Song of the Day #1,232: ‘The River’ – Bruce Springsteen

I have a pretty good working knowledge of all of Bruce Springsteen’s albums, even the ones I don’t own, but 1980’s The River has always been a mystery to me. And reading up on it for today’s blog entry, I’m fascinated by what I’m missing.

The River is a double album that continues the working-class blues theme of Springsteen’s earlier work but pairs it up lighter fare more in the pop vein. Musically, those styles are joined with more somber tracks that nod toward his next album, Nebraska.

Despite being such an unknown for me, The River is one of Springsteen’s most successful albums, giving him his first #1 on the Billboard charts and producing his first top ten single, ‘Hungry Heart.’ The album kicked off the 80s, Springsteen’s most successful decade, with a bang.

I’ve read enough about The River to know that I have to hear it in full. I’ll leave the rest of this post to The Boss himself:

[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 lead to complete records later on: “The River” sorta 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. 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.

I come from down in the valley
where mister when you’re young
They bring you up to do like your daddy done
Me and Mary we met in high school
when she was just seventeen
We’d ride out of that valley down to where the fields were green

We’d go down to the river
And into the river we’d dive
Oh down to the river we’d ride

Then I got Mary pregnant
and man that was all she wrote
And for my nineteenth birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat
We went down to the courthouse
and the judge put it all to rest
No wedding day smiles no walk down the aisle
No flowers no wedding dress

That night we went down to the river
And into the river we’d dive
Oh down to the river we did ride

I got a job working construction for the Johnstown Company
But lately there ain’t been much work on account of the economy
Now all them things that seemed so important
Well mister they vanished right into the air
Now I just act like I don’t remember
Mary acts like she don’t care

But I remember us riding in my brother’s car
Her body tan and wet down at the reservoir
At night on them banks I’d lie awake
And pull her close just to feel each breath she’d take
Now those memories come back to haunt me
they haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true
Or is it something worse
that sends me down to the river
though I know the river is dry
That sends me down to the river tonight
Down to the river
my baby and I
Oh down to the river we ride

One thought on “Song of the Day #1,232: ‘The River’ – Bruce Springsteen

  1. Dana says:

    This is one of those albums that I have always looked at buying over the years, and never quite committed to doing it. Maybe it was the double album factor. Not really sure, but it is one that I should own.

    I am familiar with today’s song as well as, of course, “Hungry Heart.” Always loved the latter song–just a great radio song to play in the car. When I first heard it, I didn’t even know it was Springsteen because the sound was so much more commercial than anything I had heard from Bruce to that point. Of course, in the context of his later output, “Hungry Heart” falls right in line with Bruce’s transition toward a wider pop audience appeal.

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