No other Springsteen song springs to mind which encapsulates more fervently the idealism and escapism of youth than Backstreets. It is one of my favourite songs from my most cherished Bruce Springsteen album – Born to Run. It is the second song to appear from The Boss in this music library project. I was so taken aback by Born to Run (the album) I wrote a lyrics booklet in my youth of the whole album complete with a little nice string to thread the pages together. Lyrics weren’t so accessible back then like they are today, so I transcribed what I thought he sung as if I was doing something unprecedented. I felt like a devoted scribe of a great musical sermon.
Backstreets was released in 1975 and concluded side one of the record. The minute long piano introduction by E Street band member Roy Bittan is undoubtedly my best-loved introduction of a Springsteen song or just about any song for that matter. It seems to operate on this theatrical level and elevates the song beyond just that pertaining to rock n roll garb. Actually the whole album has this delineating theatricality which sets it apart from the standard.
Around this time when the album was released Springsteen was already being anointed as the future of Rock’n roll and Bob Dylan’s successor. Interestingly wikipedia states: The melody and organ (of Backstreets) bear some resemblance to “Positively 4th Street” by Bob Dylan, an influence of Springsteen’s. Rolling Stone claims that it echoes mid-1960s Dylan, especially the organ part reminiscent of Blonde on Blonde.
I personally don’t see the connection, but it’s wiki and Rolling Stone – so what the hell do I know? But I’ll give credit where it’s due because Rolling Stone rated Backstreets to be the sixth greatest Springsteen song of all time, which is just about where I’d have it.
Below are two interpretations of Backstreets from songfacts which I found interesting:
- Asked where this song came from in a 2016 interview with Rolling Stone, Springsteen replied: “Just youth, the beach, the night, friendships, the feeling of being an outcast and kind of living far away from things in this little outpost in New Jersey. It’s also about a place of personal refuge. It wasn’t a specific relationship or anything that brought the song into being.”
- Terry is a female character in the song. It is about Diane Lozito, who was Springsteen’s girlfriend from 1971 to 1974. She is also Sandy in 4th of July, Asbury Park, Crazy Janey in Spirit in the Night and Rosalita. Her parents were not so thrilled that Springsteen was a musician. Her mother did not want her to move in with Springsteen. Her father was himself a musician, but he said that “All musicians are bums”. There is a line in Rosalita:Now I know your mama she don’t like me ’cause I play in a rock and roll band. And I know your daddy he don’t dig me but he never did understand.This is were the ‘Hiding on the Backstreets” comes from. It is about a relationship that starts a friendship, but later evolves to love:One soft infested summer me and Terry became friends …In the late 70’s Springsteen used to play Backstreets live with an interlude that later became the song ‘Drive All Night’. This is known as the ‘Sad Eyes’ interlude. In this version it is very obvious that Backstreets is not just a song about friendship and loyalty, it is a song about friendship that becomes love and about the struggles to maintain the relationship.
A great addition to your music library project- I am with you on the Dylan thing- the album as a whole always made me think more of a Phil Spector influence in the production- but I never thought of a Dylan influence on this song or any of them on Born To Run.
Thanks, I was looking forward to writing a little about this song and for it to appear here. I can understand your Phil Spector connection. The only connection I ever saw between Dylan and Springsteen on this album was they shared fans. Cheers.
While I love Born To Run album- It isn’t my favorite Bruce- but I would have to say it was his most important album.
Yes, important indeed. I see what you mean.
One of my favorite songs of Bruce. There is such a desperate/urgent sound with this song. This and Thunder Road make this album great.
That desperate / urgent sound I get with ‘Night’. There isn’t a song on it that hasn’t got a BIG – take notice sound. If I had to list 5 favourite albums ‘Born To Run’ would definitely be in it. Thunder Road is quite possibly my favourite Bruce song. What about you?
My favorite Bruce song…would have to be The River…That song is so true to life that it hurts.
My favorite off that album would be Backstreets probably…and that is not belittling any other song on the album. I still love the song Born to Run also as well as everything else on it. The album had such a sound to it.
It was like an updated Phil Spector sound.
The River is in my top 20 for sure. I can see how it could be anyone’s Number 1 Bruce track. He was at the top of his game when he wrote that one. I like how he wrote The River about his sister and her husband Mickey who are still married today. The part I love most in that song is where he goes into the Bridge part and sings ‘But I remember us riding in my brother’s car / Her body tan and wet down at the reservoir’. It always gives me goosebumps.
I personally know so many people that fits that story. The lyric that caught my attention and still does is “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true or is it something worse”
That gives me chills.
I really like the line you are talking about also.
Yes that line is extremely deep from Bruce. It reminds me of his ‘With every wish’ song from Human Touch which is one of my favourites from him.
Regarding the line I sent you – it isn’t the line so much but the whole ‘Bridge’ until he ends with ‘And those memories come back to haunt me’.
How it switches into the bridge and the bridge itself…I think I got what you are saying. Other than Dylan…Bruce is probably the most quotable artist.
That’s exactly what I meant regarding the bridge in that song.
Yes, regarding quotable artists I’d probably through Leonard in there too.
Yes you are right about Leonard.
El Jefe nunca nos decepciona. Una leyenda que aún sigue vigente a pesar del tiempo transcurrido. Cada una de sus canciones son para escucharla una y otra vez. Buen vídeo. Saludos.
Que chevere te gusta El Jefe! Me haya encantado su musica desde cuando yo era preadolescente. Como llegaste a su musica?
Mi vida universitaria estuvó marcada por el rock. En Perú había una cultura rokera que se vino a expandir aún más con Woodstock en el 69. Con Bruce comenzó con su álbum “Born to Run” en el 75 y fué la locura. De allí viene su seguimiento y como a mi esposa la conocí en la Universidad, los gustos eran los mismo hasta el día de hoy. Saludos.
Me encantaba leer tu historia fascinante sobre la conexión que tienes (y tu esposa) con el rock, Woodstock y Bruce. Creo que también mi adoración por El Jefe inició con ‘Born to Run’. Has visto el DVD concierto de Bruce en Barcelona (2002)? Es estupendo!
Será motivo para disfrutarlo este sábado. Gracias por el dato.
Good choice Matt. Big sound by a special guy. This song had some of that same vibe as the Quadrophenia album ( anyway). I guess that trying to put it together and knowing you’re moving on in your maturity. Trying to grow the F up.
So much to like about this song. Everyones playing is top notch and perfect together. I love Bruces guitar. With all the great vocals and lyrics its Bruces gutteral moans, groans, wailing and screaming that say the most. Sometimes words just don’t cut it. He’s feeling something. Great pick fella. I’m with you.
Your commentary here is a wonderful contribution to this unforgettable Boss track. You’ve encapsulated the essence of it. Nice.
Thanks Matt. This song just moves me like alot of his music does. “Someone help that guy. He sounds like he’s in pain”.