The Promised Land (Bruce Springsteen song)

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"The Promised Land"
Bruce springsteen-the promised land s.jpg
Single by Bruce Springsteen
from the album Darkness on the Edge of Town
B-side"Streets of Fire"
ReleasedOctober 1978
Format7" single
RecordedFall 1977
Songwriter(s)Bruce Springsteen
Producer(s)Bruce Springsteen, Jon Landau
Bruce Springsteen singles chronology
"The Promised Land"
"Hungry Heart"

"The Promised Land" is a song by Bruce Springsteen from his 1978 album Darkness on the Edge of Town. It was released as a single in Europe, backed by another song from Darkness on the Edge of Town, "Streets of Fire", the third single from the album after "Badlands" and "Prove It All Night".[1][2] "The Promised Land" was also included on the compilation album The Essential Bruce Springsteen.[3] The song has been a staple of Springsteen's live shows since 1978, and has been included on several concert albums and videos.[4] The live album Live/1975–85 includes a 1985 performance of "The Promised Land" from a concert in Los Angeles, California.[5][2] A performance of the song from a 2003 concert in Barcelona is included on the Live in Barcelona video.[6] A June 28, 2009 live performance in London from the Working on a Dream Tour was included on the London Calling: Live in Hyde Park DVD.[7] The box set The Promise contains video of three live performances of "The Promised Land", a 2009 performance from the Paramount Theater in Asbury Park, New Jersey, without an audience, a 1978 performance from a concert in Phoenix, Arizona, and another 1978 performance from a concert in Houston, Texas.[8] Darren Hanlon covered "The Promised Land" on Play Some Pool, Skip Some School, Act Real Cool.[9] Eddie Vedder has also covered this song live.

Lyrics and music[edit]

Like several other songs on Darkness on the Edge of Town, Springsteen had the chorus for "The Promised Land" before he was able to come up with the lyrics for the verses.[10] The song's title pays homage to Chuck Berry's song "Promised Land".[2][11][10] In Berry's song, the singer leaves his Virginia home to go to the "promised land" of California.[11] Author Patrick Humphries considers Springsteen's song bleaker than Berry's.[2] The singer has been working in his father's garage by day, and drives all night "chasing some mirage."[12] The singer faces difficulties, but he is now ready to face them and committed to addressing them, instead of running away from them.[11] He sings that "I've done my best to live the right way," but that hasn't eliminated his troubles.[11] Now he will address his problems by blowing away anything "that ain't got the faith to stand its ground."[11][12]

In the chorus, the singer sings that "I believe in the promised land."[12] Different authors have different answers as to what the "promised land" represents. June Skinner Sawyers believes it means the American ideal or even America itself.[11] Daniel Wolff noted that unlike Berry's promised land, in which one could obtain the American dream by going west to California, Springsteen's promised land is defined by what doesn't happen there: "you aren't 'lost or broken hearted,' your dreams don't 'tear you apart' and your blood doesn't 'run cold.'"[10] Jimmy Gutterman remarked that the singer believes in his promised land despite a lack of evidence.[10]

In the documentary The Promise: The Making of Darkness On the Edge of Town, Springsteen said the song is about "how we honor the community and the place we came from."[13] In the same documentary Springsteen noted that elements of the song reflected his own situation when he wrote it. He was unable to record a new album due to a lawsuit, and felt weak, unable to do what he wanted and that he was letting down the other members of the band.[13] The song reflects the sense of despair but also of resilience and determination and desire to transcend his limitations that he was feeling at the time.[13] Ultimately, Springsteen suggested that the message of the song is the need to lose one's illusions of a life without limitations while holding onto a sense of the possibilities in life.[13]

The lyrics of "The Promised Land" include a number of links to other Springsteen songs, particularly those on Darkness on the Edge of Town. The idea of the singer believing in something better despite a lack of evidence also occurs in "Badlands".[10] Also like "Badlands", the protagonist of "The Promised Land" is prepared to take control.[11] Like a number of songs from Darkness on the Edge of Town, including "Badlands", "Prove It All Night", "Racing in the Street", "Factory" and "Adam Raised a Cain", "The Promised Land" includes references to working and a working life.[10][14] Like "Adam Raised a Cain" and non-Darkness songs such as "Pink Cadillac", "The Promised Land" incorporates biblical imagery.[15] Sawyers notes that the possibility of violence implicit in the lyrics foreshadow the explicit violence in the lyrics of some of the songs on Springsteen's 1982 album Nebraska.[11]

The music for "The Promised Land" is in the key of G major.[15] It is based on five chords.[15] Springsteen plays a harmonica solo at the beginning and end of the song.[11] The song also incorporates guitar and saxophone solos.[15][16]

Critical assessment[edit]

Robert Christgau referred to "The Promised Land" as a model "of how an unsophisticated genre can illuminate a mature, full-bodied philosophical insight."[17] Sputnik Music critic John Cruz called "The Promised Land" one of the "more hopeful" songs on Darkness on the Edge of Town, stating that "the band goes along for the ride with just the right amount of flair and steadiness to deliver the songwriter's vision with crystal clear clarity."[18]


  1. ^ "The Promised Land". Retrieved 2011-10-29.
  2. ^ a b c d Humphries, P. (1996). The Complete Guide to the Music of Bruce Springsteen. Omnibus Press. p. 30. ISBN 0-7119-5304-X.
  3. ^ Erlewine, S.T. "The Essential Bruce Springsteen". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-10-29.
  4. ^ Marsh, D. (2006). Bruce Springsteen on tour, 1968-2005. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 7. ISBN 978-1-59691-282-3.
  5. ^ Ruhlmann, W. "Live 1975-85". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-10-29.
  6. ^ Eder, B. "Live in Barcelona". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-10-29.
  7. ^ "London Calling: Live in Hyde Park". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-11-07.
  8. ^ Jurek, T. "The Promise". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-10-29.
  9. ^ "Play Some Pool, Skip Some School, Act Real Cool". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-10-29.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Kirkpatrick, R. (2007). The Words and Music of Bruce Springsteen. Praeger. pp. 56–60. ISBN 0-275-98938-0.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i Sawyers, J.S. (2006). Tougher Than the Rest. Omnibus Press. pp. 44–46. ISBN 978-0-8256-3470-3.
  12. ^ a b c Springsteen, B. "The Promised Land lyrics". Retrieved 2011-10-29.
  13. ^ a b c d Zimney, T. (director) (2010). The Promise: The Making of Darkness On the Edge of Town (film). Thrill Hill Productions.
  14. ^ Marsh, D. (1981). Born to Run. Dell. p. 217. ISBN 0-440-10694-X.
  15. ^ a b c d Rooksby, R. (2005). Bruce Springsteen: Learn from the Greats and Write Better Songs. Hal Leonard. pp. 54, 58, 105. ISBN 978-0-87930-836-0.
  16. ^ Marsh, D. (2004). Bruce Springsteen: two hearts : the definitive biography, 1972-2003. Psychology Press. p. 190. ISBN 978-0-415-96928-4.
  17. ^ Christgau, R. "Robert Christgau: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band". Retrieved 2011-10-29.
  18. ^ Cruz, J. "Bruce Springsteen Darkness On The Edge Of Town". Sputnik Music. Retrieved 2011-10-29.

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