Bruce Springsteen’s debut performance on British soil at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1975 has seeped into legend over the last 46 years, and this performance of ‘Thunder Road’ captures the magnetic energy that filled the room on that famous evening.
In the summer of that year, Springsteen unleashed a sonic grenade in the form of Born To Run. His sound was unapologetically grizzled on the streets of New Jersey, and there was a mystical, otherworldly glamour to his gripping brand of Americana. On November 18th, 1975, Britain was finally able to sink its teeth into The Boss for the first time, and their jaw has stayed clenched ever since.
At the time of the performance, Springsteen was riding high off the back of his recently released and critically acclaimed album, and the hype that surrounded him was mountainous. However, he was yet to become ‘The Boss’ and still had to prove to the unbelievers that he wasn’t another substanceless flavour of the month.
Hindsight sees in 20/20 as NME’s scathing reviewer Tony Tyler found out the hard way when he wrote Springsteen off after being less than impressed with his showing in Hammersmith. Tyler lamented Springsteen’s lyricism and brutally wrote: “Basically sound, though over-committed to wordiness in a manner incompatible with the Lone Punk image.”
Tyler then viciously concluded: “British audiences respond faithfully enough at concerts but sit on their wallets when it comes to buying LPs. I liked Bruce Springsteen but I’d like him a lot more sans The Operation. Bob Dylan can relax.”
Joe Strummer was in the audience that night. He enjoyed a contrasting evening to Tyler, and it changed his perspective on showmanship. “Joe went from strength to strength as a frontman, especially after he saw Bruce Springsteen at the Hammersmith Odeon in November,” his bandmate in the 101ers, Clive Timperley told Uncut.
“He was very impressed. After that he totally modelled himself on Springsteen. He thought Springsteen was where it was at. That’s what Joe wanted to be like on stage, he was absolutely inspired by seeing someone that hard working and just turned into this incredible showman,” he added.
The evening began with Springsteen opening his set in the identical way that Born To Run commences and erupting into a heartfelt rendition of ‘Thunder Road’. It’s a faultless opener that coaxes you into the idyllic state of mind to lose yourself in Springsteen’s sundry world.
“Something is opening up,” Springsteen once commented about the song. “What I hoped it would be was the sense of a larger life, greater experience, sense of fun, the sense that your personal exploration and possibilities were all lying somewhere inside of you.”
Meanwhile, E-Street bassist Gary Tallent later recalled to American Songwriter the process behind the creation of ‘Thunder Road’. “It was very organic,” he explained. “We were all kind of caught up in doing it, and we didn’t think too much about it…we just tried to make it sound right, and tried to make it feel right.”
Adding: “‘Thunder Road’ was one of those songs that, with the pictures that the words gave you—it was just real immediate, and we said, ‘Yeah, okay! This is a great song, let’s work on this. Let’s make this happen.”
There have been countless American acts who travel to Britain with a reputation that dwarfs their ability, and Springsteen proved with this performance that he was different to the rest. The fiery love affair between Britain and Bruce is still simmering away all these decades later.
Even though he had naysayers at the time, critics who had likely grown cynical after been stung by exotic imports before, thousands of inspired souls like Strummer in the Odeon found themselves worshipping the holy ground that Springsteen walked on.