The River (Bruce Springsteen album)

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The River
The River (Bruce Springsteen) (Front Cover).jpg
Studio album by
ReleasedOctober 17, 1980 (1980-10-17)
RecordedMarch 1979 – August 1980
StudioThe Power Station, New York
GenreHeartland rock, rock and roll
Bruce Springsteen chronology
Darkness on the Edge of Town
The River
Singles from The River
  1. "Hungry Heart"
    Released: October 21, 1980
  2. "Fade Away"
    Released: January 22, 1981
  3. "I Wanna Marry You"
    Released: 1981
  4. "Sherry Darling"
    Released: 1981 (UK only)
  5. "The River"/"Independence Day"
    Released: May 1981 (UK only)
  6. "Cadillac Ranch"
    Released: 1981 (UK only)
  7. "Point Blank"
    Released: 1981 (UK only)

The River is the fifth studio album by Bruce Springsteen. It was released on October 17, 1980, by Columbia Records.[1] Springsteen's only double album, The River was produced by Jon Landau, Springsteen, and bandmate Steven Van Zandt. The album was Springsteen's first to go #1 on the Billboard 200 and spent four weeks at the top of chart.[2] "The River" was nominated for Best Rock Vocal Performance at the 1982 Grammy Awards.


The sources of The River go back into earlier parts of Springsteen's recording career. "Independence Day", "Point Blank", "The Ties That Bind", "Ramrod", and "Sherry Darling" were leftovers from his previous album, Darkness on the Edge of Town, and had been featured on the 1978 tour, as had parts of "Drive All Night" as a long interpolation within "Backstreets".[3] "The River" had premiered at the September 1979 Musicians United for Safe Energy concerts, gaining a featured spot in the subsequent documentary No Nukes.[3]

Originally, Springsteen intended The River to be a single album, entitled The Ties That Bind. The single album version was eventually released as one of the discs in the 2015 box set release The Ties That Bind: The River Collection.[4] Springsteen had been working with the E Street Band at his home studio, Telegraph Hill Studios, which was actually a barn at his Holmdel, New Jersey property. By early August, there was an initial cut of 10 songs (recorded at the Power Station in New York City) and Columbia began to believe they might have a new Springsteen record in time for Christmas 1979. But Bruce continued to tinker, writing songs and making demos, and in early September, he swapped out three songs from the first version, added three new songs, and shuffled the song sequence to fit the new material. "Ricky Wants a Man of Her Own", "The Man Who Got Away", and "Ramrod" from the first version were replaced by "Cindy", "The River" (written in late August), and "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)". Springsteen signed off on the second sequence, officially named The Ties That Bind, and the tapes were sent off to begin the production process in early October. But when they came back, he suddenly cancelled the release, and went back to recording. He later said, "The songs lacked the kind of unity and conceptual intensity I liked my music to have." His manager and co-producer, Jon Landau, suggested that maybe this record needed to be a double album, in order to encompass everything Springsteen was trying to achieve. After another seven months at the Power Station, the sessions came to an end. The River was released on October 17, 1980, with 20 of the 50 songs that had been recorded.[5] Springsteen added darker material after he'd written the title track. Indeed, The River became noted for its mix of the frivolous next to the solemn. This was intentional, and in contrast to Darkness, for as Springsteen said during an interview, "Rock and roll has always been this joy, this certain happiness that is in its way the most beautiful thing in life. But rock is also about hardness and coldness and being alone ... I finally got to the place where I realized life had paradoxes, a lot of them, and you've got to live with them."[6]

On November 8, 2009, at a concert, Bruce Springsteen spoke about the album, saying: "The River was a record that was sort of the gateway to a lot of my future writing. It was a record we made after Darkness on the Edge of Town. It was a record made during a recession—hard times in the States. Its title song is a song I wrote for my brother-in-law and sister. My brother-in-law was in the construction industry, lost his job and had to struggle very hard back in the late '70s, like so many people are doing today. It was a record where I first started to tackle men and women and families and marriage. There were certain songs on it that led to complete records later on: 'The River' sort of went to the writing on Nebraska, 'Stolen Car' went to the writing on Tunnel of Love. Originally it was a single record. I handed it in with just one record and I took it back because I didn't feel it was big enough. I wanted to capture the themes I had been writing about on Darkness. I wanted to keep those characters with me and at the same time added music that made our live shows so much fun and joy for our audience. So in the end, we're gonna take you down to The River tonight."[7]

Reception and legacy[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Absolute Punk93%[8]
AllMusic5/5 stars[9]
Chicago Tribune3.5/4 stars[10]
Christgau's Record GuideA−[11]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music4/5 stars[12]
MusicHound Rock5/5[13]
The New Rolling Stone Record Guide (1983)5/5 stars[14]
Q (1989)5/5 stars[15]
The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004)4/5 stars[16]

In a contemporary review for Melody Maker, Paolo Hewitt compared listening to The River to "taking a trip through the rock 'n' roll heartland as you've never experienced it. It's a walk down all the streets, all the places, all the people and all the souls that rock has ever visited, excited, cried for and loved."[17] Rolling Stone critic Paul Nelson deemed it "a rock & roll milestone" and said it possesses "weighty conclusions, words to live by" regarding "the second acts of American lives", conclusions "filled with an uncommon common sense and intelligence that could only have come from an exceptionally warmhearted but wary graduate of the street of hard knocks".[18] The River was voted the second best album of 1980 in the Pazz & Jop, an annual poll of American critics nationwide, published by The Village Voice. Robert Christgau, its creator and supervisor, wrote of Springsteen in a column accompanying the poll, "All the standard objections apply--his beat is still clunky, his singing overwrought, his sense of significance shot through with Mazola Oil. But his writing is at a peak, and he's grown into a bitter empathy. These are the wages of young romantic love among those who get paid by the hour. Maybe he's giving forth with so many short fast ones because the circles of frustration and escape seem even more desperate now."[19] In The New Rolling Stone Record Guide (1983), Dave Marsh called The River "by far Springsteen's most mature work, and arguably his most consistent".[14] According to Jon Pareles of The New York Times, The River was the beginning of 1980s heartland rock.[20] In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked it at number 253 on their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time,[21] and 253 in a 2012 revised list.[22]

"Hungry Heart" was his first U.S. pop singles chart top ten hit single, reaching number five.[23] (Springsteen had not intended the song to be for himself, having initially written it for The Ramones; manager/producer Jon Landau convinced Springsteen to keep the song for himself.) The album hit number one on the U.S. pop albums chart, a first for Springsteen, and sold 1.6 million copies in the U.S. between its release and Christmas.[24] "Fade Away" reached number 20.[23]

The album was followed by a lengthy tour of North America and Western Europe during 1980 and 1981.[25] Since its release, The River has been certified quintuple platinum by the RIAA in the U.S., making it one of his best-selling albums and his highest certified studio release after Born in the U.S.A. and Born to Run.[26]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks are written by Bruce Springsteen.

Side one
1."The Ties That Bind"3:34
2."Sherry Darling"4:03
3."Jackson Cage"3:04
4."Two Hearts"2:45
5."Independence Day"4:50
Side two
1."Hungry Heart"3:19
2."Out in the Street"4:17
3."Crush on You"3:10
4."You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)"2:37
5."I Wanna Marry You"3:30
6."The River"5:01
Side three
1."Point Blank"6:06
2."Cadillac Ranch"3:03
3."I'm a Rocker"3:36
4."Fade Away"4:46
5."Stolen Car"3:54
Side four
2."The Price You Pay"5:29
3."Drive All Night"8:33
4."Wreck on the Highway"3:54

The Ties That Bind: The River Collection[edit]

The Ties That Bind: The River Collection
Box set by
ReleasedDecember 4, 2015 (2015-12-04)
Recorded1979-1980, 2015
StudioThe Power Station, New York and Thrill Hill East, New Jersey
GenreRock, heartland rock
ProducerJon Landau, Bruce Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt
Bruce Springsteen chronology
Ippodromo delle Capannelle, Rome 2015
The Ties That Bind: The River Collection
Arizona State University, Tempe 1980
Singles from The Ties That Bind: The River Collection
  1. "Meet Me in the City"
    Released: October 16, 2015
  2. "Party Lights"
    Released: November 23, 2015
Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Review scores
AllMusic5/5 stars[28]
Rolling Stone4.5/5 stars[30]
Consequence of SoundA-[31]
Exclaim!5/5 stars[32]
The Independent4/5 stars[33]

Springsteen celebrated the 35th anniversary of The River by releasing a boxed set titled The Ties That Bind: The River Collection on December 4, 2015. The set contains 52 tracks on four CDs along with four hours of video on three DVDs or two Blu-ray discs. The first two CDs feature the remastered version of The River and the third CD contains the previously unreleased The River: Single Album. As is noted above, the single album was originally to be titled The Ties That Bind; it circulated as a bootleg for many years. The fourth CD, The River: Outtakes, spans the entire The River sessions in 1979 and 1980 and contains eleven previously-unreleased outtakes. The fifth disc (DVD or Blu-ray) contains a 60-minute documentary, The Ties That Bind, which was produced and directed by filmmaker Thom Zimny and features an interview with Springsteen as he reflects on writing and recording The River. The film transitions between Springsteen telling the stories behind the music—and illustrating them with solo acoustic guitar performances—interspersed with period concert footage and photos. The remaining disc(s) feature Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band: The River Tour, Tempe 1980, a new film produced from footage professionally filmed in 1980 using four cameras and recorded in multitrack audio. The film features 23 of 33 songs performed, clocking in at 2 hours, 40 minutes on 2 DVDs (or one Blu-ray), from Springsteen's November 5, 1980, concert at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. Also included is 20 minutes of footage from the late September 1980 River Tour rehearsals held in Lititz, Pennsylvania. The boxed set also includes a 148-page coffee table book featuring 200 rare or previously unseen photos and memorabilia, including a new essay by Mikal Gilmore.[34]

On October 16, 2015, along with the announcement of the boxed set, "Meet Me in the City", one of the eleven unreleased outtakes, was released through Springsteen's website and on iTunes to promote the release of the boxed set. On November 23, 2015, "Party Lights" was released to promote the box set and made available through iTunes. Much like with The Promise, Springsteen recorded new vocals for some of the outtakes in the set.

Springsteen announced details for The River Tour 2016 on December 4, 2015. The tour began in January 2016 and features a full-album performance of The River at every show, as well as other songs from Springsteen's career. As of the end of the U.S. leg on April 25, 2016, "Meet Me in the City" opened all but one show; the song previously made its live debut when Springsteen and the E Street Band performed on the December 19, 2015, episode of Saturday Night Live.

On December 24, 2015, Springsteen released Arizona State University, Tempe 1980, a free download through the Bruce Springsteen Archives at The release contained the ten missing songs from the concert video featured in the boxed set.[35]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks are written by Bruce Springsteen.

Disc three – Single album
1."The Ties That Bind"3:35
3."Hungry Heart"3:28
4."Stolen Car"4:30
5."Be True"3:54
6."The River"4:56
7."You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)"2:09
8."The Price You Pay"5:51
9."I Wanna Marry You"3:28
10."Loose Ends"4:04
Disc four – Outtakes
1."Meet Me in the City"3:35
2."The Man Who Got Away"3:31
3."Little White Lies"2:39
4."The Time That Never Was"3:39
5."Night Fire"4:44
7."Chain Lightning"2:49
8."Party Lights"3:09
9."Paradise by the "C""3:10
10."Stray Bullet"6:09
11."Mr. Outside" (Demo)2:15
13."Restless Nights"3:45
14."Where the Bands Are"3:46
16."Living on the Edge of the World"4:19
17."Take 'em as They Come"4:30
18."Ricky Wants a Man of Her Own"2:46
19."I Wanna Be With You"3:23
20."Mary Lou"3:23
21."Held Up Without a Gun"1:16
22."From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)"2:42
Unreleased outtakes

Springsteen wrote a large amount of music during album sessions, and even with the 2015 box set, many songs still remain unreleased. Songs such as "Held Up Without a Gun", "Be True", and "Roulette" were featured as B-sides, the first two on the album's singles and the last on a Tunnel of Love single. "Mary Lou", "I Wanna Be with You", "Bring on the Night", "Ricky Wants a Man of Her Own", "Loose Ends", "Dollhouse", "Where the Bands Are", "Living on the Edge of the World", "Restless Nights", and "Take 'em as They Come" were released on the Tracks box set, while "From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)" was released on The Essential Bruce Springsteen collection in 2003. An alternate version of "Stolen Car" was released on Tracks, while a rockabilly version of "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)" and "Cindy" remained officially unreleased until 2015 (though both had been available in bootleg form for some years).[36][37] During The River sessions, Springsteen also recorded "Jole Blon", "Dedication", "Your Love", and "This Little Girl" — songs he would eventually give to Gary U.S. Bonds for two of his albums on which Springsteen produced and appeared on along with other members of the E Street Band. "Jeannie Needs a Shooter" was also given to Warren Zevon, which he re-worked and recorded. None of the demos recorded at Telegraph Hill Studios in Holmdel (the converted barn on Springsteen's property) in 1979 have ever been released, probably because of quality issues ("Night Fire", on the outtakes disc, was re-recorded in 2015). Most can be found on the Lost Masters bootleg collection, released in the 1990s.[38]

  • "Jeannie Needs a Shooter"
  • "Find It Where You Can"
  • "Break My Heart"
  • "Out on the Run (Looking for Love)"
  • "Under the Gun"
  • "I Don't Wanna Be"
  • "Chevrolet Deluxe"
  • "Slow Fade"
  • "Jole Blon"
  • "Do You Want Me to Say Alright"
  • "Angelyne"
  • "A Thousand Tears (William Davis)"
  • "I Will Be the One"
  • "Tonight"
  • "I'm Gonna Treat You Right"
  • "Dedication"
  • "Your Love"
  • "This Little Girl"


  • Bruce Springsteen – lead vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, twelve-string guitar, harmonica, percussion, piano on "Drive All Night", producer

The E Street Band

Additional vocals



The Ties That Bind: The River Collection

Chart (2015) Peak
Austrian Albums (Ö3 Austria)[57] 39
Belgian Albums (Ultratop Flanders)[58] 13
Belgian Albums (Ultratop Wallonia)[59] 92
Danish Albums (Hitlisten)[60] 27
Dutch Albums (Album Top 100)[61] 14
Finnish Albums (Suomen virallinen lista)[62] 27
German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[63] 12
Irish Albums (IRMA)[64] 24
Italian Albums (FIMI)[65] 14
Norwegian Albums (VG-lista)[66] 8
Spanish Albums (PROMUSICAE)[67] 22
Swedish Albums (Sverigetopplistan)[68] 5
Swiss Albums (Schweizer Hitparade)[69] 20
UK Albums (OCC)[70] 49
US Billboard 200[71] 31


Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[72] 3× Platinum 210,000^
Canada (Music Canada)[73] 2× Platinum 200,000^
Finland (Musiikkituottajat)[74] Gold 25,000[74]
France (SNEP)[76] 2× Gold 442,400[75]
Germany (BVMI)[77] Gold 250,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[78] Platinum 300,000^
United States (RIAA)[79] 5× Platinum 5,000,000^

^shipments figures based on certification alone


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External links[edit]