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.