Bruce Springsteen has never been too precious about keeping material to himself, often giving tracks away to friends or to artists that he admired. However, after writing a song for punk icons the Ramones, The Boss couldn’t bring himself to let go.
Springsteen had already risen to prominence thanks to the success of Born To Run in 1975, five years before his meeting with Ramones, and his name had a significant weight attached to it. However, before punk gained popularity, the lively scene had already been on his radar. Springsteen greatly appreciated the genre, and he liked the Ramones so much that when they asked for him to pen a song for them, he couldn’t resist the offer.
“I think I just started reading about it, and it was a little record store in the Village that was importing all of the punk-rock records,” Springsteen once told Rolling Stone about his first memories of punk. “And I went, and I bought every record – not that I’ve heard, but that I’ve heard about.
“So I bought all of these early punk-rock records unheard, just to see what that was about. And that was really the first time I actually heard the records, so I just brought them home and played them by myself in my room.”
It was 1978 when his paths would cross with everyone’s favourite lego-haired punk rockers, a time when the group shared a bill with Springsteen’s friend, Patti Smith, at Asbury Park’s Convention Hall. With the event occurring in his hometown, Bruce was prepared to travel through hell and high water to be in attendance.
A few months before the concert, Springsteen had handed Smith ‘Because The Night’, which she had a hit with, and this got Joey Ramone hoping that ‘The Boss’ could do the same with his band. That very evening, he went home and did exactly that, writing ‘Hungry Heart’.
“I saw the Ramones in Asbury Park,” Springsteen recalled on Fallon in 2015, “And we were talking for a while, and I was like, ‘Man I’ve got to write the Ramones a song.’ So I went home, and I sat at my table, and I wrote it in about the time it took me to sing it.
“I brought it in, and we went to make a demo for it, or I played it for [Johnny Ramone], and he said, ‘Nah, you better keep that one.’ He was right about that. It did pretty well.”
While it’s a heartwarming story that the Ramones told Springsteen to keep the song, the truth isn’t quite as exciting. In fact, ‘Hungry Heart’ allegedly didn’t even make its way to the band before the singer had changed his mind after his manager, John Landau, told him there was no way that he could give the song away.
After all, Smith just had chart success with ‘Because The Night’, and if the Ramones did well with ‘Hungry Heart’, Springsteen could foster a reputation for being a ghostwriter rather than an artist in his own right.
With this move, Landau proved why he’s Springsteen’s most trusted confidante. ‘Hungry Heart’ would become his first track to trouble the top ten of the chart, but, more importantly, it’s just an undeniable Bruce song that only he could do justice.