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Timeline: How Bruce Springsteen clawed his way to success


Bruce Springsteen was at a point of no return in 1975. Although the previous three years had a been a whirlwind for the young singer, that promising start hadn’t amounted to the level of success that he, or those around him, had expected. If things didn’t change quickly, Springsteen was in danger of losing his upstart career before it ever really began.

Springsteen had been getting rave reviews, both for his live shows and for his first two albums, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, The Innocent, and The E Street Shuffle, both from 1973. But those rave reviews had yet to translate into high record sales. From what records he was selling, Springsteen was making almost no money, requiring him to basically live on the road in order to buy food and clothing.

What was about to happen would go on to define Springsteen’s entire career – a whirlwind of personnel changes at his record label, Columbia Records, and emancipation from his manager Mike Appel would cause Springsteen to alienate his supporters and put his future in jeopardy. Springsteen sealed himself in the studio for more than a year, refusing to let his third album be anything less than perfect. If that perfection didn’t translate into big sales, Springsteen was all but guaranteed to be dropped from Columbia.

The trials would all eventually be worth it – even if Springsteen had to fight tooth and nail to get there. It would take another three years after Born to Run‘s release for Springsteen to put out another album, and by that point, Springsteen was an entirely different artist than the one who had been struggling for success just a few years prior.

Here’s a brief timeline of how Bruce Springsteen took on the music industry machine and won with Born to Run

Early May 1974

Springsteen gets one more chance at Columbia

When Springsteen originally signed to Columbia Records in 1973, it was under the watchful eye of Clive Davis. But Davis was out by 1974, leaving Springsteen without one of his biggest supporters at the label.

With two low-selling albums, Columbia agreed to give Springsteen one final push… with the understanding that if his third album didn’t sell, he was most likely going to be dropped.

Jon Landau sees “rock and roll future”

Jon Landau was a well-known music critic who had helped shape the canon of late 1960s and early 1970s rock and roll through his profiles in magazines like Rolling Stone and Crawdaddy. Upon viewing Springsteen’s concert at Harvard Square Theater in Boston, Landau proclaimed in his review: “I saw rock and roll future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen. And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time.”

The quote would become a major lynchpin for Columbia’s marketing of Springsteen, and Springsteen himself would bring in Landau to help produce the sessions for Born to Run.

May 22, 1974
May 1974 to July 1975

Springsteen struggles to finish ‘Born to Run’

The first four months of the Born to Run sessions are focused on the title track alone. In between studio sessions, Springsteen and the E Street band are performing gigs, but Springsteen starts to feel like something is wrong.

After ‘Born to Run’ is finally finished in August of 1974, keyboardist David Sancious and drummer Ernest ‘Boom’ Carter are replaced by Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg, respectively. As sessions pass the one year mark, Springsteen still has yet to be satisfied.

Jon Landau officially replaces Mike Appel as producer

After a year of struggles, Springsteen decided it was time for a change. While Mike Appel was retained as his manager, Springsteen brought in Landau as his new producer, who in turn brought in Jimmy Iovine as the album’s new engineer.

With a new sense of direction, Springsteen begins to complete Born to Run at a rapid pace. Appel remains unhappy at his demotion, while Springsteen continues to inquire where all of the band’s touring profits are going.

April 13th, 1975
August 25th, 1975

Born to Run is released

More than a year after sessions initially began, Born to Run is released alongside a strong promotional campaign from Columbia. Almost immediately, Springsteen begins to rally against his own campaign, afraid that industry hype will overshadow his connection with his audience.

Born to Run goes gold and peaks at number three in America, with the E Street Band embarking on an ambitious tour to support the LP. While initially only intended to last through May of 1976, a deterioration of Springsteen’s relationship with Appel would cause Springsteen to stay on the road for another two years.

Springsteen sues Appel

Finally ready to sever his relationship with Appel, Springsteen sued to dismiss his manager after the initial Born to Run tours ended. However, Appel countersued, requesting that Springsteen be barred from entering the studio until the lawsuit was settled.

With no income and no ability to release another album, the E Street Band went back on the road for what have been dubbed ‘The Lawsuit Tour’ and ‘The Lawsuit Drags On Tour’. Before it is all said and done, Springsteen will have spent a total of two and a half years on the road promoting Born to Run.

July 27th, 1976
May 28th, 1977

Springsteen and Appel reach a settlement

Almost exactly three years after Landau proclaimed Springsteen the new future of rock and roll, the former critic-turned-producer officially became Springsteen’s manager.

“A settlement was reached, separation papers were drawn up and one quiet night in a dimmed midtown office building, Mike and I finalized our divorce,” Springsteen wrote in his autobiography Born to Run. “I would have some dealings with Mike in the future, some good, some cheesy, but once the war was over and time — a good deal of it – passed, the fondness and connection remained. … We had come to cross purposes — this is the world — but I can never hate Mike; I can only love him.”

Three days after the lawsuit is officially settled, Springsteen re-enters the studio to begin recording Darkness on the Edge of Town.