Life and career
On August 13, 1975, Springsteen and the E Street Band began a five-night, 10-show stand at New York's Bottom Line club; it attracted major media attention, was broadcast live on WNEW-FM, and convinced many skeptics that Springsteen was for real. (Decades later, Rolling Stone magazine would name the stand as one of the 50 Moments That Changed Rock and Roll.) With the release of Born to Run on August 25, 1975, Springsteen finally found success: while there were no real hit singles, "Born to Run", "Thunder Road", "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" and "Jungleland" all received massive FM radio airplay and remain perennial favorites on many classic rock stations to this day. With its panoramic imagery, thundering production and desperate optimism, some fans consider this among the best rock and roll albums of all time and Springsteen's finest work. It established him as a sincere and dynamic rock and roll personality who spoke for and in the voice of a large part of the rock audience. To cap off the triumph, Springsteen appeared on the covers of both Time and Newsweek in the same week, on October 27 of that year. So great did the wave of publicity become that Springsteen eventually rebelled against it during his first venture overseas, tearing down promotional posters before a concert appearance in London.
A legal battle with former manager Mike Appel kept Springsteen out of the studio for over two years, during which time he kept The E Street Band together through extensive touring across the U.S. Despite the optimistic fervor with which he often performed, the new songs he was writing and often debuting on stage had taken a more somber tone than much of his previous work. Reaching settlement with Appel in 1977, Springsteen finally returned to the studio, and the subsequent sessions produced Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978). Musically, this album was a turning point of Springsteen's career. Gone were the rapid-fire lyrics, outsized characters and long, multi-part musical compositions of the first three albums; now the songs were leaner and more carefully drawn and began to reflect Springsteen's growing intellectual and political awareness. Some fans consider Darkness Springsteen's best and most consistent record; tracks such as "Badlands" and "The Promised Land" became concert staples for decades to come, while the track "Prove It All Night" received a significant amount of radio airplay (#33, Billboard Hot 100). Other fans would prefer the work of the adventurous early Springsteen. The cross-country 1978 tour to promote the album would become legendary for the intensity of its shows.
By the late 1970s, Springsteen had earned a reputation in the pop world as a songwriter whose material could provide hits for other bands. Manfred Mann's Earth Band had achieved a U.S. number one pop hit with a heavily rearranged version of Greetings' "Blinded by the Light" in early 1977. Patti Smith reached number 13 with her take on Springsteen's unreleased "Because the Night" (which Smith co-wrote) in 1978, while The Pointer Sisters hit number two in 1979 with Springsteen's also-unreleased "Fire".
In September 1979, Springsteen and the E Street Band joined the Musicians United for Safe Energy anti-nuclear power collective at Madison Square Garden for two nights, playing an abbreviated setlist while premiering two songs from his upcoming album. The subsequent No Nukes live album, as well as the following summer's No Nukes documentary film, represented the first official recordings and filmings of Springsteen's fabled live act, as well as Springsteen's first tentative dip into political involvement.
Springsteen continued to consolidate his thematic focus on working-class life with the double album The River in 1980, which finally yielded his first hit Top Ten single as a performer, "Hungry Heart", but also included an intentionally paradoxical range of material from good-time party rockers to emotionally intense ballads. The album sold well, and a long tour in 1980 and 1981 followed, featuring Springsteen's first extended playing of Europe and ending with a series of multi-night arena stands in major cities in the U.S.