Let’s start with a quick look at the U.S. Top 10 album that actually* got released in 1978, then move on to its unusual creation story.
Talk To Me
Darkness: The Lost Album
As many diehards know … In 1977, the Appel lawsuit was settled at last, and the E Street Band returned to the studio. They recorded troves of material covering a variety of moods. In a daring move, the 27-year-old Springsteen wielded a ruthless and particular knife, arriving at a stark, hard-nosed album.
However, after hearing some of the more radio-friendly tunes from the sessions and making some vague threats to this effect , Columbia rejected the submitted album as too uncommercial.
Where they wanted a follow-up that would build upon Springsteen’s Born To Run fame (and general style), they had been handed something quite the opposite — consciously shying away from anything remotely involving street opera or anyone named Magic Rat. Neither party would budge.
So this gritty collection of songs, with its focus on individual struggle and a proposed cover photo that suggests nothing as much as Portrait Of The Artist Stopping By His Manager’s Office To Ask For An Advance, went on to become one of (if not the) most famous unreleased albums of all time: Darkness On The Edge Of Town.
It’s the amazing new (well, newly official) material at the center of the new ’78 Sessions box set.
After the legal marathon, a backstabbing from his label, and subsequent weeks of frustration in and out of the studio, Springsteen reached the end of his rope. In fact, early in the spring of 1978, he left. Out of the studio, onto his bike, and out of town, headed west to points unknown. No “I’ll be back Tuesday,” just gone.
His only parting words, when Miami Steve followed him into the studio lobby and asked, “But Bruce, what about the album?”, were “YOU take a shot at it, tell me how it goes!”
When reporters started calling, management conspicuously avoided details of the situation, referring to a “recording hiatus.”
Then the truth leaked out, along with the fact that manager/producer Jon Landau had received a single, terse postcard from an obscure tourist spot called “Cadillac Ranch.”
Once that much went public, there were regular Bruce “sightings” in a number of odd locales and circumstances between New York City and the West Coast. Elvis would’ve been proud. In fact, at least a couple of fans were purported to have seen the two men together.
The Consigliere’s Call
Of course, back at the studio and at Columbia, panic mode was setting in. The person who found himself in an increasingly difficult position, besides Landau, was Steve Van Zandt. Given his closeness to Bruce and his experience as musical director/maker of charts, Steve was a keeper of the flame of sorts — a consigliere to the Boss.
Production deadlines came and went, and the pressure to do *something* spiked. Even Landau agreed that more delay would only hurt Bruce’s career. As Bruce explains in the new ’78 Sessions documentary, if you stayed off the public radar for too long in that era, you became damaged goods.
Facing mountains of Ampex reels and an explicit rejection of the Darkness material, Steve fell back on his own instincts to carve out a soul- and pop-driven album with roots in the Jersey shore and AM radio.
So, facing piles of Ampex reels and an explicit rejection of the Darkness material, Steve fell back on his own instincts to carve an equally specific but much different LP out of the tapes. He made a soul- and pop-driven album (10 songs in 40 minutes) with roots in the Jersey shore and AM radio.
This was bad news for Southside Johnny, Robert Gordon, and Greg Kihn, for whom Bruce had earmarked some of these songs once he had chosen his approach with Darkness. But if Steve barely had authority to do this on Bruce’s behalf, he definitely wasn’t in a position to give away any songs.
Steve turned it in to Landau, Landau turned it in to Columbia, and Talk To Me arrived on record store shelves on the third Tuesday of June, 1978. To nobody’s surprise, the album sold quite well. Its midtempo and slow-burn romantic complexities interspersed nicely with occasional horn-driven giddiness.
Critics generally smiled upon a retro-minded album that flew in the face of both the early punk scene and (God forbid) disco. While all involved would acknowledge that it was no Born To Run, the increase in Springsteen’s fanbase created by that album (and the touring during the lawsuit) meant that Talk To Me sold even better than BTR out of the gate.
The album’s title track (b/w the little outtake gem, “City Of Night”) ascended to the #2 slot on the Billboard charts. Like a few other summer hits, a blockade in the form of Andy Gibb’s “Shadow Dancing” kept it out of the top spot, but it had a good run on radio rotations nationwide and became a Greatest Hits staple.
“Fire” would get up to #18 around Labor Day, earning an extra mention in Rolling Stone for “Ain’t Good Enough For You,” a snappy b-side they viewed as a dig at label management.
Beyond the singles, the reviews I recall tended to call out “Give The Girl A Kiss” and “One Way Street” as instant favorites.
Fortunately for Bruce, since the age of video hadn’t quite arrived, it was easier to obscure the fact that he wasn’t actually around for much of this. But it was weird that the band was not on the road supporting the record until the barnstorming fall/winter ’78 tour.
Back Together Again
Of course, now we know that Miami Steve, armed with a cassette of Talk To Me that the two would wear out on the drive back, drove a rented Lincoln Continental all the way out to Arizona to coax Springsteen home, and that all this would blow over.
Heck, by Thanksgiving 1979, we would not only be past this crisis and the truncated ’78 tour, but fans would also have a followup studio release, The Ties That Bind.
By Thanksgiving 1979, we would not only be past this crisis and the truncated ’78 tour, but fans would also have a followup studio release, The Ties That Bind.
That lean powerhouse, which again peaked at #2 in the U.S (thanks for nothing, The Long Run), featured the hit “Hungry Heart”, instant jukebox favorite “Loose Ends”, and “Stolen Car (Son You May Kiss The Bride)”.
Most of TTTB revealed Springsteen mining more relationship territory. However, side two would open with a blistering re-recording of Darkness refugee “Prove It All Night”, which forced its way into the tracklist after winning over audiences at every tour stop the year before.
So all’s well that ends well — mostly — but that’s how and why we got Talk To Me, and how we lost Darkness On The Edge Of Town to the shadows of rock legend all those years ago … until now.