (June 18, 2000). "A Bar Band Once Again Takes to The Road". New York Times (New York). p. section 14CN, page 15. The group signed with Epic Records and released I Don't Want to Go Home in 1976; it featured Mr. Springsteen's Fever, a Jukes signature song. The album was among the band's best, along with Hearts of Stone (1978), the double LP Live: Reach Up and Touch the Sky (1981) and At Least We Got Shoes (1986).